Global Ethics Corner: Is it Time to Arm the Syrian Rebels?

Mar 4, 2013

With the Syrian civil war about to turn two years old and the death toll approaching 70,000, some are saying it is time for the U.S. or the UN to intervene. Could arming the anti-Assad rebels bring an end to the war? Or would it bring greater instability to the region?

The Syrian Civil War will soon turn two years old. With the death toll in that stalemated conflict approaching 70,000, some people in the U.S. government and the international community are wondering if the time has come to intervene.

Last year, President Barack Obama reportedly vetoed a plan supported by his top national security advisers to arm and train members of the Syrian opposition. But that was before the presidential election in November. Much has changed in the intervening months. Newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has signaled his intention to focus on Syria during his first few months on the job.

But the opposition Syrian National Coalition has declared that it will not negotiate with the regime of Bashar al-Assad, making prospects for a peaceful settlement bleak. Moreover, Syrian rebels have made significant advances in recent months, capturing government air bases and diminishing the Assad regime’s control of Syrian airspace.

American assistance to the Syrian opposition is currently limited to humanitarian relief. But New York congressman Eliot Engel, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has said he will soon introduce legislation to allow the U.S. government to supply arms to the opposition fighters of the Free Syria Army.

Neighboring Turkey has long supported the establishment of a no-fly zone, but the main obstacles to intervention in Syria remain Russia and China, which together have blocked a succession of U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at putting pressure on Assad to negotiate.

What do you think? Could arming the rebels bring an end to the Syrian Civil War? Or would intervention undermine security in the region and increase the likelihood that the conflict will spill over into the broader Middle East? What’s the best thing to do?

For more information see

Khaled Yacoub Oweis, "Syrian opposition says Assad cannot be part of deal," Reuters, February 22, 2013

Michael R. Gordon and Mark Landler, "Senate Hearing Draws Out a Rift in U.S. Policy on Syria," The New York Times, February 7, 2013

Hunter Stuart, "U.S. House Democrat Eliot Engel Will Introduce Legislation To Arm Syrian Rebels," Huffington Post, February 25, 2013

"Kerry Calls for 'Negotiated Outcome' in Syria," Al-Monitor, February 17, 2013

Laurence Norman, "Turkey: No-Fly Zone Not Only Option in Syria," The Wall Street Journal, January 23, 2013

Photo Credits in Order of Appearance: Bernard Gagnon Pete Souza / White House Photo U.S. Department of State UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation/TURKEY Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires U.S. Navy James Gordon

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