ND Expert: Syria vetoes lead to “full gun assault” by Assad

Author: Shannon Chapla

Following Saturday’s (Feb. 4) Russia-China veto of a UN Security Council resolution on Syria, University of Notre Dame peace scholar and former UN sanctions panel expert George A. Lopez, says “In the absence of UN restraints on President Bashar al-Assad, a major concern is that he’ll unleash a full gun assault, and I think we’ve seen that happening in the first 48 hours since the veto.”

“Another concern,” Lopez says, “is that there may be large numbers of army defections, but they’re not very heavily armed, which could lead to neighboring states beginning to arm the rebels— maybe even Western states if they’re worried about humanitarian slaughter.”

Meanwhile, Lopez says Russia and China are sabotaging the UN with vetoes. The countries, both permanent members of the Security Council, increasingly vote the same way and support one another’s causes, and Lopez says Russia is going beyond mere protection for Syria, a close ally and arms buyer.

“I see the Russian veto this week as the latest manifestation of their rejection of the pro-active, norm-enforcing Security Council that has emerged in the past decade,” Lopez says. "The Libyan case was the final straw for the Russians, hence their October veto of the first Syrian resolution. The second veto on Saturday was more of the same.

“I think we now have to put a lot of pressure on the Russians for the visit to Syria of Sergei Lavrov (Russian foreign minister) and other dialogues to push Assad aside,” Lopez says. “I think we look at the Arab League’s meeting as a way in which they may mobilize new measures, particularly sanctions, and I think it’s not out of the question to either create a humanitarian corridor or demonstrate to Assad that his days are numbered… possibly strategic bombing by NATO powers and others.”

Many are speculating about whether Syria is headed for civil war. Lopez feels the situation, in some ways, is already worse.

“The firepower of the Syrian government far exceeds that of the rebel group that really hasn’t taken territory militarily and held it, so in some respects, it’s much worse than a civil war on the bulk of the population because they can’t really take and hold territory,” Lopez says. “The government forces are spread very thin in a very large country because the protests are so geographically spread.”

Lopez says another deadly component of Syrian violence is its regional dimension.

“Unlike any other ‘Arab spring’ case, Syria has complex entanglements with other border states with similar sectarian rifts,” he says. “Much of Hezbollah’s future in Lebanon – and as an entity – hinges on Assad’s survival. With Iraq again marching to major sectarian violence, parallel battles in Syria might trigger a region-wide factional war. Thus, the lethality of violence in Syria might leap over the civil war stage to something worse geographically.”

Lopez, the Hesburgh Professor of Peace Studies at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, is the author of eight books and more than three dozen articles on economic sanctions. From October 2010 to July 2011, he served on the United Nations Panel of Experts for monitoring the sanctions on North Korea. Panels of experts are comprised of independent analysts who point out to the UN Security Council where there are lapses of sanctions enforcement and sanctions busting.

Media Advisory: Lopez’ comments may be used in whole or in part. He is available for interviews and can be reached at 574-631-6972 or lopez.1@nd.edu