Arming the Syrian rebels

(11 Posts)

I think all of us are appalled and saddened by what's going on in Syria right now.

What makes it all worse is the fact that there are no good answers, in terms of what the UK, the US and the international community can do about it.

One idea, of course, is arming the Syrian rebels. From a HR perspective, I have very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, introducing more arms into a conflict zone is rarely a good idea (especially when it's not just more, but better arms). On the other hand, if the international community is not going to step in and protect civilians, shouldn't we at least give them a chance to defend themselves?

Just curious what other people think about all this.

Leithlurker Tue 03-Jul-12 10:33:50

What a great thread dreaming, I tend to think no we should not arm anyone as I am pretty sure we end up making the situation worse for somebody. I am not sure about Libya although I am sure Cameron wanted to do so, so he could claim to have had a successful war as opposed to Blair and Brown.

Egypt seem to be in flux, likewise other middle east countries, I just do not think adding arms to any one is going to help long term.

TheMysteryCat Tue 03-Jul-12 12:47:13

no, i don't think we or anyone else should arm the rebels.

I think the international community has to step in with peacekeeping/nato forces, embargoes, boycotts and negotiation.

if russia want to support the syrian government then they need to say so and stop blocking the UN.

EdithWeston Tue 03-Jul-12 12:54:17

Who are "the rebels"?

There is no clear identifiable grouping, and so who do you arm?

I would also recommend reading up on the history of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. Levelling the killing field, when there is no identifiable end state will lead to greater suffering. You cannot send in a peacekeeping force when there is no peace to keep. The story of UNPROFOR shows how bogged down it gets. Only when diplomacy had yielded results and produced the Dayton Agreement, and IFOR went in, did it become possible to establish a durable cessation of hostilities. Did the presence of UNPROFOR have the unintended effect of lengthening the conflict?

It's a bleak picture.

Actually, it's partly because of Bosnia that I'm asking this question. At the beginning of that conflict, an arms embargo was imposed that mostly disadvantaged the Bosniac Muslims (as the Croats and Serbs in Bosnia were supplied by Croatia and Serbia). They managed to get arms anyway, but there was a lot of criticism because they felt the international community was basically leaving them exposed to slaughter while their enemies had free rein.

Dayton did not come about just due to diplomacy -- it was after NATO started bombing Serb positions and a combined Muslim-Croat offensive pushed back against Serb-held territory.

I definitely agree with you, Edith, that sending in peacekeepers is not feasible right now -- but I don't think diplomacy alone will get anywhere either.

So what's the middle ground? Is there a middle ground?

lisaro Tue 03-Jul-12 13:32:48

The Taliban were armed by the Americans at one time. It's not the solution.

EdithWeston Tue 03-Jul-12 13:44:37

I'll go back and revise the 1995 timelines!

Saying the Bosniacs managed to "get arms anyway" misses out a rather important part of the picture - the resupply was by the US (flights to Tuzla, and the admirable Moldestadt who surfaced it all). This was an attempt to level the field, and it kept the Bosniacs fighting. It did not however turn them into a militarily successful side. I think the same problem would exist in Syria, and probably be even greater - for at least in FY (after the very early days with warlords) there were identifiable sides with governments and armies. In Syria there is currently no such clarity.

Ah very true, Edith, good point.

I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from Bosnia. Including the fact that, even all these years later, even after all the aid and support and intervention, people still believe that conflict might return.

I should also point out that my question here is somewhat moot, as various powers are already arming the Syrian rebels. I'm just curious whether people think we should, and if not, what else can we do?

EdithWeston Tue 03-Jul-12 14:14:06

I really wish that there was an obvious way ahead, that could at least be reasonably sure of preventing further bloodshed. The apparent diplomatic stalemate is very depressing, as it means hostilities and atrocities cannot be stopped.

I sometimes think that the current trend for prosecuting leaders does not help end conflict. Assad will not go into exile, simply because no immunity can be given from prosecution. Idi Amin's regime was loathsome, but it ended when he secured a guaranteed safe exile for life. If he had been given no choice but to cling on, then the situation would have been even worse, and I see parallels with the continuing plight of Mugabe's Zimbabwe. The urge to bring justice is very strong, but might it be counterproductive?

I agree with you, I think.... but there was a book that came out recently, that got very good reviews, called The Justice Cascade, by Kathryn Sikkink, that argues that criminal prosecution of leaders has had very positive effects for human rights and conflict around the world.

The Justice Cascade (Amazon)

I think if there was a way to get Assad out of Syria, but without ICC prosecution, they would find a way to make it happen.

HmmThinkingAboutIt Wed 04-Jul-12 21:15:13

I have some thing of a keen interest in Bosnia. The idea that the Bosnian rebels still somehow got arms suggests they managed to get weapons that in anyway rivalled the serbian army. The truth was that before the outbreak of war the Yugoslav army was the world 4th largest. These were held mainly by Serbian forces. When you look at examples of Bosnian weapons, many, many of them were very crude and homemade out of a desperate need.

Also during the siege of Sarajevo supply of basics such as food through the airport, was much more important than weapons in enabling the rebels to fight their oppressors.

We immediately think of weapons as being the answer, and I'm torn on that one as it has the real danger of making a bad situation worse or having longer term implications. What we don't think about so much is how we can do other things to support the rebel cause (and to support citizens) in a logistical manner which is just important tactically for both survival and moral.

(BTW Bosnia has ended up being one of favourite country in the world. Incredibly beautiful and culturally amazing and sobering. Would encourage anyone and everyone to go. And for balance whilst Serbia was very odd and scary at times, it had the most friendly people I've encountered anywhere in the world).

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