Syria: to Ban or Not to Ban?

Laurent Fabius, Foreign Minister, has been pushing to lift the arms embargo on Syria. Photo: Flickr.com/MEDEF

Laurent Fabius, Foreign Minister, has been pushing to lift the arms embargo on Syria.
Photo: Flickr.com/MEDEF

On Friday, March 15, France joined Britain in calling to lift the arms
embargo on Syria. Two years into the Syrian civil war, European delegates fear that
lifting the ban could help escalate the tumultuous situation on the ground.

France explained their denunciation of the ban, explaining that France “cannot allow a people to be
massacred by a regime that for now does not want a political transition.” President
Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius have been pushing for the review to be held this
month, rather than on May 31, the date set for the compulsory three-month renewal.
However, it is an uphill battle as many European Union partners remain reserved and Russia
continues to supply arms to Assad.

Lifting the sanctions will be no easy task as only one ‘no’ vote can veto the decision.
The rest of the E.U. will have to come to an agreement on the ban. According to Foreign
Minister Fabius, should the council not come to a decision, France and Britain may
decide to act despite their peers’ final votes.

Fabius commented on France Info radio that as “Great Britain is a sovereign nation. We
feel perfectly free to act unilaterally.” He continued on to say “We cannot accept that this
current lack of balance, with on one side Iran and Russia delivering arms to Bashar, and
on the other rebels who cannot defend themselves.”

While some believe there is a “sense” that the Syrian army is deteriorating, Syrian rebels are at a great disadvantage. According to the New York Times, the conflict has already claimed 70,000 lives. Syrian rebels are trying to get any and all antiaircraft and antitank weapons possible. In the meantime, the Assad legacy prevails with a few old allies still loyal to the family.

Meanwhile, president Hollande is still pushing to find some common ground: “I will do
all so that a common solution is found by the end of May at the latest.”

Before arriving at the summit, Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron
sat down to discuss the embargo. Great Britain first voiced their concerns in February when the embargo was renewed despite British reservation. However they did manage to successfully push for the relaxation of the embargo and allowance of nonlethal but quasi-military aid (i.e. armored vehicles).

In Europe, French and British officials have embarked on a serious mission of
persuasion. American officials fear that arming the rebels could result in violent Islamist
insurgents getting ahold of these weapons and turning them on American allies in the
region. The supply of arms in this region feeds into the terrorist networks that “are
everywhere around the world and of course in Mali.”

But Hollande continues to say that in Syria, “the worst thing would be to do nothing.” British officials echoed these sentiments, claiming the arms embargo has backfired; “It doesn’t stop those aiding Assad; it does stop the E.U. countries and others helping those against whom Assad is waging a brutal and terrorizing war.” German Prime Minister Angela Merkel has joined in the argument, promising to take discussion “to all levels” with Moscow in hopes to stop or reducing their aid to Assad.

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