UK Drafts Syria UN Resolution as the World Debates the Possible InterventionAugust 28, 2013 in Syria
The United Kingdom announced this week that it will put forth a resolution to the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday “authorizing necessary measures to protect civilians” in Syria. The move comes after intelligence reports indicated that chemical weapons were likely used by the Assad regime against civilians in Syria. During an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the UK’s Prime Minister stated that the “world should not stand by” after the “unacceptable use” of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. The Syrian government has denied any involvement in the suspected chemical attack which was carried out in Damascus on 21 August. Instead, the regime blames the attack, which resulted in hundreds of people dying, on the opposition.
According to UK Prime Minister David Cameroon, the draft resolution, which will condemn the “chemical weapons attack by Assad,” will be put forward during a meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council which will be held in New York later on Wednesday. The Prime Minister also indicated that “we’ve always said we want the UN Security to live up to its responsibilities on Syria. Today they have an opportunity to do that.” If such an intervention is passed through a UN resolution, it is likely that the United States, France and the UK, along with other regional and international states, will be involved. Furthermore, the UK, the US and France already have the necessary forces and military equipment stationed in the region which could be diverted to focus on the intervention in Syria.
The announcement of a possible intervention comes as a team of UN weapons inspectors resumed their work on Wednesday, investigating a suspected chemical weapons attack that occurred in Damascus on 21 August. It currently remains unclear which districts the inspectors were scheduled to visit. Their work had previously been called because of security concerns after they were shot at by unidentified snipers on Monday. According to UN officials, one of their cars came under fire from unidentified gunmen as it crossed the buffer zone between the government and rebel-controlled areas. With their work resuming, and with pressure for an international intervention mounting, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has appealed for the team to be given “time to do its job,” citing that the UN inspectors would require another four days in order to complete their probe and that more time would be needed in order analyze their findings. He also called on the Council’s permanent members, China France, Russia, the UK and the US, to act together, stating that “the body interested with maintaining international peace and security cannot be ‘missing in action’…the council must at least find the unity to act. It must use its authority for peace.” Meanwhile joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has stated that “it does seem clear that some kind of substance was used…that killed a lot of people” on 21 August. However the envoy emphasized that any military action in Syria would require the UN Security Council’s authorization.
Possible Models for an Intervention in Syria
Although limited information pertaining to the draft resolution is currently available, signals from Washington and London over the past few days suggest that military action against Syria is a strong possibility. If the resolution is passed, over the following weeks, contingency plans will be drawn and potential target lists will be reviewed. However a number of models for the possible intervention in Syria already exist, and will likely aid officials in narrowing down their options.
Codenamed Operation Desert Storm, also known as the Gulf War, the 1991 US-led global military coalition in Iraq was tasked with removing Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Today, the mission is considered as a perfect case study in international intervention as it had clear and limited objectives, was fully anchored in international law and had an explicit mandate from the UN Security Council. The Balkans during the 1990’s in which US supplied arms to the anti-Serb resistance in Croatia and Bosnia in defiance of a UN-mandated embargo. A US-led air campaign against Serb paramilitaries was later carried out.
In December 1992, in response to a humanitarian disaster which was followed by the complete failure of the Somali state, the UN Security Council authorized the creation of an international force with the aim of facilitating humanitarian supplies. Although initially the US was not involved, Americans gradually began to contribute to the operation in Somalia.
However the US military’s involvement without a clear objective culminated in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, also known as Black Hawk Down, in which eighteen US servicemen died on 3 – 4 October. The tragedy had an immediate impact on American public opinion and resulted in US troops withdrawing from Somalia despite the civil war continuing. While elements of this model were not used in any future interventions, the mission coupled with the lack of a clear objective has become a classic example of how not to conduct an international operation.
In 2011, France and the UK sought UN Security Council authorization for a humanitarian operation to save the residents of the rebel city of Benghazi from being massacred by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Russia and China abstained by did not veto the resolution. An air offensive continued until the fall of Gaddafi.
Western Military Options
Western leaders will be faced with a number of military options that range from a short, sharp punitive strike against targets in Syria to a full-scale intervention to end the country’s civil war. This option would involve both on-the-ground troops and air forces. With long-lasting military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with the recent French-led military intervention in Mali, Western leaders will likely be inclined to focus on a short but deadly strike in Syria, fearing that a full-scale operation may result in Western forces being drawn into an open-ended military commitment.
An unclassified assessment of the military options as seen by the Pentagon was released in mid-July in a detailed letter to Senator Carl Levin that was written by Gen Martin Dempsey. In the letter, Gen Dempsey lists a number of options that may be used if an intervention in Syria becomes possible.
The first option involves punitive strikes which would aim to get President Assad’s attention in a bid to persuade him not to resort to the use of chemical weapons in the future. The attraction of this option is that it could be mounted quickly and would result in limited risk to the forces that are involved. Possible targets in such a mission could include military sites that are linked closely to the region, including headquarters, barracks or elite units. Although missile production facilities may be targeted, increased caution would have to be exercised if striking chemical weapons production facilities as any leakage of toxic chemicals could lead to significant damages in the area. In turn, air defense sites and command centers may be hit as a demonstration of the West’s capabilities.
The second option would be to increase support for the Syrian opposition through training and advice. This option would involve the use of non-lethal force and would effectively be an extension of some of the effort that has already been underway. At its current scale, this option has already failed as the opposition has seen a growing number of divisions. It is therefore unlikely that an increase in aid would have any effect. A third option would be to establish a “no-fly zone,” that would effectively prevent the Syrian regime from using its air forces to strike rebels on the ground. This option however would involve an increased risk to the US and allied aircraft and it would require the assembling of a significant force, one that would have to be maintained over time.
The fourth option is to focus on preventing the use of chemical weapons, which could be done by destroying portions of Syria’s stockpiles coupled with obstructing the movement of such weapons and seizing key installations. This option however would result in an increased international involvement, including troops stationed on the ground. This would also result in forces being stationed in Syria for an indefinite period.
While these are currently just options, and combinations of these varying options may be employed in Syria, what does remain clear is that if a resolution is passed by the UN Security Council, swift action is likely to occur. Furthermore, the United States, France and the UK already have forces available in the area that can easily be prepared for a strike on Syria.
The US has four destroyers – USS Gravely, USS Ramage, USS Barry and USS Mahan – stationed in the eastern Mediterranean which are equipped with cruise missiles. It also has two aircraft carriers, the USS Nimitz and the USS Harry S. Truman. Cruise missiles could also be launched from submarines in the region. If more firepower is needed, US airbases in Incirlik and Izmir, Turkey could also be used in order to carry out strikes. The US Navy is reportedly re-positioning several vessels, including its four cruise missile-carrying destroyers and possibly a missile-firing submarine.
The UK’s Royal Navy’s response force task group, which includes helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious and frigates HMS Montrose and HMS Westminster, is also in the region on a previously-scheduled deployment. An airbase in Cyprus may also be used while cruise missiles could be launched from a British Trafalgar class submarine.
France’s aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, is currently stationed in Toulon however Raffale and Mirage aircraft can operate from the Al-Dhahra airbase in the UAE.