On Saturday the United Nations Security Council demanded that Syria’s government and its armed opponents end attacks on civilians, allow the delivery of humanitarian aid across borders and battle lines, and protect minorities. The Security Council also called for the lifting of sieges against civilians and said that it would take additional measures if the two parties did not comply.
Even if fully implemented, this welcome push on humanitarian issues will not end the violence in Syria, or resolve a conflict that has left over 120,000 people dead and one-third of the population displaced. More action is needed if a political solution is to be found and a serious peace process initiated. The American people won’t support deployment of U.S. troops. Russia will veto any new U.N. Security Council resolution with teeth. But Washington should consider other diplomatic, assistance, financial and military options.
Diplomatic options now include formally terminating the U.N. negotiating effort, which has so far failed to reach any kind of agreement, even on an agenda. The U.S., a prime mover behind the talks, could announce that it would reopen them only if President Assad agrees to discuss concrete steps towards a democratic transition, which he has so far failed to do.
Another option is for the United States to formally recognize the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) — a disparate group representing the more moderate factions of the political and military opposition to Assad — as the legitimate government of Syria. The SOC could then take over the Syrian embassy in Washington, expel any embassy personnel still supporting the regime, and challenge the credentials of the Damascus government in the United Nations.
Today the SOC lacks authority inside Syria because it can provide only the spottiest of government services in limited areas. Washington could change that by providing funding, through the SOC, for local administrations in liberated areas of Syria, conditional on their willingness to allow broad participation in government — including secularists, Islamists, women, and minority religions and sects. This would help the SOC to gain legitimacy with the Syrian people.