Arming the Syrian Opposition - The GCC and the Syrian Crisis
During the past few weeks, at least two GCC states have clearly pointed to the necessity to provide the Syrian people with effective means to defend themselves in the face of 'the regime's killing machine'. The Saudi and the Qatari governments have openly and repeatedly urged the outside world to consider the option of supplying arms to the Syrian rebels.
The decision to call for arming the Syrian opposition was not an easy one, nor was this considered an ideal solution; however, the GCC governments were forced to call for this option, because it gradually emerged as the only way to save the Syrian people from the brutality of the regime.
The first step in GCC diplomatic efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis was the call for internal reform, as the GCC countries urged the Syrian leadership to take the initiative and introduce such required steps. These calls were ignored and the Syrian leadership's promises of genuine reforms ended with mere cosmetic steps taken with the aim of dividing the international community and providing time for the regime's security forces to crush the popular uprising. Hopes of an internal Syrian solution were soon dashed and trust in the regime's promises was found to be misplaced. In the meantime, the ruthlessness of the regime only seemed to increase the people's determination to stand up to the regime's brutality and intensify the demands for reform.
Following an extended wait, the leadership of the GCC countries became convinced that the Syrian regime was neither willing nor ready to introduce meaningful reform. Let it be clear - an internal Syrian solution continued to be the favored option for the GCC governments. It was in this context that during the first months of the crisis, high-level officials from different GCC states visited Damascus on numerous occasions to hold direct talks with the Syrian leadership, emphasizing the need for introducing substantive reform before it was too late. The GCC states also promised economic and financial assistance in exchange for such steps. Indeed, it is on record that senior members of the Gulf ruling families and high-level officials from the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia traveled to Damascus and conveyed this message clearly. Shortly after the bloody events in Dara'a in March 2011, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia personally spoke three times with Pre sident Assad advising him on the need for real reform as a way out of the crisis. Again there was a Saudi offer of economic help to underpin the reform policy. Yet despite all their efforts, the GCC leaderships received only vague promises from the top Syrian leadership.
With an internal Syrian solution increasingly unrealistic, the GCC moved to the second option - a regional effort that would increase the pressure on the Assad regime to move forward and introduce reforms. Inspired by the success of GCC diplomacy in drawing up a regionally-sponsored road map to settle the Yemen crisis and bring about a constitutional transfer of power, the GCC launched an Arab-wide diplomatic initiative aimed at defusing the crisis in Syria, calling on the government to introduce the required reforms and negotiate with the opposition groups to resolve the crisis. This GCC plan soon became an Arab League initiative, thereby gaining wider support and legitimacy. However, even the GCC-Arab League efforts met with defiance and non-cooperation from the Syrian leadership.
In the aftermath of the further failure of the Arab League's initiative, the GCC countries saw no option but to take their diplomatic efforts another step forward. With the support of a number of regional and international states, the Arab League plan was taken to the UN Security Council, in the hope that the international community would assume its legal and moral responsibility to move to halt the ongoing destruction and the daily massacre of civilians, and to provide protection for the peaceful protesters. This effort was ultimately undermined by the joint Russian-Chinese veto, thus reflecting the fact that cold war mentality of Russian and Chinese policy still dominated and prevailed over the two powers' moral obligations.
One year is past since the Syrian uprising started. Yet, in spite of the considerable human and material destruction inflicted by the regime, and despite all the setbacks, the revolution in Syria still has a strong momentum.
The events of the past year has further shown that the GCC decision to call for arming the Syrian opposition did not come from a vacuum, nor was it taken easily. Faced with a stalemate within the UN Security Council and political paralysis in Syria, with the regime continuing its relentless and indiscriminate killing, the GCC leaderships, as presumably is the case for all other Arab leaderships, are placed under a moral obligation to take all necessary steps to protect the Syrian people from the brutality of the regime. In view of the ineffectiveness of all other options, the decision to allow the Syrian opposition to be armed represents the only remaining viable way to deter and contain the destructive power of the regime's killing machine. Arguments and objections raised against the supply of arms option do not offer any other credible alternative to change the catastrophic situation inside Syria.