Law & Legal & Attorney Military

What"s Next For Syria?

If there was a day when things changed in international affairs it was May 1st 2003.
That was the day when the then US President George W Bush gave his "Mission Accomplished" speech aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.
From September 11th 2001 until then it was a beautifully simple world, black and white, good guys against bad guys.
The good guys were the US and its allies, the bad guys Saddam Hussein, Al Qaeda and various Islamist fanatics such as the Taliban.
With the disaster that subsequently engulfed Iraq and the ongoing pain of Afghanistan it has been revealed that the world is really not that simple, not black and white but many and ever increasing shades of grey.
With the Damascus chemical attack of 21st August 2013 President Basher al-Assad of Syria has shown himself to undoubtedly be one of the world's bad guys, but any reasonable assessment of the Syrian opposition raises all sorts of concerns and reveals at least some of them to be no better.
This has made a complex situation even more difficult for the leaders of the western democracies to handle.
When the Damascus chemical attacks were reported around the world, and it seems highly probable that the Syrian regime is responsible, there were quite understandable demands for action.
The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, quickly began mobilizing support for limited military action with the objective of destroying the Syrian regimes chemical weapons capability.
Mindful of the lack of public support for a full intervention involving ground forces, the oft referred to "boots on the ground", the precision strikes option is the only one so far on the menu.
The Obama administration naturally has a huge aversion to anything that would risk American casualties, and so even putting American aircraft over Syrian airspace would have to be avoided.
It is widely known that the Syrians have an extensive Integrated Air Defence System (IADS), equipped with some of the latest Russian surface to air missiles including the highly capable SA22.
Whilst the performance of the equipment itself, the Command and Control system (C2) and its integration with any kind of Early Warning (EW) system is unknown, its mere presence is enough to force the precision strikes option to take the form of ballistic missile strikes.
These would be Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from US Navy destroyers in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The destroyers themselves can sit outside the range of any Syrian anti-shipping missiles and strike with impunity targets throughout the country.
These missiles are extremely effective against fixed targets, with a range of over 1000km and excellent accuracy.
Likely targets for a first strike would be C2 facilities and high profile military targets rather than any chemical weapons dumps.
The question has to be -Will the strikes be effective in degrading the regimes chemical weapons, capability -What happens next The answer to the first is easier to assess than the second.
Undoubtedly the US military has the capability to destroy whatever part of Syria it chooses, it is just a question of firing enough missiles.
With a unit cost of over a million dollars per missile though, and the danger of collateral damage and its effect on already fragile American public support, any campaign would have to be very limited in duration.
There is also the issue of targets, whilst buildings and facilities are easy and involve loading the coordinates into the missiles GPS system, chemical weapons loaded into the back of a truck that may then be parked next to a school is a completely different story.
So it has to be assessed that precision strikes with Tomahawk missiles would be effective in visibly punishing the Syrian regime, but not in degrading their ability to use chemical weapons.
It is a blessing that the Russians have politically outplayed the Obama administration and that the option of limited military action has at least be temporarily shelved.
It could only have caused more problems in a region already hugely destabilised.
What is most likely to happen now is that an Assad regime emboldened by its perceived support from Russian and US prevarication that it takes as weakness will make token attempts to comply with demands to hand over chemical weapons it was until recently denying even existed.
This will go on for months with no obvious benefit and no end in sight until finally the US and its allies lose patience.
Even the British members of parliament who voted against military action will change their mind, having watched yet more footage on news coverage of atrocities carried out by both sides in the Syrian civil war and listened to ever more desperate pleas from the relief agencies operating in the border areas.
Meanwhile the numbers of displaced civilians will rise well over the current two million and the body count will mount.
It is likely to then be apparent, even to war weary western governments that intervention is necessary, and by then the Putin administration is Russia may be willing to play the part of international peacemaker.
It will then become possible to gain UN Security Council approval for intervention, not against one side or the other, as would be the case in striking only against the Assad regime, but as genuine peacemakers.
The only workable solution will be for a full UN military intervention as suggested by formed Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, who led the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda.
Only sufficient numbers of ground troops, suitably equipped, effectively lead and with robust rules of engagement can form the required buffer between the warring parties and bring some semblance of peace to Syria, allowing the diplomats to do their work, and saving the innocent people of the country from relentless suffering.

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