Syria is a strategically important country. Bashar Al Assad's regime is backed by the Iranian Government and Hezbollah. A NATO intervention therefore on the one hand presents a chance to remove significant obstacles to long-term stability and development in the Middle East - the influence of the Ahmadinejad regime and Hezbollah - whilst ending civilian deaths. On the other hand, there are concerns that Syria could become another Iraq with sectarianism emanating from any political vacuum that follows the current regime.
Of course Syria is no Libya. The military success of NATO's operation in Libya was largely due to desertions from the Libyan army which meant that a capable indigenous ground-force was able to complement NATO airstrikes. Furthermore, although not involving NATO, we can also learn a lesson from Egypt. The overthrow of Mubarak was made possible due to the Army stepping back to assert influence within the post-Mubarak political vacuum. Therefore, logic shows that for there to be a regime-change in Syria that benefits NATO states, the Allies could present negotiations that would encourage defection from the Syrian army in order for a pro-NATO opposition ground-force to emerge.
A different option that presents itself and one that requires strong commitment would be for the United States and its allies to approach Syria in terms of long-term costs and benefits and use the expertise at its disposal together with lessons taken from Iraq and Libya. A ground invasion of Syria would likely cause Iran to flood Syria with troops or plain clothes soldiers, commonly known as insurgents, and Hezbollah would step forward to offer military support. With planning this would allow for the type of theatre in which Allies would be able to collectively impose a definitive military defeat on Hezbollah and Iran and provide a window of opportunity for a reconfiguration of Middle East dynamics that suit NATO states' interests without the use of further military action. With a weak Iran and Hezbollah, a range of opportunities and partnerships that increase NATO states' political and economic influence and interests would emerge.
There is a common goal here that is not found in other Middle-East military action. Consequently, bringing countries such as Turkey on board would be viable in such a way that wasn't possible with operations such as Iraq. The potential for long-term stability and the economic benefits and security that come from that makes co-operation between members and partner states appealing and by-passes one of the main obstacles to military pooling and team-work in the post-Cold War era: the lack of a common goal that benefits all states involved.
The moral case for intervention in Syria speaks for itself. Equally it would be irresponsible, costly, and wrong to put lives and capabilities at risk without a definitive and achievable goal that re-configures an area for the better. By intervening, NATO removes two of the actors, Hezbollah and Ahmadinejad's Iran, that have a vested interest in protracting tension and conflict in the region and that therefore are obstacles to the security, economic, and political interests of civilians in the region and NATO allies alike. With this in mind, there is a unique chance here to gain genuine long-term influence and allies in the Middle East. An intervention at this stage, if done in a careful and responsible way, can allow for solutions to broader problems both within and emanating from the region and ultimately the ability for pragmatism and interests to genuinely merge with values.
Tabish Shah is an ESRC-funded PhD Candidate at the University of Warwick. Tabish has been a consultant within the UK Government's counter-terrorism strategy PREVENT and held secondments as a Specialist at the UK Parliament's Foreign Affairs Select Committee and International Development Committee.