The Syrian regime doesn’t face a tough choice
Nicholas Blanford and Rhonda Roumani have a story in the Christian Science Monitor entitled, “Syrian regime faces tough choices.” Why? Read on: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faces the starkest test of his five-year presidency following an ultimatum from the United Nations that he cooperate with an international probe into the murder of a former Lebanese ...
Nicholas Blanford and Rhonda Roumani have a story in the Christian Science Monitor entitled, "Syrian regime faces tough choices." Why? Read on:
Nicholas Blanford and Rhonda Roumani have a story in the Christian Science Monitor entitled, “Syrian regime faces tough choices.” Why? Read on:
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faces the starkest test of his five-year presidency following an ultimatum from the United Nations that he cooperate with an international probe into the murder of a former Lebanese prime minister. The choices the 40-year-old president makes in the next six weeks will decide the fate of his regime and the future of this country of 18 million citizens. If President Assad fails to cooperate fully with the UN commission investigating the assassination of Rafik Hariri, Syria could face diplomatic isolation and crippling economic sanctions. But complying with the commission’s demands could force Assad to gut his regime of its most powerful figures, including close relatives, potentially leaving it weakened and vulnerable.
That’s not a tough choice, that’s the easiest call ever — Assad will fail to cooperate fully. Why? First, the Syrian regime can try to obfuscate matters by feigning cooperation but not making any material concessions. Second, while compliance would require Assad to weaken his own regime, defiance in the face of an external threat will strengthen the regime — at least in the short term. So, for that matter, would diplomatic and economic sanctions. Syria has already set up a sanctions crisis team. The FT’s Ferry Biedermann quotes the Syrian in charge of this team saying, “to be honest, sanction busters are everywhere.” Third, as this companion CSM story by Chris Ford makes plain, it’s not clear that the Security Council will even agree to impose economic sanctions in the face of Syrian non-cooperation:
Russia and China, along with the only Arab nation on the Security Council, Algeria, refused to go along with Washington’s desire to threaten economic sanctions against Syria should Bashar Assad’s regime not cooperate. To win unanimous support, France, Britain, and the US, who jointly sponsored the resolution, had to drop all references to sanctions other than a warning that the council “could consider further action” if Syria does not hand over for interrogation senior officials suspected of involvement in Mr. Hariri’s murder. Russia – a traditional ally of Syria’s – “is very reluctant to endorse any sanctions when it is unclear where they might lead in the future,” says Oxana Antoninka, a Russia expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a think tank in London. “Moscow wants to prevent the Security Council from becoming a weapon to punish regimes that could lead to unforeseen action such as military action.”
For Bashir Assad, this is the easiest call in the authoritarian playbook.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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