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Seize the sanctions moment in Syria

President Assad's continued violent repression of protesters, including shelling of the port city Latakia, makes now the moment for the UN Security Council to impose harsh sanctions on Syria.

By George A. Lopez / August 16, 2011

Notre Dame, Ind.

When the United Nations Security Council meets on Thursday to discuss Syria, it should seize the moment to impose multiple sanctions on the Assad regime and its network of support. Such measures would be consistent with past council sanctions aimed to degrade a regime’s ability to kill innocent civilians.

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Strong coercive action is now warranted in light of the indiscriminate shelling of citizens in the port city of Latakia by naval gunships that began Saturday. Repression of predominantly nonviolent protestors continues even after various diplomatic missions and significant regional condemnations of the past week failed to persuade President Bashar al-Assad to end his assaults. Indeed, the Security Council’s Aug. 3 condemnation of the violence has not swayed Mr. Assad.

If the council fails to invoke sanctions, that task falls immediately to a broad coalition of UN members – including reluctant economic partner Turkey – led by the United States and the European Union. They must bring on harsh sanctions, including against Syrian oil and gas, that strengthen and expand significantly those they have already imposed.

Nations that may disagree with deploying sanctions (Russia, most likely) can argue – correctly – that such punishments have never toppled a determined, repressive dictator. But that should not be the goal of multilateral sanctions.

Rather, an intense and coordinated array of coercive measures as outlined below, aims to generate greater financial hardship deeper into Assad’s support network. They would constrain his ability to pay and reward those engaged in the attacks, and disrupt the flow of ammunition and weapons available to his security forces.

Such sanctions have led to severe constraints on Muammar Qaddafi’s firepower and to defections of Libyan elites. They also have helped to protect some civilians in internal wars in Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

Why sanctions could work in Syria

In this particular case, sanctions have a heightened probability of eroding the repressive capabilities of the government. First, economic deterioration, lack of access to foreign banks, and travel restrictions create new conditions whereby internal actors in Syria will begin to weigh more directly the costs against the benefits of remaining tied to the regime.


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