Should we really arm Syrian Rebels? Pt. 1

As I am sure you are aware, over the past two years Syria has become embroiled in a bloody, destructive and expensive civil war which has claimed the lives of a reported number of 83,000 – 93000 people (Reuters, 2013). Syria’s civil war began in 2011 as a result of the chaotic Arab Spring which has engulfed Northern Africa and parts of the Middle-East in recent, turbulent years. Peaceful protesters took to the streets of Damascus in opposition of forty years of undemocratic al-Assad rule. The protests soon became violent and deteriorated into the militarised anti-government revolution which is currently being demonstrated. Syria has become a humanitarian crisis zone which has been recognised as a crucial issue by the global civil society and there have been several attempts to placate the rebels, stop governmental repression and end the conflict by peaceful means.

At the beginning of the conflict, Special Envoy to Syria and former United Nations Secretary – General, Kofi Annan drafted a peace plan between the Syrian government and the rebel opposition. After several unsuccessful negotiations and renegotiations, Annan announced his failure and the conflict continued. The Arab League has also attempted to open a dialogue between the two parties but these attempts proved to be unproductive. Since then, western powers have taken over mediation and intervention processes. The ‘Friends of Syria Group’ which includes: Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States, met in Doha, Qatar in June 2013 and agreed to ‘provide urgently all the necessary materiel and equipment to the opposition on the ground (Reuters, 2013).” They have not set a date for when this aid will be given but Barack Obama’s administration has already, ‘reluctantly (Forbes, 2013)’ pledged arms to the Syrian rebels.

In June 2013, the Group of 8 (G8) which consists of eight of the most powerful and influential states in the world; Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States, met in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland to discuss a multitude of issues regarding development, democracy and security. Perhaps the most significant item on the agenda of the G8 and one which Mr Cameron and Mr Obama were keen to resolve with Mr Putin was the contentious issue of how to proceed with the situation in Syria. One of the difficulties of the issue is coming to an agreement with President Putin of Russia, which is one of the chief supporters of al-Assad’s regime. It is argued that Washington believes that Putin’s Russia is shielding al-Assad because of trade-links with the country and that Russia provides the main obstacle to western attempts at diplomatic political discussions.

On an episode of the BBC’s political talk show, Question Time on 20th June 2013 this issue was discussed in great detail by the panellists; Comedian Russell Brand, Former Olympics minister Tessa Jowell, Mayor of London Boris Johnson, Lib Dem MP Ed Davey and the rather surprisingly extreme Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips. The debate raised some very interesting and relevant arguments which inspired further thought about the implications of arming the ‘rebels’ in Syria and supporting their revolutionary uprising against the government. The G8 discussed the idea of arming the anti-government rebels in Syria as a way of helping the civil war come to an end. However, there are several problems with arming the Syrian rebels that must seriously jeopardise the integrity of the G8’s plan, particularly after previous decisions regarding intervention. Problems such as:

– Who exactly makes up the rebel group?
– Is it really safe to arm them?
– What kind of weapons would be provided?
– Have there really been chemical weapons or are they as real as the Weapons of Mass Destruction in Saddam Hussein’s garage?
– Is it legal for western or other powers to arm the rebels?

Surely there are other ways of supporting the people of Syria more generally?; regarding food, healthcare and hospitals, clothing etc. Is humanitarian intervention perhaps a more universally acceptable and tangibly supportive option? This argument must be and will be explored later in the text.

Thank you for reading! I will post part two soon!

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