Violence Continues As UN-Syria Ceasefire Deadline Passes
The deadline for the Syrian government to begin implementing a UN-backed peace plan passed on 10 April as violence continued across the country.
IHS Global Insight Perspective
The apparent imminent collapse of the UN plan is not unexpected given Syria's past behaviour, but it once again exposes the lack of international consensus on dealing with the crisis in the country.
The absence of a diplomatic consensus will reopen the debate among Arab and Western diplomats about how they can further increase their assistance to the Syrian opposition.
Without a peace plan and international unity, the Syrian government will once again feel it has the latitude to continue the violence. This though risks hastening the descent into wider civil conflict.
Naci Koru, Turkey's deputy foreign minister, today (10 April) declared that "10 April has become void," as he denounced the cross-border shooting incident of the day before which saw Syrian troops fire into a refugee camp housing Syrian civilians in Turkey. A separate incident on the same day saw Syrian troops fire across the border into Lebanon, killing a local journalist. The two incidents seemed, at least in the collective conscience of diplomats and observers, to spell the death of the latest international attempt to end the fighting in Syria. Koru's words may have administered the last rites, but leave no indication of what happens next.
From Prospective Ceasefire to Military Escalation
The regime of president Bashar al-Assad had spent the days running up to the 10 April deadline using a mixture of posturing and subterfuge to suggest that it was complying with the UN. Syrian diplomats and military sources insisted that the government and the army were withdrawing from towns and cities as laid out in Kofi Annan's peace plan. Russian diplomatic sources delivered a similar message.
However, reports by opposition and human rights groups told a different story of escalating military action across the country, as the government seemingly adopted the same tactics as it had in December 2011 ahead of the arrival in the country of an Arab League monitoring team—namely, attempting to crush centres of resistance before being called upon to fulfil its commitments to cease the violence. Indeed, Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Muallem continued to protest today that Syria was still committed to implementing the UN plan, telling journalists in the Russian capital Moscow, where he is on a visit, presumably to shore up Russian support as the deadline passed: "We have already withdrawn military units from different Syrian provinces."
These assurances though have impressed few members of the international community. Referring to the incidents in Turkey and Lebanon, United States State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: "These incidents are just another indication that the [Syrian] regime does not seem at all willing to meet the commitments that it made to Kofi Annan."
Pro-Syrian government demonstrators hold Baath party flags and a picture of President
The international willingness to accept either the regime's explanations for the continued violence or its protestations of compliance were not aided by their transparent attempt yesterday (9 April) to try to prolong the deadline by demanding written guarantees of good faith from the Syrian opposition. This attempt to introduce a last-minute condition was rejected out of hand by opposition leaders, and was barely responded to by the UN. Nevertheless, should, as seems likely, the plan collapses, the opposition's failure to provide these guarantees will probably be used by Assad's regime as part of its justification for continuing its military operations.
From Despair to Where?
With international faith in Syria now almost completely exhausted—if it wasn't already before—attention will now turn to where the UN goes from here. An extension of the deadline for Syria to comply with the plan would appear out of the question, unless the UN and Kofi Annan are willing to risk the ruination of their credibility. The plan may have united the Security Council for the first time on Syria, but there was widespread scepticism, especially among Western council members, that Damascus was serious about implementing it. They appear have been proved right but they, like Syria's few international allies, lack any kind of "Plan B" should things go wrong. Despite the (unqualified) assertions from deserting Syrian military personnel that a short, sharp campaign of air strikes would be enough to weaken Assad's grip on power, there is no appetite nor evidence to suggest that this is going to happen any time soon. Meanwhile, Russia may be opposing international military intervention more because it is protecting its commercial interests than out of any love for Assad, but its policy has even less credibility than that of Western states. Moreover, its support continues to provide Syria with the diplomatic protection—intentionally or otherwise—to play the long diplomatic game in the hope of completing its military operations.
The problem that the international community now finds itself in is the same one that has dogged the approach to Syria since the uprising began in March 2011. The country's geo-strategic position and the confluence of complicating factors—a divided opposition, a strong central state, Western electoral cycles, fear of regional spill-over and what comes next—all militate against a Libya-style intervention. However, economic and political sanctions take time to work, with no guarantee of success. As a consequence, countries sympathetic to the opposition are forced to operate with little or no leverage over the Assad regime at the same time as risking a diminution of their international credibility as the violence continues.
Outlook and Implications
Whether all of this will bring us any closer to what certain Arab states, chiefly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are already keen to do—arm the opposition—also remains unanswered. It maybe that Turkey, suitably enraged by yesterday's shooting incident, becomes more amenable to suggestions from Saudi Arabia and Qatar and allows itself to be used as a conduit for arms for the Free Syrian Army (FSA). However, this risks sparking the regionalisation of the conflict that could drag in neighbouring Lebanon and even the regional powerhouse Iran. Such a scenario remains a nightmare for Turkey, Lebanon, the US, and Israel. However, the option of doing nothing and allowing Assad's regime to continue on its current path is equally unpalatable, as that risks a wider civil conflict that could draw in more radical Sunni groups—including perhaps Al-Qaeda—who will view the conflict in sectarian terms, pitting Shi'a against Sunni. For reasons of short-term regime survival, the Syrian regime may have convinced itself that it could not possibly agree to the UN plan, but the longer term alternatives, whichever way it looks, appear far worse. The forfeiting of the peace plan means the stakes in Syria could rarely be higher.
- Indian government releases DPCO 2013, expanding price controls to 652 drugs
- Key US data releases and events
- Budget 2014: US administration signals greater willingness to compromise
- Mercedes-Benz unveils important new S-Class
- GDP, inflation, retail sales, public finances, and Bank of England minutes all feature in UK Economic Week starting 20 May
- Global Economic Impact of the Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Disaster
- Slow start to 2013 highlights ongoing economic challenges in Vietnam
- Consumer spending and export recovery drive Japan's GDP growth in Q1
- Chinese vehicle sales and production rise to over 2 mil. units in March, Q1 sales up 13.2% y/y – CAAM
- Calendar effects move EU passenger car demand back into positive territory with 1.7% rise in April