The Blog

Guns in the Ghetto - Should We Arm the Syrian Rebels?

There is no simple answer to the Syrian problem apart from encouraging Bashar Al-Assad to sit down around the negotiation table and allow democracy to take a role in his country. Will this happen

Some of you may know the UB40 song 'they're giving out guns in the ghetto, they say they set you free'. So, should we arm the Syrian rebels against an apparent oppressive regime, who are (according to reports) murdering, raping and causing hundreds of thousands of people to become refugees and flee their country? Why not? We stepped in to Libya to remove a so-called tyrant and enable democracy to reign. However, that was also one of the arguments for the second Iraq war and the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan; can one argue that life is better in Iraq or Afghanistan after our intervention? Maybe, and maybe not.

It is clear that Bashar Al-Assad has used immense force to quell the uprising, which he terms 'terrorist intervention'. There is also evidence of chemical weapons being available to use if necessary. However, one can also argue that Syria was a peaceful nation before the Arab spring and was prospering in a volatile area of the Middle East. Was this because the Al-Assad's regime ruled with an iron fist or was it simply because the majority of the citizens were happy until they realised that they could have a democracy?

The UK, US and other European countries wish to help the so-called rebels, which is an admirable thing to do. At the end of the day we did not intervene early enough when ethnic cleansing was going on in the former Yugoslavia where mass graves are still being found. However, how do we know the weapons which we would be supplying will end up in the hands of the true rebels and not Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups? Do we send in Che Guevara to organise the freedom fighting? No of course not, apart from the fact he is no longer with us, you cannot trust any third party. The answer is simple, we send in special forces to ensure that the weapons are going to the right people and they receive training in combat operations to ensure that civilians are not caught up in the revolt. It sounds easy on paper, but we all know that's not the case; we know from the Libyan experience that some weapons fell into the hands of extremists with negative consequences and this was when we had a UN mandate to intervene.

Whoops, we have forgotten the Russians and the bear wrestling Putin, who is not only supporting the Al-Assad regime but arming them with superior weapons. Do we really want to upset the all powerful Russians? If we do, we risk another cold war or even a cold winter if they choose to turn off the gas supply which most of Europe and the UK in particular rely on. Would Russia really oppose any kind of intervention by the West in Syria? The answer is a big fat YES. Russia do not want a pro-West democracy on its doorstep and the evidence for this is clear with their attitude towards Georgia and any kind of intervention in Iran. Do the USA and UK feel that they are able to defy the Russian request, not to intervene? Perhaps the Hawks do but I doubt president Obama would encourage this situation.

One must also consider the result of the fall of the Al-Assad regime. It is clear that we have not learnt any lessons from Iraq or Afghanistan; where violence still reigns and separatist groups still fight each other and kill women and children. The whole idea of bringing democracy to Syria is an ideological fantasy but is one which could be worth pursuing if we are willing to risk our relationship with Russia.

There is one final problem when dealing with the aftermath of the fall of Al-Assad, and that is how do you ensure chemical and biological weapons do not fall into the wrong hands? This is almost impossible unless a massive UN ground force is sent in when the regime falls. This would not be possible for two main reasons. First, due to the economic climate countries in the UN cannot afford to provide tools and equipment to ensure this does not happen. Second, if we do send in a massive ground force will the Syrians just feel like it is an occupation?

There is no simple answer to the Syrian problem apart from encouraging Bashar Al-Assad to sit down around the negotiation table and allow democracy to take a role in his country. Will this happen? Highly unlikely when Russia are supporting him and they are winning the war. The result is that we will see thousands or millions of refugees and innocent Syrians killed until someone intervenes in the correct way. When will that happen? Possibly never!