The Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, recently appeared on American television in a rare interview where he denied accusations that he was committing crimes against the Syrian people; he stated that ‘no government in the world kills its people, unless it’s led by a crazy person’. This has since been exposed by the prominent hacker group, Anonymous, who have leaked a string of emails, from Assad’s closest advisors, which aimed to help the Syrian leader manipulate the American public; yet the pictures and reports emanating from Syria of the strikes upon the rebel city of Homs are evidence in themselves.
Therefore, as the Syrian government continued its bombardment of rebel groups in the city of Homs this past week, foreign dignitaries were converging at the UN Headquarters in New York in the hope that an appropriate international response be agreed upon within the Security Council over events in Syria. This was not the case, however, and China and Russia vetoed a vital Security Council resolution which would have allowed international action to bear upon the Arab Republic’s President, Bashar al-Assad. Those of influence, sat in Moscow and Beijing, refused to agree to what they viewed as the international community meddling in the affairs of a sovereign nation. There was an unsurprising amount of censure towards the veto from the wider international community and a legitimate sense of frustration with the way events had panned out. Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, was the most vocal critic of the Chinese and Russian obstruction of the resolution, denouncing their behaviour as ‘shameful and disgusting’.
An estimate of the number of casualties in the bloodshed thus far have reached as high as 7,941 and yet the strikes have continued after the veto at a higher frequency. After vetoing the resolution, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, visited Damascus to call for the opening of dialogue between the Syrian government and the rebels. Yet, with snipers still in position, scores being killed every day and a week-long shelling campaign creating a sense of panic in the city of Homs, an internal solution based on dialogue between the warring parties seems highly unlikely.
The Syrian regime has seemingly learnt from the expensive lessons of the Arab Spring where the lack of a sufficient exertion of might has allowed revolution to blossom in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. In light of this, the Syrian elite appear more determined than ever to meet areas of unrest with implacable force. In spite of Syria’s isolation in the international community, Russia remains a committed ally. They continue to supply the Arab Republic with arms, they have a naval base on the Syrian coast at Tartus and the Kremlin, even if articulating that it has ‘no special concern’ for Assad, maintains close diplomatic ties with Damascus as clearly demonstrated by Lavrov’s recent visit. If anything, Russia and China’s actions in the Security Council have reinforced Assad’s position and heightened his determination to bring the disorder to a swift conclusion. Therefore, the question is: what next for Syria?
It is unquestionable that the punishments handed to Syria thus far have been abject failures. Economic sanctions, the removal of Syria’s membership in the Arab League and widespread international condemnation have not worked as hoped and the removal of Assad in the near future appears improbable unless military intervention becomes a serious reality. International pressure has undoubtedly increased on the Syrian regime with the US closing its embassy in Damascus and Britain, France, Italy and Spain all recalling their representatives. Yet, Assad has the support, in the Security Council at least, of Russia and China; the support of the Syrian army; the support of his family; a weak and unorganised opposition in the form of the SNC (Syrian National Council) and an international community which is unlikely to act unless through the correct legitimate channels. Therefore, until an internal or external solution is found to the Syrian Crisis, there remains a high possibility that Assad will remain in power for the foreseeable future, the bloodshed will continue and Syria will find itself descending into an intense civil war.
As long as Assad’s strong position maintains, the only real alternative to military intervention that is on the table is helping the opposition to become more united and stronger. Due to the veto, the US and its allies will have to work around this obstacle and through various other channels. The EU, as a regional organisation, has placed economic sanctions upon Syria and has pledged to go further after the latest events. Ban Ki-moon has stated that the failed Arab League monitoring mission will be revived; this will benefit the dialogue on the ground and keep interaction with the Syrian government open. However, unless the Syrian army defects or Russia and China drastically change their views on the situation in Syria, the only positive outcome seems to be the rebels overthrowing the regime with huge Western assistance or the West intervening and doing the job themselves regardless of the Security Council veto. The former looks the most likely solution at the moment. One thing is for sure, it will be incredibly interesting to see how this will play out. Will Syria join the wave of successful Arab revolutions before it? Or will Assad successfully shield his country from the contagion of democracy? Only time will tell.