Archive | 8:17 pm

Arms to Syria: Fueling the Fire of Violence

14 Nov

On Saturday, the Arab League voted to suspend Syria’s membership revoking the country’s voting rights, while also seeking to impose sanctions. Furthermore, the UN has reported  more than 3,500 deaths since the protests against President Bashar al-Assad and his government began underscoring just how tense and precarious the situation remains. It is clear that violence is undoubtedly facilitated by the flow of weapons, which not only are used in the clashes among parties to the conflict, but also to intimidate and to create a culture of fear destabilizing communities and stymieing any chance for a peaceful resolution. The flow of arms is surely ‘adding fuel to the fire’ and is strikingly irresponsible behavior as the death toll rises with no sign of a negotiated end. Onlookers are increasingly frightened by these heightened tensions and the Assad government’s severe lack of willingness to negotiate.

The Russian Federation just announced its intentions to honor all arms contracts with Syria despite the continued government crackdown. Citing the lack of official restrictions (i.e. an arms embargo) against Syria, Russian officials have affirmed their commitment to uphold their ‘business transactions.’ Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, deputy head of Russia’s Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation, warned against a repetition of the “Libyan scenario.” Dzirkaln also noted that the Russian government is keen to resume arms sales to Libya– both existing and prospective deals. However, it is clear that selling arms to a country in the midst of severe violence is much more than a business transaction and has ramifications far beyond an exchange of weaponry for a monetary price. Libya stands as a glaring and recent case in point. The proliferation of new arms and the unregulated flow of exisitng ones continue to wreak havoc on the political transition in Libya (see prior post “Controlling arms in the new Libya: The bigger picture.”) Many of the so-called anti-Qadaffi rebel groups have refused to disarm for fear of losing leverage and bargaining clout perpetuating the cycle of instability and fear of violence. Reports of missing weapons and unaccounted for ammunition stockpiles are a grim reality with which the new Libyan government must deal and a situation that is making a difficult situation even more grueling and intractable.

As a backdrop to continued arms sales to Syria, a political stalemate at the UN remains. There is certainly a hesitation, most notably on the Security Council from the Chinese, Russians, and South Africans, to re-create any situation resembling Libya in any form from military intervention, referral to the ICC, or even adoption of a resolution condemning the violence. Dissatisfaction with the implementation of Resolution 1973 has become the ‘elephant in the room’ in the Council chamber seemingly halting any action on Syria whatsoever.

The ambivalence to move forward on Syria is both glaringly apparent and dangerous. Exacerbating this ambivalence is the continual flow of weapons fueling violent outbreaks on the parts of both the government and the anti-Assad protesters. First and foremost, the violence must stop. And so does the proliferation of arms.

–Katherine Prizeman