According to the United Nations, over 4,000 people, including over 300 children, have been killed in Syria during the Arab Spring unrest. The Arab League has repeatedly passed resolutions and sanctions on Syria. Recently Shell has fled the country and Turkey, Syria’s erstwhile ally, has said that the situation must be resolved using military means if necessary. So what is the difference between Syria and Libya? Why did the United Nations resoundingly support international intervention in Libya whereas in Syria it almost seems that the western world has forgotten about the revolution completely?
In Libya, when the UN Security Council passed resolution 1973 calling for the enforcement of a no-fly zone, a full fledged rebellion had already occurred. Although the rebels were unorganized and rapidly being defeated by Gaddafi’s superior armed forces, ground operations were already occurring that did not require western nations to get their feet dirty. In addition, the opposition had coalesced into a seemingly united front that could be the voice for Libyan freedom. In Syria, many different entities compete to be the voice of Syrian opposition and numerous armed groups are conducting limited military actions in defense of the protestors. The last thing western nations want to do is support the wrong side in a rebellion–and so the impasse continues.
Secondly, over the past few decades, Libya had distanced itself from the major world powers and instead aligned itself with the countries of Africa, seeking to become a regional power on the continent. Although this strategy paid dividends when searching for ready militia to back Gaddafi’s claims to power, it meant an isolated Libya had no friends on the UN Security Council when Resolution 1973 came to a vote. In contrast to Libya, Syria is guarded by her allies of Russia and China. Both countries have opposed any UN Resolutions calling for military action in Syria and Russia has even announced they will be fulfilling a 2007 arms deal with Syria that provides anti-ship missiles with a range of 300km. Thus, while Libya was isolated politicall,y Syria is protected by political heavyweights that can veto international actions from the United Nations.
Finally, Libya was also isolated geographically. Other than Egypt, Libya is bordered by countries that the Western world has generally forgotten about (Sudan, Niger, Algeria, Tunisia and Chad). With no weapons of mass destruction or missiles capable of hitting continental Europe, the plight of Libya had very little direct affect on America or its allies. Syria is located in one of the most geographically significant regions of the world. Syria also borders some of the United States closest allies in the Middle East: Israel, Turkey, and Jordan, in addition to Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. Destabilizing Syria creates a porous and unsafe border with all of these countries that would allow terrorists and other criminals to infiltrate American allies and combat American interests in the Middle East. A civil war in Syria would likely drag the entire region into a greater civil war and American interests would become tangled as Kurdish fighters unite in Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey to fight for freedom. Turkey lashes out against Syria and the Kurds; Iran fights against the Kurds and uses it as a pretext to attack her old foe, Iraq; Israel and Lebanon break the uneasy peace that has existed for the past five years; and Jordan is engulfed by the warring political and ethnic factions encompassing her. Syria’s position in the Middle East means that any war in Syria will affect the entire region.
As we can see here, the situation in Syria is much different than the situation in Libya. Although many citizens may believe that the United States needs to intercede in Syria, doing so would upset the delicate balance that has been created over the past 50 years. Unfortunately for the Syrian people who are fighting injustice and abuses of a brutal dictator, it does not appear that the United States can physically intervene on their behalf. As much as my political and moral convictions scream for the United States to intervene on behalf of innocent people seeking freedom, I do not think the situation is one where the United States will or can physically intercede in Syria.