Sunday, January 15, 2012

Deja Vu Definitions

A while back I posted that Libya was a civil war as folks were debating whether it was one or not.  Just insert Syria in the para below:
First, the war is, indeed, a civil war.  Some folks want to call it something else like a rebellion or a revolution (more on that in a second), but a civil war, to most scholars, involves two-sided combat between combatants within a country.  Usually, one of the combatants is the government.  If only one side is killing the other, as in mass killings and/or genocide, then it is not a civil war.  Perhaps the Libyan conflict started out as a mass killing, in an effort to repress the protestors, but the rebels have been fighting back, killing Qaddafy's troops for about six months now.  If one wants to get supra-technical, the usual standard is 1,000 battle deaths.  No doubt that we are beyond that. 
Oh, and insert Assad for Qaddafy.  Well, maybe.

The point is that there is significant combat between two sides, and it is not going to end quickly.  So, yes, it is a civil war.  What to do about it is the real question, and pondering what to call it is a handy distraction.

The keys are:
  • Russia is not going to allow another UN resolution to pass that would authorize intervention.
  • Nor China.
  • The Arab League is having a difficult 2012 after a successful 2011.  Monitoring has not worked, but the group will not be able to gain consensus to bless another NATO intervention.
  • So, can NATO act in the absence of such a resolution?  Well, if you can only get 8-12 of the members to participate in a semi-UN sanctioned event, NATO probably will not be able to act in a big way.  Several members of NATO need UN-type resolutions to provide cover at home.  
    • Plus the Libyan operation stressed out heaps of air forces (pathetic, isn't it?) even before/as the European folks started serious defense budget cutting. 
  • Yes, there is now some talk of a No Fly Zone (also known as the least we can do to make it look like we are doing something beyond sanctions--official NATO acronym is LWEDMLLWDSBS, abbreviated to just the last two letters).
  • I don't know what the refugee flow from this conflict is, but I doubt that they are headed to Western Europe, so xenophobia not be that much of a driver of intervention this time.
  • Yes, the US and a few allies could bomb Syria, but it is not clear that it will work so well this time--the geography is different, the politics are far more complex (some folks in the region do not detest Assad like they hated Qaddafy).[Update: See the far wiser Marc Lynch on the limits of force here]
Another diplomat in Damascus was fatalistic. “There’s not much more that anyone, at the international level, can do,” he said. “There’s not much more the Arab League can, either.”  NYT
Yet another American war in yet another Arab country?  I doubt that Obama is enthused about the prospects. 

1 comment:

Phil Orchard said...

Great post. A quick point on the refugee situation. It was flows into Turkey back in June that first got the possibility of a safe area raised (which just popped up again in Micheal Weiss' piece in Foreign Affairs)... not that it's going anywhere, but I wondered at the time if it was Turkey engaging in some powerful signalling.

Cheers, Phil