Threat of chemical warfare in Syria means it's time for US, NATO no-fly zone
The threat that Bashar al-Assad may use chemical weapons against opposition forces in Syria means it is time for President Obama and America's NATO allies to intervene and establish a no-fly zone. That's a far better option than directly arming the divided rebel forces.
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Victory for Assad will mean devastation for dissidents, activists, and the FSA. Not only does a no-fly zone provide added security for civilians, it evens the field of battle between the FSA and the regime. FSA commanders and fighters state their biggest hindrances to success are the Assad regime’s MiG jets and artillery for which the FSA has no defense. A no-fly zone will help to remove these threats while at the same time not provide weapons that could fall into the hands of jihadists and fundamentalists who are also fighting the Assad regime.Skip to next paragraph
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The Obama administration set a precedent in the region by working with NATO allies to create a no-fly zone in Libya in 2011. A joint NATO operation in Syria targeting warplanes and artillery will drastically reduce the number of civilian casualties on the ground. So far, an estimated 40,000 Syrians have been killed in the struggle.
Some worry Assad’s ally Iran would retaliate with military force. It is almost certain that Iranian weapons will continue to find their way into Syria – and in greater volume – should NATO or the US unilaterally decide to arm the rebels. However, it is unlikely that Iran will attempt to militarily oppose a no-fly zone by the US or NATO. A joint NATO-US initiative – as opposed to US unilateral action – lessens the threat of Iranian retaliation. Iran will be less inclined to engage NATO allies who, should Iran halt its nuclear enrichment program, would be key economic partners for Iran’s struggling economy.
Historically, arming rebel groups can become a parlous endeavor. In the 1980s, the US government unilaterally supplied weapons to the mujahedin fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan. What followed a mujahedin victory was a civil war in which US-provided weapons were used to decimate the civilian population throughout the country. At the time it armed the group, the US failed to understand the ethnic and religious divisions within the mujahedin ranks. The civil war that ensued only furthered to weaken the country and paved the way for the creation of the Taliban government.
It’s difficult to predict the direction a post-Assad Syria will go. It is not likely to become either a fully failed state or stable democracy. However, it is almost certain that the US and NATO allies will be drawn into a further conflict there, now or in the future, should they supply arms to groups that are only fractionally aligned.
Daniel Seckman is director of Enrollment Management at the American University of Afghanistan. He has been in Afghanistan for the last seven years and is currently writing a book on the languages of the Nuristan region there.