For more than a year, the situation in Syria has been one of the most troublesome issues in modern international relations. The Arab Spring has played out longer in this state than in the other Maghreb and Middle East states. President Bashar al-Assad is more successful in holding on to power than the former longstanding political leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. Mass street protests, repression of the opposition, sieges of the cities by the national army, armed actions and a rising number of civilian casualties are the realities of life in Syria.
The permanent violence, violations of human rights, norms and principles of international humanitarian law have caused international society to react. As a result, a lot of states have imposed economic, diplomatic and political sanctions on the Syrian government. Moreover Syria was suspended from the Arab League. Despite all of these measures, the Syrian crisis is still far from being resolved.
A lot of experts in the field of international relations called for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to conduct humanitarian intervention in Syria in order to stop the violence and remove the dictatorial regime in a fashion similar to Libya. But this idea makes no sense for several reasons.
First of all, one must bear in mind that the Syrian and Libyan cases are absolutely different. Libya is a key state in the Maghreb region for Euro-Atlantic security. It is situated not far from the Mediterranean borders of European states. European energy security relies on Libyan oil and gas. Creating societal stability, preventing WMD proliferation, and ensuring the uninterrupted delivery of energy resources to European customers were NATO's main goals in the Libyan war. With respect to Syria's geopolitical potential, the state cannot be considered as strategic for the security of the Euro-Atlantic area as Libya can.
A possible NATO intervention in Syria would probably spoil the Alliance’s relations with Russia, a country that is blocking any strict actions against Syria in the UN Security Council. Such a situation runs counter to NATO’s strategy. The Alliance is deeply interested in constructive cooperation with the Kremlin, especially in the field of missile defense, counter-terrorism, counter-piracy operations, a strengthened nonproliferation regime, etc. Despite the end of the Cold War, NATO-Russia relations still contain a considerable amount of rivalry. The new political conflict between the Alliance and Russia will not create favorable conditions for sustainable security in the Eurasian region.
Another reason against NATO's intervention in Syria is in the financial field. Every single military operation requires large financial resources. President Obama’s national security advisor Tom Donilon estimated that the United States spent approximately $1.2 billion on the operation in Libya. Moreover in 2012, Washington is going to spend $106 billion on the operations in Afghanistan. The coming presidential election is making President Obama pay special attention to domestic politics and be very careful with the budget. At the same time, the European states are still trying to overcome the financial crisis and rescue the Greek economy.
Finally, one must take into account that humanitarian intervention does not have direct recognition in modern international law. It is close to violating a number of fundamental principles of the UN Charter (principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of states, principle of non-use of force, principle of peaceful settlement of disputes among states). This means that states use the instruments of humanitarian intervention only in the worst-case scenario.
Despite UN Security Council Resolution 1973, Operation United Protector in Libya had elements of humanitarian intervention. Moreover, due to NATO airstrikes there were cases of civilian casualties. It gave new life to myths about the aggressive nature of the Alliance. At this moment, NATO is more interested in spreading its own positive image around the world than in undertaking a new humanitarian intervention.
What are ways for resolving the Syrian crisis? We cannot exclude the scenario that a state or coalition of states will carry out military intervention to protect Syrian civilians from government forces. Despite the failure of the Annan plan, diplomatic resources have not run out. It means that the USA, EU states, Russia, China and all other interested parties can force the Syrian government and the opposition to sit at the negotiation table. They can act as mediators and monitor the fulfillment of any arrangements.
Economic sanctions can hardly bring positive results. It is important to convince the Syrian government to become more open to democratic society. It will probably help not only to resolve the crisis but also to prevent a similar situation in the future.
In the end, we can draw the conclusion that, from the point of view of geopolitics and tendencies in international relations, the involvement of NATO in the Syrian crisis is likely a bad idea.
Dr. Volodymyr Navrotskyy holds a PhD in International Relations, Vasyl Stefanyk Precarpathian National University, Ukraine.