Over two years later since the conflict started and with a reported 100,000 already killed, the latest from the Obama Administration is that the US will proceed with a military intervention in Syria, even without British support. Crossing Obama's 'red line', al-Assad's reported use of chemical weapons on 21st of August which killed over 1,400 people, may arguably lead to his imminent downfall. Although there remains many questions surrounding the imminent intervention, it would not be the first the time that the West has considered the use of chemical weapons as a non-negotiable justification for military intervention. The West's intervention in Northern Iraq is a clear example of intervention of this sort.
However the conflict in Syria greatly differs, largely because of the circumstances that underlie it. Not only is the current civil war in Syria was a result of the wider Arab Spring movement, but more importantly, Syria is far more strategically important than Libya or any other Arab Spring state. al-Assad's Syria plays a pivotal role in the geo-politics of the Middle East as al-Assad's is allied to Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah. Whilst it has been reported that the Free Syrian Army have received arms and support from the anti-Iranian, oil-rich, Gulf countries for some time. Thus, this places Syria in a tug of war between Western interests on the one side and Iranian interests on the other, with the brunt of which being felt by the civilian population. Indeed, the futility of intervening at this point is highly debatable; although the footage from the chemical massacre is dreadful, it is questionable as to whether they are any more so than those that have streamed out of Syria for the past two years? Arguably not. Rather it may be that intervention at this point is due to the hesitancy of the Obama administration to involve itself in a potentially long and protracted war. Indeed, the real reason maybe that the US feels it has been left with no option but to intervene, having previously established that the use of chemical weapon's were a 'red line'.
Furthermore, unlike the closet comparison, that of Libya, the US does not have a UN Security Council Resolution authorising the use of force in Syria. This is mostly due to the influence of Russia who as a staunch ally of al-Assad has a vested interest in maintaining Bashar's control over the country. Certainty it is clear that the Russia continues to delivery weaponry to Syria as part of its $17bn sales programme. Thus, in response to Obama's televised announcement of his intention to intervene President Putin called for more information beyond 'the nonsense'.
Without supporting the selfish agenda of Putin, from a legal sense, an intervention in Syria is potentially difficult to reconcile in international law. Initially it seems the US is relying on a doctrine known as the 'responsibility to protect' (R2P) which authorises states to intervene in conflicts on the basis of humanitarian necessity even without a UN resolution. Essentially, R2P entails rethinking Syria's sovereignty as its responsibility to protect its civilians, which seemingly enough, it has failed to do so. However, R2P has only ever really been used once in the 1990s during the Kosovo conflict. In the same way that all UN resolutions clearly fall short of authorising force, so did the ones passed in relation to Kosovo. Although NATO's intervention in Kosovo was later endorsed by the council through resolution 1244/1999, a replication of this sort of intervention in Syria bares higher risks due to the geo-political situation and the relative weakness of the, still yet to be recognised, R2P doctrine.
Nonetheless, should the US choose to proceed with military intervention in Syria on the basis of the R2P doctrine, they could be supported by the moral argument for an intervention of a limited-scale (without any ground-troops). While more broadly, what implications this intervention will have for the Syrian people and their revolution remains to be properly understood. Yet one thing, which has been learnt from Syrian conflict, is that a revolution and change does not occur according to a schedule, whether that is the Syrian people's schedule or the schedule of the Western powers. Even if there is a US intervention in Syria (supported by allies such as France) which according to latest reports will require Congressional support, we need to recognise a truth that the change that Syria really needs may not come from the intervention of the US or the overthrow of al-Assad's bloody regime. The Arab spring is yet to completely flourish in countries such as Libya where the West intervened and others such as Yemen where the US did not intervene. The real change which the Arab Spring intended to provide, will only be really achieved when the people are governed how they want. In my mind, there is no doubt that at very least, the US's intervention in Syria will certainly create a deterrent factor for al-Assad which may ultimately help pave the way towards the Syrian people being governed how they desire.