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‘No Kill’ Zones Coming to Syria?

Anne-Marie Slaughter, formerly the director of policy planning at the State Department, argued forcefully for international forces to intervene in Libya. Now she is suggestion a coalition be formed to bring peace to Syria. In an article titled “How to Halt the Butchery in Syria,” Slaughter has a few suggestions:

The Friends of Syria, some 70 countries scheduled to meet in Tunis today, should establish “no-kill zones” now to protect all Syrians regardless of creed, ethnicity or political allegiance. The Free Syrian Army, a growing force of defectors from the government’s army, would set up these no-kill zones near the Turkish, Lebanese and Jordanian borders. Each zone should be established as close to the border as possible to allow the creation of short humanitarian corridors for the Red Cross and other groups to bring food, water and medicine in and take wounded patients out. The zones would be managed by already active civilian committees.

Establishing these zones would require nations like Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan to arm the opposition soldiers with anti-tank, countersniper and portable antiaircraft weapons. Special forces from countries like Qatar, Turkey and possibly Britain and France could offer tactical and strategic advice to the Free Syrian Army forces. Sending them in is logistically and politically feasible; some may be there already.

Crucially, these special forces would control the flow of intelligence regarding the government’s troop movements and lines of communication to allow opposition troops to cordon off population centers and rid them of snipers. Once Syrian government forces were killed, captured or allowed to defect without reprisal, attention would turn to defending and expanding the no-kill zones.

The world still isn’t ready to do anything about the violence in Syria, but top policy-makers are edging closer to arming rebel groups. Secretary Clinton said the Free Syrian Army will get weapons “somehow.” Interestingly, Slaughter’s piece acknowledges some of the arguments we’ve made here at Via Meadia: that the Libya campaign was of no strategic interest to the US and its aftermath has made it harder not easier to support such policies in the future. Yet in Syria’s case, Slaughter argues for no-kill zones and suggests Turkey and Qatar should arm the rebels. “Humanitarian corridors” would be established to bring food and medicine to injured civilians.

There is no good answer to the problems in Syria, and Slaughter is right to point to the big danger — that the conflict will suck in the neighbors, engulfing Lebanon and Iraq in new waves of sectarian bloodshed.

But no-kill zones and humanitarian corridors have not always worked in the past. Thousands of civilians were killed in Srebrenica under the ostensible protection of UN soldiers. Safe zones must be protected with military force; otherwise, they serve no purpose. Declaring ‘no-kill’ zones implies a military commitment to make sure they stay that way and those who advocate this policy need to be forthcoming about what it is they propose. For the US to back ‘no-kill’ zones in Syria is for us and/or our allies to make a firm moral commitment to defend those civilians by military force, and there is no way to weasel around that.  If you aren’t willing to send planes and possibly troops to Syria, then you shouldn’t push for safety zones as an alternative policy.

Sadly, the goals of preventing a civil war and promoting a peaceful transition in Syria look harder to achieve every day. Broadly speaking, the fall of Assad and the consequent (and consequential) weakening of Iran remain in the American interest, but the US should not get itself into a position of taking responsibility for outcomes it cannot ensure. We are in no position to keep Syria peaceful or to establish democracy or the rule of law there after Assad falls, and we should be careful about taking open ended steps now that could saddle us later with responsibilities we will be unable to carry out.

Edging the Assads toward the exits, promoting the cohesion of some kind of post-Assad alternative, working to prevent a spillover of violence into Lebanon and discreetly supporting regional action to stabilize Syria look like better policies for the US than a full force humanitarian charge.

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  • gs

    1. The complexity of Slaughter’s proposal had me furrowing my forehead. She obviously is Way Smarter Than Me. If Slaughter were asked how her choreography is to be enforced on the participants in her scheme, no doubt I would not understand her answer.

    2. A skeptic might suspect that the country’s cognitive elite frames issues in an unnecessarily complex manner in order to aggrandize itself.

    3. “Syria is not Libya.” A skeptic might claim that this is a withered fig leaf covering Slaughter’s quadrupling down on a failed policy.

    4. I searched Slaughter’s article for the phrase “national interest”. In vain.

  • Brendan Doran

    Turn off your telly then ms slaughter.

    And her so called plan is called taking sides in a civil war with NO good guys. Good as in on our side.

    Our government has been captured by 15 year olds.

  • Stephen

    Ms. Slaughter and her ilk have been the primary authors of our all too romantic and sentimental foreign policy: No more wars conceived of as social work. Enough.

  • Lorenz Gude

    I don’t see what is so hard to understand. A “No-Kill” zone is just like a “No-Gun” zone. You declare it and pass it though the UN and that’s that. Even those necessary, but not terribly bright chaps, who staff the United States Army understand that much. Just look at Ft. Hood.

    Taking another tack, is this ‘good’ Liberal Interventionism? As opposed to the ‘bad’ kind as practiced by Bush and the Neo-conservatives. It does seem different in so far this new kind apparently focuses on humanitarian issues while the neo-conservative variety was more concerned with promoting democracy and he rule of law. I confess my instinct has always been to support liberal interventionism, but experience has made me more cautious. I remember when Clinton went into Bosnia I was enthusiastic, but an Austrian friend from Vienna was adamant we should let the situation alone. I was surprised and a bit put off. I think i would listen a lot harder today.

  • Kohl Haas

    More fantasy from the group of female Ivy-League lawyers running our foreign policy. Just about the least qualified to do so. Dealings with people such as Ahmadenijad and Assad have no rules and no referee (judge). We need Tony Soprano as Sec. State.

  • Mr. Neal

    I still like Ms. Slaughter’r title :”How to stop the butchery in Syria”. I hope she got the Irony….

  • LarryD

    Russia and China have vetoes on the Security Council. The General Assembly is more made up of dictatorships than not.

    And providing arms to the rebels means entering into a state of war with Syria’s official government. Putting troops on the ground to enforce anything is an invitation for the Syrian government to shoot at them, and make that an open war.

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