A former Canadian diplomat is calling on Canada to take a more active role in the Syrian conflict, including arming Syrian rebels and enacting a no-fly zone.
Ferry de Kerckhove, former High Commissioner to Pakistan and Ambassador to Indonesia and Egypt, says there are a series of stronger measures Canada could take in Syria, in a report released by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy.
De Kerckhove argues that arming Syrian rebel forces would be an effective method to hasten the demise of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime without adding to the death toll.
“To the extent that a political solution is not in the cards and that a direct military intervention is both unlikely and dangerous, providing weapons to the rebels is the only solution to speeding up the end of the conflict,” de Kerckhove said in a statement.
A no-fly zone in areas coming under the rebels’ control would also be necessary to guard against the increasing risk that Assad will use chemical weapons on civilians and resistance forces, de Kerckhove maintains.
“The concern about Assad’s potential use of chemical weapons—a very real one as the Syrian leader and his clique turn desperate—gives credence to any measure hastening his demise,” reads the report.
Western powers have so far rejected calls to arm the rebels, fearing that it would exacerbate the violence and close the door to negotiations with the regime, among other reasons.
Another stumbling block has been the lack of a unified entity that would bring together and represent the various ethnic, political, and military opponents of the Assad regime.
However, the establishment of the Syrian National Coalition for Revolutionary and Opposition Forces last month has largely managed to achieve that, and many countries, including the U.S., have recognized the coalition as Syria’s legitimate government.
In an interview with ABC News, President Barack Obama said Washington considers the National Coalition as “the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime.”
However, at a Friends of the Syrian People meeting in Marrakesh earlier this month, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said that, due to several concerns, Canada is not yet ready to endorse the coalition as the sole representative of Syria.
In a Dec. 12 statement released on the event of the conference, Baird announced Canada will continue to provide aid and humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries.
Baird also committed to providing the Jordanian Armed Forces with $1.5 million in “personal protective equipment” to guard against a potential chemical weapons attack from Syria.
“We remain deeply concerned about the potential loss of control over chemical weapons stockpiles,” he said in the statement.
“Canada continues to call for an immediate end to the violence in Syria and for Assad to step down so that a Syrian-led political transition can begin.”
In addition to the immediate goal of ending the civil war, De Kerckhove suggests that Canada can also play its part in shaping post-conflict Syria.
To that end, he recommends Canada recognize the new rebel-led government of Syria, engage and empower the Arab league more systematically, prepare to assist in post-Assad reconstruction and in ensuring a process of disarmament and reconciliation, and ensure that Canadian action in Syria enhances Israel’s security.
The upheaval in Syria began in March 2011 with clashes between forces loyal to Assad’s long-ruling Ba’ath Party government and those seeking to oust the regime. The conflict, part of the wider Arab Spring protest movement, escalated to a civil war, which is estimated to have cost at least 40,000 deaths to date.
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