Outsider Weapons Will Increase Syria’s Death Toll

The European Union has decided to lift the ban on arms shipments to Syria’s rebels, largely under pressure from France and Britain. Meanwhile, Russia has announced that it will go ahead with deliveries of anti-aircraft missiles. The fact of the matter is these outside weapons will not bring an end to Syria’s suffering, and indeed, they will only serve to get more Syrians killed in a war that has already gone on too long.

This journal has long supported getting weapons to the rebels, the sources ideally being Arab or at least Muslim nations. The purpose, though, was not to give them sufficient firepower to topple the regime but rather to give them sufficient strength to force a negotiated settlement. Realistically, this policy is a long shot, but it is the only policy that could result in a stable and somewhat freer Syria. A rebel victory would create the kind of conditions one sees in Libya, and a victory by the Assad regime would be too horrible to contemplate.

In lifting the arms embargo, the EU is sdding to the pressure on the Assad regime, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague says that is the purpose. “We have brought to an end the arms embargo on the Syrian opposition,” Mr Hague said. He added, this “sends a very strong message from Europe to the Assad regime” As best one can tell, no weapons are sitting at European ports awaiting transportation to Syria. Before President Assad takes this seriously, EU guns and ammunition will have to be in rebel hands.

As for the Russians, they are also pretending that their move is designed to shorten the war. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the press, “We consider these supplies a stabilising factor and believe such steps will deter some hotheads from considering scenarios that would turn the conflict international with the involvement of outside forces.” Meanwhile, Russia’s envoy to NATO, Aleksandr Grushko, stated “We are not doing anything that could change the situation in Syria. The arms that we supply are defensive weapons.”

These moves simply escalate the situation and make it harder to end the violence. The situation worsened with the surprise visit of US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) to Syria briefly yesterday. His hour-long, secret trip signals that there will be pressure from the American neo-cons (the people who created the war in Iraq) to arm the rebels. The problem with all of these actions is the general lack of discussions among the various parties on ending the war. Well-timed arms shipments, or the threat thereof, can make negotiations more fruitful by making people more flexible. But the negotiations aimed at ending the war in Syria don’t seem to exist.

So instead of working to save Syrian lives, the great powers, whether they will admit it or not, are only increasing the amount of death and destructions that will ultimately fall on Syria. These developments will make putting the nation together again harder than it needs to be, and it would have been hard enough in the first place. History teaches that when great powers decide to clash, it is the small nations that bear the brunt of the misery. This time, it is Syria’s turn.