The civil war in Syria grinds on, and conditions for Syrian civilians—those inside its borders as well as the millions forced to flee to neighboring countries—continue to deteriorate. As global and regional powers not only fail to help end the war but actively engage in arming and funding all sides in the fighting, we in civil society must sharpen our demands for a different position from that of our governments.
The crisis began with a popular call for an end to repression and a nonviolent movement demanding accountability from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and the release of political prisoners and detainees. Economic and environmental traumas, including a crippling drought and the slashing of key government subsidies, underpinned the crisis. The government responded with a promise of reform—which went unfulfilled—accompanied by terrible violence. Many Syrian activists and defecting soldiers took up weapons in response, and as the fighting spread, Islamists—many of them non-Syrian extremists—joined the anti-government battle. Three years on, the civil war has broadened into several overlapping but distinct wars, national, regional, sectarian and international.
We must stand with those struggling for equality, dignity and human rights for all Syrians, and on the principle that there is no military solution to the conflict. Further military action will increase the violence and instability, not only inside Syria but within the region and even globally—and will not improve the lives of Syria’s beleaguered civilians.
Below are recommendations for what needs to be done, as soon as possible.
1.The United States should, first, do no harm. The Obama administration should support United Nations decision-making, international law and diplomacy instead of military force, and make good on its frequent acknowledgment that “there is no military solution in Syria.” That means no US military strikes or threats of strikes, and an end to all other military involvement, including arms shipments. This is a point of principle, not timing—because even if efforts for a cease-fire, arms embargo and diplomacy do not succeed immediately, we know that US military involvement will only make things worse.
2.Stopping US military involvement is only step one; we must demand a policy that helps bring an end to the horrific civil war. Washington should call for, and support, an immediate cease-fire by all sides and a comprehensive international arms embargo. It should announce immediate plans to stop sending or enabling the provision of arms to rebel forces and to prevent US allies from doing so, while simultaneously renewing pressure on Russia and Iran to stop sending arms to the Syrian government. Such a call on Russia and Iran would carry far more credibility if it was linked to a public US commitment to end its own arms provision. Washington should be prepared to strengthen and enforce end-use agreements on arms exports to exert pressure on its regional allies, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Jordan and Israel. Washington should make clear to these arms recipients that continued provision of arms to any side in the conflict will result in the cancellation of all US weapons contracts with them. Washington should be prepared to support a UN Security Council resolution imposing a complete and enforceable arms embargo on all sides of the conflict and should also support efforts to create local cease-fires and truces inside Syria.