The escalating violence and potential use of chemical weapons in Syria highlight the importance of a more cohesive international response, particularly between the United States and Turkey—the two most important international actors in this scenario. It is also high time for China and Russia to support efforts to end the bloodshed by backing a new U.N. resolution.
In the latest outrage, Syrian forces armed with tanks and helicopters massacred as many as 230 civilians in the Syrian village of Tremseh in Hama province, according to various news reports this morning. This prompted the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice to call upon the U.N. Security Council to finally “take concrete measures and increase the pressure” on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to stop killing its own citizens.
Such a measure is now on the table. An upcoming U.N. Security Council resolution—put forward by Great Britain and backed by the United States, Germany, and France—makes the transition plan put forth by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan enforceable under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter. This would allow the U.N. Security Council to utilize both military and nonmilitary options, including economic sanctions, to “restore international peace and stability” in Syria. The resolution is expected to be voted on as soon as this weekend.
China and Russia should not oppose the resolution in the face of the ongoing atrocities committed by the Syrian regime. While Russia has called for more time for consultations and has signaled that it would veto the resolution should it call for sanctions, the Chinese government seems increasingly uncomfortable with the continued violence. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin stated that the country will “look seriously” at the U.N. Security Council resolution—a cautious step in the right direction following its February veto of a Security Council resolution calling on Assad to step down.
In addition, a high-level Turkish official said yesterday the country would back the new resolution. Turkey is the only nation that could logistically launch an operation to halt the violence in Syria, and its southern border is particularly susceptible to the potential spillover effects of the Syrian crisis. In addition to the devastating civilian casualties in Syria, the crisis has the potential to draw any of its neighbors into the violence, including Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, or Israel.
Turkey’s importance as a key anchor of stability in the Middle East will be greatly tested by the current situation in Syria. To prevent the violence in Syria from spreading, Ankara will need both logistical support from the United States, which is one of the few countries that could successfully take out Syrian air defenses, and financial support from the Gulf Arab nations, which are among the few countries that have the available capital to fund such an operation.
Yesterday’s massacre is only the latest in a steady stream of violence committed by the Syrian regime that has killed between 17,000 and 18,000 Syrians since the unrest began in March 2011 according to various reports:
- April 22, 2011: Deraa/Damascus massacre: Seventy-two protesters were killed.
- December 19–20, 2011: Jabal El-Zawiya massacre: Two-hundred people were killed, possibly more; details vary, but there was a massacre of army defectors.
- February 3, 2012: Homs massacre: More than 200 people were killed in a shelling. This would later become a two-month-long bombardment lasting into March.
- March 12, 2012: Kharm El-Zaytoun, Homs massacre: Forty-seven people were killed.
- April 3, 2012: Taftanez massacre: Fifty-seven people were killed.
- May 25, 2012: Houla massacre in the Homs Province: More than 100 people were killed.
- June 7, 2012: Al-Qubeir massacre: Seventy-eight people were killed, mostly women and children.
- July 12, 2012: Massacre in Tremesh in the Hama province: About 230 people were killed.
The brutality of this most recent massacre by the Syrian government may be a preview of things to come, too. Reports today that the Syrian military has begun moving pieces of its large chemical weapons stockpile out of storage imply that Syrian authorities may engage in chemical warfare on the opposition movement.
It is unclear exactly what chemical weapons Syria possesses, but Damascus is believed to have sarin and mustard agents and has been rumored to have developed VX, a highly dangerous and rapidly acting nerve agent.
To deliver these agents, Syria is believed to have chemical warheads for Scud-type ballistic missiles, as well as artillery shells and air-dropped weapons containing chemical weapons.
The potential use or loss of control of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime is an outcome that even the Russians must be gravely concerned about, and it should motivate them to support international efforts to end the violence and ensure that weapons of mass destruction aren’t used or reach the open market.
Neither Beijing nor Moscow have much to gain from their continued protection of a regime in Syria that has repeatedly committed crimes against humanity and transformed what began as nonviolent protests into a civil war that threatens to draw in its neighbors. Now is the time for Russia and China to use their leverage to bring an end to the bloodshed instead of facilitating it.
Michael Werz is a Senior Fellow and Ken Sofer is a Research Assistant at the Center for American Progress.
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