Europe Split on Arming Syria Rebels

Quick interview with Voice of America:

Twenty-seven European Union foreign ministers left a meeting in Brussels this  week bitterly divided on whether forces trying to topple the government of  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should receive outside military assistance.  VOA’s Susan Yackee spoke on the subject with Chatham House Syria expert Christopher  Phillips.

Susan Yackee: The European Union has come out split over  whether to arm the Syrian rebels. What was your reaction to this  announcement?

Christopher Phillips: It is not surprising; it reflects the  trends that the different European Union members have been advocating on Syria  for the last few months. There is a what you might call a ‘hawkish’ group led  particularly by Britain and France. They are advocating lifting the arms embargo  on Syria to ensure that rebels can be armed by European powers, whilst in the  more ‘dovish’ camp we have Germany that is leading the group against [the  lifting of] the arms embargo worried in particular that flooding Syria with  weapons on either side will lead to regional spill-over into other  countries.

Susan Yackee: I realize you are an analyst, and analysts  usually stay back, out of the fray, but let me ask your personal opinion. What  do you think should be done? Should they arm the rebels?

Christopher Phillips: I think that Germany has a very valid  point that sending weapons into this situation is not necessarily going to solve  it. There is a major problem of not only with the weapons possibly moving from  Syria to other regional conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon, but also Jordan and Turkey.  The other question is – what do we actually mean by ‘arming Syrian rebels?’ Who  do we send these weapons to? It is all very well to say that we can initially  send them to moderate groups. But who is to say that they might not change their  politics once they have the weapons or, indeed, people with more radical  politics take them off them. So, I think it’s very difficult to say that ‘arming  the rebels’ is the solution to this crisis.

Susan Yackee: So you would agree with others that say that  this is a very unique situation; it is not like it was in, say, Libya?

Christopher Phillips: Bear in mind that the Libyan rebels  did not ‘win’ the civil war. They were greatly aided by air power from NATO;  that is not the situation with Syria. Just by sending arms, that will not  recreate the Libyan situation. If the West were willing to deploy the same  amount of air power, then perhaps sending arms would actually end the Syria  conflict more quickly but given that they are not willing to commit that kind of  fire power, it seems to me that by sending arms to rebels, all they are doing is  they are pouring fuel into the fire of the civil war rather than really  beginning to seek a solution to it.

Susan Yackee: What is the solution?

Christopher Phillips: It seems to me – and I would argue  that arming the rebels is part of this tactic – the talks behind closed doors,  with Russia in particular to get it to stop its support of Assad is absolutely  key. Now, sending weapons to the rebels might be interpreted not as a genuine  attempt by the international community to try to tip the balance but as a means  of trying to persuade Russia to shift its stance, saying: If you don’t come on  board to some kind of peace agreement which should see Assad leave Syria or step  down and a transition some into place, then we will make sure that the rebels  are armed and the civil war goes on.

Read more at Middle East Voices: http://middleeastvoices.voanews.com/2013/03/quicktake-europe-split-on-arming-syria-rebels-74291/#ixzz2NcEa6upz

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