Jones: Does the escalation of tensions between Syria and Turkey change the decision-making calculus on international intervention?

By: /
October 9, 2012

Let's hope so. Some months ago I argued (here) that the least bad option available for Syria was the deployment of an internationally mandated stabilization force – a force mandated not to overthrow Assad, but to freeze hostilities. That's neither easy nor risk free; but nor is it impossible. The essential condition, though, is a Turkish willingness to act. The Syrian army has long looked over its shoulder at its larger, better equipped, better trained, better supported regional neighbour; it has no appetite to fight the Turkish army. Were the Turkish army to mobilize, and allies exhibit a willingness to join in, it's within the realm of the feasible that the Syrian army would consent to their deployment without substantial resistance. If this sounds unlikely, remember that it's exactly what happened in East Timor, when regional and international pressure, and the imminent arrival of Australian troops operating under a UN mandate, caused Indonesia to pull back its large army presence in Timor to avoid a costly clash. The differences between the cases are obvious: Timor was a peripheral part of Indonesia, whereas here we're talking about the core of Syrian territory. No way Assad will agree to this. But there's a difference between Assad and his army. If they see the chips stacking up against his survival, and if other measures are taken to pressure them – but also to give them an exit clause – it's conceivable that they'll break from Assad. All this is a long shot – but it's a better option than watching Syria descend further into sectarian civil war. And as a result of Syria's shelling incident, it just got a bit more likely.