It would be better, of course, if Russia and China would allow the Security Council to do the job for which it was intended — securing peace and preventing war crimes. By continuing to support al-Assad despite his use of chemical weapons, Russia’s standing in the Arab world has gone from patron to pariah. What little moral and political standing Russian President Vladimir Putin has retained in the rest of the world is also evaporating, as he will soon discover at the upcoming G20 summit in St Petersburg.
However, the world cannot hold its breath waiting for a change of heart by Putin and China, which is why a no-fly zone should be examined as a military option. In the aftermath of the Gulf War in 1991, a no-fly zone, initially proposed by then-British prime minister John Major, did not topple then-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, but it did prevent him from carrying out further attacks from the air on Kurds in the north and Shia in the south.
Likewise, a no-fly zone in Syria would immediately restrict the Syrian government’s means of delivery of weapons of mass destruction. Some military experts may say that Syria’s air defense systems are too sophisticated to suppress, making a no-fly zone too dangerous to enforce. However, Israel has managed to attack Syrian territory twice — destroying a North Korean-staffed nuclear reactor in 2007 and, more recently, striking a Hezbollah convoy — with no casualties or loss of planes.
Mindful of this weakness, Russia has offered Syria its more modern S-300 missiles; but there is no evidence that they have arrived, let alone been deployed. And once Syria’s air defense system is sufficiently degraded, it would be best if Arab countries — Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf states — and Turkey used their air forces to police the zone. Any malicious wishful thinking on the part of al-Assad’s regime would be dispelled with every glance at the sky.
Charles Tannock is foreign affairs coordinator for the European Conservatives and Reformists in the European Parliament.
Copyright: Project Syndicate