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The case for military intervention in Syria

Former US ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker argues that the West should not wait for a single mass atrocity before it intervenes in Syria, as it did in Bosnia. What is the magic number of deaths that will prompt the international community to act? We've already passed 9,000.

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How to intervene? There’s no easy answer, but having no answer is even worse. On the political side, we have to assume that Russia will block any intervention resolution in the UN Security Council.  And so the world would need to be prepared to act without one – just as in Kosovo in 1999.

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Participation by regional states is important – particularly Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Given France’s post-imperial history in Syria and Lebanon, it is better to have France (and, for that matter, Britain) on board a liberating intervention.

On the mechanics, it would require suppressing Syria’s offensive capabilities and air defenses and jamming communications. A “safe zone” would need to be established inside the country, which would allow for unfettered distribution of humanitarian relief and create a space where the opposition could organize and receive further training and support (think Benghazi in Libya).

This is a difficult and dangerous course, surpassed only by the difficult and dangerous course we are already traveling.

What is missing, therefore, is not an understanding of the case for intervention, or even a means to intervene, but a “catalyst” that justifies and forces action. If that catalyst occurs, the US and others might act. And then America and its friends should ask themselves why they did not act sooner, and prevent the very catastrophe that spurred them into action.

Kurt Volker, a former US ambassador to NATO, is a professor of practice at Arizona State University and a senior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.


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