By Teresa Welsh |
The news that the Assad regime in Syria has likely used sarin nerve agent on a small scale should change the Obama administration's policy calculus. While it is important, as the administration has argued, to get all the facts and get them right before declaring that the Assad regime has crossed President Obama's "red line," there are other significant steps the Obama administration can take to hold the Assad regime accountable for its actions and ameliorate the regional consequences of Syria's ongoing civil war.
First, the United States can launch a diplomatic offensive in the U.N. Security Council. An already-assembled U.N. inspection team is idling in Cyprus, waiting Assad's permission to enter the country and investigate reports of chemical weapons use. The U.S. should call an emergency Security Council session to demand these inspectors be allowed unrestricted access to sites of possible sarin use, and force Russia to stop shielding the Assad regime .
Second, the United States should begin planning with NATO and regional partners to prepare a response in the event of further chemical weapons use by the Assad regime. Planning should be accelerated if it is not already under way. Action will require precision planning, definitive American leadership and direction and the participation of a broad alliance prepared to preclude any further chemical-weapons use by destroying appropriate military targets, including delivery systems, logistics, and applicable command and control. The focus should remain on punishing or preventing chemical weapons use, and avoid involvement in Syria's civil war to the extent possible.
Finally, the United States should push for NATO to plan a major humanitarian relief mission for Syrian refugees in Jordan. That country is already starting to show the social and economic strains of hosting half a million Syrian refugees, and NATO should be ready to help relieve these strains with a major multinational military relief effort that would involve the alliance's airlift, ground transportation, medical assistance, and security capabilities.
The Assad regime's likely use of chemical weapons reinforces the fact that there are no good policy options in Syria. However, the United States can take important steps forward by making an all-out diplomatic effort in the U.N. Security Council to further investigate the regime's likely chemical weapons use and solidifying and accelerating NATO planning on relevant issues.
About Peter Juul Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund
Charles Dunne Director of Middle East and North Africa Programs at Freedom House