Friends of Syria Gathering Tries to Stop Bashar al-Assad's Carnage in Syria

Over the last few weeks, international concern over the crisis in Syria has quickly mounted. After failing to secure a unanimous vote in the Security Council, a U.N. resolution calling for Bashar al-Assad's resignation was overwhelmingly passed. Yesterday, an independent panel delivered a report to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights accusing the Syrian regime of "crimes against humanity." And Friday marks the start of the "Friends of Syria" meeting in Tunisia, a gathering consisting of leaders from dozens of nations seeking consent to agree on an effective international approach to stop the carnage.

After months of escalating bloodshed, the international community is finally seeking to address the crisis with concerted multilateral efforts, and without adequately responding to growing external pressure and demands, Assad will inevitably become much less able to maintain his authoritarian grip.

Of course, Friends of Syria leaders face no easy solutions. There is much dispute over the most effective and desirable methods of international action. The possibilities that exist are: granting the Syrian National Council and Syrian Free Army international recognition (as the official government and army of Syria respectively); arming the opposition; providing humanitarian assistance; and directly sending international troops to the ground (or some combination thereof). Yet, all of these propositions are met with varying degrees of controversy and criticism, and no clear path to alleviating the crisis currently exists.

Any attempt at intervention, whether indirect or direct, will certainly come at some cost. Yet the cost that has been paid by the Syrian people over the last 11 months is already far too great to go without external support. And while it seems most likely that the Friends of Syria gathering will focus the immediate need to provide critical humanitarian assistance and will be calling for a ceasefire to facilitate this aid, one must hope that this multilateral coalition will also begin to direct its attention towards a longer-term resolution as well.  

Despite criticisms of the inability to effectively coordinate international efforts to exert pressure on repressive regimes (illustrated by the failure to pass a Security Council resolution, and the lack of any enforcement mechanism in the General Assembly resolution), the steps already being taken by the international community decrease the likelihood that Assad will be able to outlast the Syrian uprising.

While attendees at the Friends of Syria meeting will be confronted with many difficult decisions, the sheer act of convening builds upon the momentum generated in the UN and sends a clear message that the longer the government massacres its own people, the more Syria will become globally isolated.

Both the Friends of Syria meeting and efforts surrounding the passage of the U.N. resolution represent rare instances of unity between Western and Arab League nations, and these strong symbolic displays of international condemnation are necessary (but not sufficient without subsequent action) and must undoubtedly shake the resolute Assad and his sympathizers. Because the international community is finally mobilizing, Assad's window of opportunity for salvation seems to be rapidly closing.

There is good reason to believe the Syrian regime will ultimately not be able to withstand growing international isolation. Although the regime may still have a few strong allies, the General Assembly vote illustrated that countries like Russia and China are clearly in the global minority. Beyond the initial public condemnation and humiliation mechanisms that were utilized in the UN resolution, the international community also has at its disposal a number of other diplomatic and economic mechanisms that can be used to effectively exert pressure on the regime.

Consider, for example, the fact that the European Union is Syria's largest trading partner, accounting for nearly one quarter of all Syrian trade (conversely, trade with Russia accounts for only 3%). The domestic economic situation is already untenable, and further disruptions will serve to propel even more Syrians into the streets (countless other instances illustrate the power of economic woes in fueling political uprising).

And ironically, the recent killing of two Western journalists seeking to shed light on the severity of the crisis may have been an attempt to limit international coverage of daily atrocities, but it only served to raise even greater international alarm.

Earlier this week, while reporting from Syria, one of these two slain journalists, veteran war reporter Marie Colvin, stated in a BBC interview just before her death: "No one here can understand how the international community can let this happen.”

Importantly, it is now becoming clear that the international community is determined to decisively respond to the situation. While the road that lies ahead may be an arduous one, it is essential that this commitment to multilateral collaboration is maintained in order to help bring about an end to the crisis.

Photo Credit: watchsmart