It has become an established norm regarding the Syrian crisis; whenever there is an emerging decisiveness on the unrestrained war there, like now, the talk about a “no-fly zone” resurfaces but never exceeds the level of speculation.
At times of large influx of Syrian refugees into neighboring countries, there was a talk about establishing a no-fly zone over Syria purely for humane purposes. But such talk has quickly evaporated due to the political complications of the Syrian crisis. The need to establish a no-fly zone over Syria resurfaced again at the time of the Ghouta chemical attack on August 21, 2013. Regardless of who committed the act, the large-scale suffering of the Syrian people brought on by the forgotten attack has not prompted the U.N. to enforce a no-fly zone.
The U.S. has succeeded in building a coalition of more than 40 states against ISIS and can itself find a way to enforce a no fly zone over SyriaRaed Omari
In a bid to alleviate the Russians’ concerns about the no-fly zone over Syria, the speculated domain to ensure safety for the Syrian refugees is sometimes referred to as a “buffer zone”. It has more humanitarian implications and less political ones.
It is the same case today. The American-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), coupled with the radical group’s advancements into the northern Syrian town of Kobane and the accompanying refugee influx, has brought into existence again the never-affirmed issue of the no-fly zone. In Turkey, the U.S. and elsewhere, there is a talk now about establishing a no-fly zone over Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently called for establishing a no-fly zone and a parallel a secure zone over and inside Syria. The same plea was raised by American lawmakers who called on President Obama to put a no-fly zone in place over Syria despite the U.S. military officers’ reservation regarding its effectiveness.
Questions on implementation
However, questions concerning the way to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria, its effectiveness, end result and mechanism have to be answered in order to for the issue to move from the realm of talk to action. Is it a step towards a comprehensive solution to the Syrian war or solely for humanitarian purposes? Can a NFZ be established outside the U.N., away from Russia’s inevitable veto? Where would the NFZ be placed?
It is definitely not that easy of a job to find clear-cut answers to such questions. The Syrian crisis has been left unaddressed for so long that it has become ultra-complicated, leaving veteran analysts and observers in full perplexity. However, some approximations can help decode the NFZ dilemma.
To begin with, how should a potential NFZ be enforced? I would say that the U.S. has succeeded in building a coalition of more than 40 states against ISIS and can itself find a way to enforce a NFZ over Syria away from Russia’s stubborn stance in the Security Council. It can be through the U.N. Charter’s Chapter VIII as in the case of Libya or through the anti-ISIS coalition itself.
The coalition’s jet fighters flying over Syrian moderate rebel-held areas, especially on the Turkish-Syrian borders and Syrian-Jordanian borders, can help immensely towards preventing the Damascus regime’s war planes from killing people on the ground. Such a coalition’s move would be interpreted as primarily within ensuring safe havens for the Syrians more than the politicized NFZ.
One would argue against such a rationale, saying that the coalition’s jet fighters would be targets for the Syrian regime’s anti-aircraft missiles thus making the NFZ a costly and risky action. I see such a scenario as still very far-reaching. Under any circumstances, the Russian-backed Syrian regime is unable to act aggressively and daringly against a U.S.-led alliance consisting of more than 40 members, including Arab states. The Syrian regime would look then as if it was at war against the world.
In fact, the U.S. could have carried out the war against ISIS itself without the need for a multi-state alliance, at least from a military point of view. Washington’s keenness on having its war against ISIS shared by other states carried an implied message to Moscow about its capabilities to act outside the remit of the Security Council. The U.S. insistence on grouping Arab Sunni states within its coalition also of a message to Russia that the alliance is not purely Western. It contained a message to Shiite Iran too.
Now aside from the troubling political implications of the envisioned NFZ, an alternative secure zone or buffer zone is a must nowadays with regard to the Syrian war’s accompanying refugee crisis. In fact, inadequate care has been given by the international community to the large-sale suffering of the Syrian refugees and the host countries as well. More than ISIS and other radical groups, the refugee crisis is the Syrian war’s most prominent dilemma and should be pivot around which the world’s action on the war-torn country is centered.
A Syrian “lost generation” is in the works now. More than nine million Syrian refugees inside their country and more outside in the diaspora are hopeless because their country’s crisis has been placed only within a variable humanitarian context.
Plus, there is no way that the millions of Syrian refugees in demographically-concerned and economically-burdened Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon would think about returning back to their war-torn country. Return to where in fact? The only way to do so is through enforcing secure zones inside Syria. Let it not be a politicized NFZ but a purely humanitarian secure zone to avoid any political embarrassment, so to speak.
Assuming that humanity is what matters most, I wonder why a decision to enforce a NFZ over Libya and before that in Iraq was easy to take and is difficult to take when it comes to Syria despite the differences in the amount of suffering?
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2