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What is preventing international action in Syria?

Question submitted by Jake C., from University of Texas at Tyler, May 3, 2013

Answered by: Matthew C. Waxman, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Law and Foreign Policy


The Syrian civil war has pitted Bashar al-Assad's government forces against opposition forces, mostly now represented in the Syrian National Coalition. Since the conflict began in March 2011, over seventy thousand have been killed.

A number of countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, and Qatar, have been providing support to the opposition in various forms, ranging from humanitarian aid to military supplies, such as weapons, armor, and communication devices. However, these efforts have not been enough to turn the tide, and after three years of fighting, a diplomatic solution still seems unlikely. At the same time, action by the UN Security Council has been blocked by Russia and China, both of whom have been reluctant to act against Assad's regime. Indeed, Russia has been seemingly supportive of the Assad regime.

Coming on the heels of leaving Iraq in December 2011 and with the withdrawal from Afghanistan ongoing, the United States is leery of being drawn into another intractable conflict that lacks a clear and foreseeable end. That said, it is likely that the United States will be increasingly drawn into Syrian conflict, (especially given the Syrian government's reported use of chemical weapons, which the United States may see as a "game changer"). As the fighting continues and perhaps even escalates, and resolution remains elusive, the United States will be forced to engage more heavily.