Other Options to Address Atrocities in Syria?

January 26, 2012

Note: The purpose of this post isn’t to provide answers, but to raise questions. Feedback welcome.

What about an aerial and naval blockade of Syria to prevent planes and ships carrying weapons and ammunition from places like Russia and Iran from entering the country?

We’re at (past) the point where additional options must be considered to address the violence in Syria. Although the military option du jour seems to be the no-fly zone/humanitarian corridor, I can’t help but think that there might be other options worth considering. The idea that keeps taking up space in my head is a naval and aerial blockade — essentially, a coercive arms embargo. The thought being that these blockades could be used to cut off the Assad regime’s access to arms and help to increase pressure on problematic enablers like Russia.

The Pros

  • In large part, it would seem that these blockades would end up being implemented anyway with a no-fly zone in place, but could be done as a first step with less resources. (For example, the naval blockade would only require monitoring 120 miles of Syrian coastline on the Mediterranean Sea and potentially 140 miles of Lebanese coastline.)
  • Provided that humanitarian aid can still flow through, they can both be done without the type of unintended consequences that we would witness with a no-fly zone (see Libya).
  • It could help to shift the calculus before more drastic steps are taken.
  • It doesn’t have the unintended consequences of the humanitarian corridors, which would likely advantage the armed opposition forces and put nearby civilians at risk.

The Cons

  • It could just help Assad buy more time to kill people. With arms and weapons already on the ground, the impact of the blockades wouldn’t be felt immediately. In the meantime, additional civilians would lose their lives.
  • It would play into Assad’s narrative about a Western conspiracy against Syria (assuming that the United States and European countries are involved) and could shore up remaining internal support.
  • It could make countries like Russia dig their heels in further at the United Nations Security Council and/or generate greater push back from countries like China.

The Big Questions

  • Would the Arab League, or at least the Gulf Cooperation Council, be supportive?
  • Would Iraq get on board or could they be convinced to get on board with the aerial blockade?
  • What about Lebanon? Assuming they wouldn’t join the effort, would preventing ships or planes from flying over Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast be sufficient?
  • What does this actually get us? How long would it take for the regime’s ammunition supplies to dwindle? When will Russia be delivering the 36 combat jets? If the regime changes their calculation, would things be more likely to escalate or deescalate?
  • How difficult would the aerial blockade be for Iraq, Jordan and Turkey to implement?
  • What about the Syrian opposition, could they go for this step over a no-fly zone?
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One Response to “Other Options to Address Atrocities in Syria?”

  1. […] who won’t allow its vessels to be boarded, and Iran, who shares a land border with Syria. Any sort of blockade that comes without UN Security Council approval will be, and should be, seen as an Act of War. That […]

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