Lightly Arming Syrian Opposition is U.S.’ Best Option

Lightly Arming Syrian Opposition is U.S.’ Best Option


The media presents daily reports of the escalating violence in Syria. There have been confirmed reports of mass executions by the regime. Women are being raped and men are disappearing.

Thousands of civilians and combatants are dying from shelling and firefights every day. The cities of Homs, Damascus, and Aleppo, among others, stand in ruins. Russia and China continue to block UN action in the Security Council. Thus far in the Arab uprisings, America has taken the successful approach of developing the situation from the outside to ensure the revolutions maintain their own national character. The threat of chemical weapons makes any ground intervention more difficult. America should build on past success and break the Syria stalemate by arming the Syrian opposition with anti-tank weaponry and non-lethal supplies.

It is well-known the Assad regime possesses a large stockpile of chemical weapons. They’ve been manufacturing them domestically for decades. A regime spokesman stated chemical weapons could be used against any outside invasion force, though the statement was later walked back. Even for well-equipped and trained militaries such as America’s, conducting operations in a lethal nerve agent environment multiplies the difficulty level and will greatly increase casualties in ground combat. An invasion of Syria is a much more difficult prospect than some imagine.

The same regime spokesman asserted Syria would not use chemical weapons on their own people, no matter the situation. Contaminating large swathes of countryside, effective when necessary against outside invasions, is undesirable domestically. It can present short and long-term contamination hazards for people, animals, crops, and water, not to mention the international mores it would break. Outside of Saddam Hussein, even brutal dictators have hesitated to use these weapons. The Syrian regime using nerve agents could lead to evaporation of Russian or Chinese support.

Arming the Syrian opposition is a better option. The Assad regime has shown no hesitation in using artillery and armor against the Syrian people. Equipping Syrian rebels with light anti-tank weapons such as RPG-7s will allow them to combat the regime’s T-55 and T-72 tanks. RPG-7s and lighter anti-tank weaponry are not capable of penetrating U.S. M1 Abrams tanks.

The Middle East is already awash in such weaponry so America wouldn’t be introducing anything new. Getting them quickly and directly into the hands of Syrian resistance fighters will bring the timely turning point needed to end the violence. Keeping an eye on the future after the Assad regime falls, America should stop short of providing small-arms weaponry, such as machine guns which may be used in the turmoil after the regime falls.

The U.S. should provide the opposition with non-lethal effects as well. Providing radio and other equipment to opposition commanders will allow them to coordinate their forces locally and nationally. Medical and food supplies are vital as well as the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. Providing such supplies directly to Syrians already on the ground will get them closer to those who need them as America and its allies develop a coordinated response to the humanitarian situation following the fighting.

Providing light anti-tank weaponry and other non-lethal support for the opposition combined with continued international diplomatic and economic pressure on the regime, followed by a coordinated international humanitarian response to the aftermath, is America’s best course to end the Syria stalemate.

Christopher Miller is a Security Fellow at the Truman National Security Project. He blogs at Truman Doctrine, where this piece originally appeared.

August 6, 2012 at 10:52

Women are being raped and men are disappearing? True, the Muslims are now having a "Christian Hunting Season". Anyone who does not fight with them to overthrow the Syrian Government are suspected to be a Christian  because they know that the Christian does not want to take part in the Overthrow of the Government of Syria. So, the Muslims are Raping the Christian women and killing the Christian man who does not fight with them to overthrown the Syrian Government. But no one cares what the Muslims are doing to the Christians, the UN and the Human Rights they just spend their time talking having a cup of Coffee then they have another cup of coffee with strawberry and Chocolate Cake. Not even the USA cares, they just want to show the world that they are still in "Control" by Arming the Muslim rebels with Made In The USA weapons of mass destruction. The USA Government are like "Santa Claus" from Christmas because instead of giving Milk and Cookies or a Playstation Console to realease their frustration the USA will give the Muslims their oversupply of Weapons Of Mass Destruction. In fact there has been Reports that USA Citizens for a number of years have been Arrested inside the USA and they even passed a Bill not long ago identifying the Christians of Mexico as In Home Grown Terrorists so the Senator reading the Bill said "JESUS". Oh well, the USA should not complain as to "Why the world hates America?" because the answer can be found here on this website Link that says "Lightly Arming the Syrian Opposition is U.S.'  Best Option". We can see into the Future when the USA collapses like the Romans Empire and they will wish they did not give Noty Revels their Made In The USA weapons of mass destruction. Both the Revels for Raping and killing other people and the Syrian Government needs to be punish for killing people not Rewarded with USA Made Gifts.

August 5, 2012 at 07:12

My professor of international relations beleives that the conflict will need to end with a government victory to begin with. The government cannot seem weak atm. After it has crushed the rebellion can they make some kind of concessions.
There will be no cease-fire discussion possibility. Nor any partitioning of the state, he believes there is no infrastructure to create an Alawi state and none has been implemented during the 40 years of Assad rule.
People think if the rebels win there will be a secular democratic state. Just as Iraq can't go from Saddam to Switzerland overnight there needs to be a transtition stage. And that won't be achieved by civil war in Syria. After the battles have been won can the regime make changes, or face anarchy in their absence.

major lowen gil marquez, phil army
August 5, 2012 at 05:18

The anti ASSAD regime is a moslem extremist that wanted to propagate islam by the use of the sword and the barrel of the gun to the non islam believers which the extremist terminologist as the infidels, this kind of thoughts is very dangerous if this extremist will compose the new kind of extremist government of syria…

August 4, 2012 at 09:25

agree – no weapons from the US – best we use diplomacy to attempt to get all parties to the table to talk – although I agree at this point we are well beyond talks.  While the deaths are deplorable and heartbreaking – we need to stay out of this -  
I do however hope there is a plan to get those chemical weapons in a secure place if the regime falls – turn them over to the Russians perhaps? 

Renato Kloss
August 4, 2012 at 01:53

I agree too. It's a tribal war.. 

August 3, 2012 at 19:59

"The Middle East is already awash in such weaponry so America wouldn’t be introducing anything new", wow is this moral ambiguity or apathy? This is probably what the foreign policy establishment thought when they armed the mujahideen in Afghanistan with weapons of the "opposition" at that time that transformed into today's Taliban and our being used against our brave hero warriors deployed there. Is that the answer? Awash the region with more weapons? Isn't that part of the problem and not the solution? Has the author been behind the business or the receiving end of a weapon himself?

Leonard R.
August 3, 2012 at 16:39

I agree with Nick Nolan. And I keep wondering what kind of government will follow Assad? Will it be as accomodating of Christians, Alawites and of Israel as Assad's has been? 

Nick Nolan
August 3, 2012 at 14:38

There is no such thing as  "the opposition" in Syria. There are different groups who fight against Assad, Alawi's and each other.  The orginal uprising was nonviolent and people participating in that are mostly displaced by hoteads and Jihadi's.
When it's a untidy mess, it's untidy mess. We Americans are inpatient and don't have diplomatic competency. That's why we are always offering more guns and war and losing influence in the Middle East.

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief