I have twice posted about a paper I am reading from March 2015 titled Failure to Protect: Syria and the UN Security Council by Dr. Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies of the Graduate Center, City University of New York. True, the United States bears a lion’s share of the blame for the state of Syria today because its invasion of Iraq turned the whole Middle East upside down.
But, to reiterate, today much of the blame for enabling the deterioration of Syria lies with Russia and China. They vetoed United Nations Security Council draft resolutions holding the Syrian government accountable for crimes against humanity. As I posted in my previous post on his paper, Dr. Adams wrote:
With each failure of the Security Council to hold the Syrian government accountable for its actions, President Bashar al-Assad’s forces deployed more extreme armed force. This, in turn, strengthened the most uncompromising and severe elements within the armed opposition, especially those with external sources of sustenance. The net effect has been to turn Syria into the world’s worst case of ongoing mass atrocities, civilian displacement and humanitarian catastrophe.
He explains that there have been “five identifiable phases of the conflict in Syria so far.” The first,
… roughly from March 2011 until the middle of the year, was characterised by asymmetrical violence in the form of deadly government repression of widespread demonstrations inspired by the “Arab Spring” revolutions elsewhere in the region. … Despite President Assad’s belated promises of democratic reform and the formal lifting of the 48-year State of Emergency during April, the government relied upon its security forces to shoot down protestors and systematically detain political opponents.
The second phase,
… which was apparent by the second half of 2011, saw growing numbers of civilians, as well as defectors from the security forces, joining the newly formed Free Syrian Army (FSA) or participating in armed self-defence. … Shocked by the resilience of the political opposition, who continued to organize large protests, and now militarily threatened by the FSA, the government adjusted its strategy.
The third phase:
The early 2012 siege and assault on the city of Homs is broadly representative of the third phase of the conflict. … During February the government launched a major offensive that included the encirclement of the city, relentless artillery bombardment of the Baba Amr district, regarded a rebel stronghold, and the deployment of allied shabiha (“ghosts”) civilian militias.
“Death also came from above,” writes Adams. Although “widespread protests against the Syrian regime began in March 2011, Assad’s forces did not widely utilize helicopters to attack their opponents until after the second veto in February 2012.”
Even then, the government exercised some restraint. … Then on 24 July, just five days after the third double veto, fixed wing aircraft were reportedly used for the first time. … Adopting a policy of collective punishment, government helicopters and fixed wing aircraft bombed and strafed places where civilians congregated in these areas and were most exposed, including bakeries, schools and clinics.
To sum up:
In stark contrast to the first two phases of the conflict, after mid-2012 the use of air power against vulnerable civilians dominated the conduct of armed hostilities.