Six things your government can do about Syria, no.1: Clear the Skies

Liberated Kafranbel, Syria, September 2015
Lots of people believe that it is basically too late to do anything about Syria. It's such a mess. There are so many sides. It's hard to tell who the good guys are. Yet there are practical steps we can take, and which our governments can take. In this series, I will post six things that Western states can do to make the situation better, primarily based on calls made by Syrian civil society. When I finish that, I will post a series of things that we ourselves, as citizens,  can do. 

The most urgent task facing us is to reduce the killing. Dozens of people die in Syria every day, and this is what drives the refugee exodus from Syria. The vast majority of the deaths are due to the Assad regime. And the vast majority of the regime-caused deaths are due from above, caused by air strikes and in particular barrel bombs. 
Recent history - from Afghanistan and Iraq to Libya - makes most of us instinctively wary of military intervention. Most Syrian and Kurdish radicals are not calling for Western boots on the ground. However, stopping the bombs - clearing the skies - has to be the first priority in Syria. This means a No Fly Zone.

There are lots of strong arguments against a No Fly Zone, and you can follow the debate here, but on balance, I think that the arguments in favour are stronger. A No Fly Zone is not a panacea that will solve all problems. At a geopolitical level, it does not preclude or avoid the need for wider diplomatic efforts.

Stopping the deaths from above, creating safe havens, is not sufficient either in terms of the ultimate aim of a just, peaceful, democratic Syria, which can ultimately come about through the active will of the Syrian people and not through foreign intervention. But while the bombs continue to fall, hope for that outcome diminishes daily. Clearing the skies is not sufficient, but it is necessary.

Planet Syria, a network of over a hundred Syrian civil society groups, has made the following statement:
1. The government of Bashar al-Assad is killing at least 7 times more civilians than Isis.*
2. More than 11,000 barrel bombs made of scrap metal and high explosives have been rolled out of government helicopters onto hospitals, homes and schools since the UN banned them. These aerial attacks are the biggest killer of civilians. They drive extremism. 
3. These barrel bombs are a leading cause of displacement, forcing refugees to cross the Mediterranean and other borders. 
4. Many of the barrel bombs are dropped on areas under siege. More than half a million people in Syria live in areas with no access to food, water or medicine since 2013, including the areas of Ghouta that were targeted by the sarin gas attacks in the same year. 
5. The international anti-Isis coalition is flying in the same airspace where many of these barrel bombs are dropped, choosing to look the other way. 
There is no military solution to the fighting in Syria. But like in Bosnia, a no-fly zone can help protect civilians from the worst of the violence and encourage the fighting parties to come to the negotiating table. 
It’s time to #ClearTheSky. Join over a hundred non-violent Syrian groups in asking for the international community to enforce the UN ban on barrel bombs with a Bosnia-style no-fly zone.
A No Fly Zone is not only necessary; it is possible. Coalition air strikes on ISIS targets indicate that the West has the capability to take control of the sky out of Assad's hands.

There is some political support for safe havens. Labour MP Mike Gapes, for example, has called for them, as has Labour MP Jo Cox. We should lobby our politicians to get them to follow suit. (If you are in the UK, write to your MP here. If you are in the US, write to Congress here.)

It is true that Russia is likely to block such an action if conducted through the UN. Peter Tatchell suggests that a UN General Assembly could override any veto. But the UN already has a mandate for action: UN Security Council Resolution 2139. The resolution demands an immediate end to all violence; it specifically demands an end to barrel bombs and other forms of indiscriminate aerial attack on urban areas where civilians live; it demands that unhindered humanitarian assistance be allowed; it demands that all parties take "appropriate steps" to protect civilians. Finally, it expresses "intent to take further steps in the case of non-compliance with this resolution".

That was February 2014. There has been no compliance from the Syrian government. The time to take further steps is now.
Further relevant reading, mainly via the Syria Solidarity Coalition and NFZ Syria:

*Sources on casualties are from the Syria Network for Human Rights ( and the Violations Documentation Center (


Anonymous said…
You do realise you are calling for the overthrow of the Syrian government - "Assad Regime" as it's called by our MSM - and it's replacement with, well, what exactly?
Iraq, Libya, Syria...there's a pattern here.
Don't you get it?
Bob-B said…
Mr Anonymous apparently think that dictators like Assad are the solution to the problems of the Middle East (but probably wouldn't like to live under a dictator himself). This might be a plausible position if Syria, where a dictator was left in charge, was a better place than Iraq and Syria, where dictators were overthrown. But while things are bad in parts of Iraq and Libya, things are much worse in Syria. Dictators are not a solution to the problems of the Middle East any more than they were a slution to the problems of Europe.
bob said…
Thank you the other Bob. Perfectly put.
Jocuri Joc said…
War ,war ..and war.. Why is that war ,for what?

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