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Foreign Fighters in Syria

June 9, 2014 Comments off

Foreign Fighters in Syria
Source: The Soufan Group

Over 12,000 fighters from at least 81 countries have joined the civil war in Syria, and the numbers continue to grow. Around 2,500 are from Western countries, including most members of the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. There are also several hundred from Russia. But the great majority are from the Arab World. Most are fighting with rebel groups, and increasingly with the most extreme among them; but many are also fighting with the Government, or with ethnic or faith communities that are trying to protect themselves from both sides. A lot are young, often teenagers, and a fair percentage of those arriving from non-Muslim majority countries are converts to Islam. These and others who share their faith commonly express their motivation as a religious obligation to protect fellow Muslims from attack. This sense of duty is captured by their loose use of the word ‘jihad’.

There is considerable international concern at what these young men – and some women – will do once they leave Syria, and although almost all appear (from interviews and the evidence of social media) to go without a thought of what next, the experience of being in a war zone and exposed to the radicalizing influences of sectarianism and other forms of extremism are bound to have an impact on their ability and willingness to resume their former lives.

The policy response so far has often focused more on prevention and punishment than on dissuasion or reintegration, but as the number of returnees increases, and the resources required to monitor their activities are stretched to breaking point, it will be important to examine more closely why an individual went, what happened to him while there, and why he came back. This paper attempts to provide some general context for answering those questions, and offers suggestions for policy development.

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CRS — Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response (updated)

May 13, 2014 Comments off

Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Fighting continues across Syria, pitting government forces and their foreign allies against a range of anti-government insurgents, some of whom also are fighting amongst themselves. Since March 2011, the conflict has driven more than 2.7 million Syrians into neighboring countries as refugees (out of a total population of more than 22 million). Millions more Syrians are internally displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance, of which the United States remains the largest bilateral provider, with more than $1.7 billion in funding identified to date. U.S. nonlethal assistance to opposition forces was placed on hold in December 2013, as fighting in northern Syria disrupted mechanisms put in place to monitor and secure U.S. supplies. Administration officials have since resumed some assistance to select opposition groups and have allocated $287 million to date.

Neither pro-Asad forces nor their opponents appear capable of consolidating their battlefield gains in Syria or achieving outright victory there in the short term. Improved coordination among some anti-government forces and attrition in government ranks make a swift reassertion of state control over all of Syria unlikely. Conflict between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, a.k.a. ISIS) and other anti-Asad forces has intensified. The war in Syria is exacerbating local sectarian and political conflicts within Lebanon and Iraq, threatening national stability.

CRS — Iran-North Korea-Syria Ballistic Missile and Nuclear Cooperation

May 1, 2014 Comments off

Iran-North Korea-Syria Ballistic Missile and Nuclear Cooperation (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Congress has at times expressed concern regarding ballistic missile and nuclear programs in Iran, North Korea, and Syria. This report focuses primarily on unclassified and declassified U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) assessments over the past two decades. These assessments indicate that

• there is no evidence that Iran and North Korea have engaged in nuclear-related trade or cooperation with each other, although ballistic missile technology cooperation between the two is significant and meaningful, and

• Syria has received ballistic missiles and related technology from North Korea and Iran and also engaged in nuclear technology cooperation with North Korea.

CRS — Syria: Overview of the Humanitarian Response

March 6, 2014 Comments off

Syria: Overview of the Humanitarian Response (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The ongoing conflict in Syria that began in March 2011 has created one of the most pressing humanitarian crises in the world. As of early February 2014, an estimated 9.3 million people in Syria, nearly half the population, have been affected by the conflict. This figure includes estimates of between 6.5 million displaced inside Syria and 2.4 million Syrians displaced as refugees, with 97% fleeing to countries in the immediate surrounding region, including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, and other parts of North Africa. The situation is fluid and continues to worsen, while humanitarian needs are immense and increase daily.

While internationally supervised disarmament of chemical weapons in Syria is proceeding, albeit with some difficulty, U.S. and international diplomatic efforts to negotiate a political end to the fighting in Syria opened on January 22, 2014, in Montreux, Switzerland. The “Geneva II” talks include some members of the Syrian opposition, representatives of the Syrian government, and other government leaders. The talks came to an end on January 31 and resumed February 10-15, 2014, but ended with little progress in efforts to end the civil war. The parties reportedly agreed to an agenda for the next round of talks. Many experts and observers hoped that a lasting agreement would have been reached on “humanitarian pauses” to allow access and relief to thousands of civilians blockaded in towns and cities in Syria. On February 22, 2014, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2139 (2014) to increase humanitarian access and aid delivery in Syria.

Country Analysis Brief: Syria

February 24, 2014 Comments off

Country Analysis Brief: Syria
Source: Energy Information Administration

Syria’s energy sector is in turmoil because of the ongoing hostilities between government and opposition forces. Syria’s oil and natural gas production has declined dramatically since March 2011 because of the conflict and because of the subsequent imposition of sanctions by the United States and European Union in particular. Syria’s energy sector is unlikely to recover in the near term.

CRS — Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response

January 24, 2014 Comments off

Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Fighting continues across Syria, pitting government forces and their foreign allies against a range of anti-government insurgents, some of whom also are fighting amongst themselves. Since March 2011, the conflict has driven more than 2.3 million Syrians into neighboring countries as refugees (out of a total population of more than 22 million). Millions more Syrians are internally displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance, of which the United States remains the largest bilateral provider, with more than $1.3 billion in funding identified to date. U.S. assistance to opposition forces was placed on hold in December 2013, as fighting in northern Syria disrupted mechanisms put in place to monitor and secure U.S. supplies. The war is exacerbating local sectarian and political conflicts within Lebanon and Iraq, where escalating violence may threaten stability.

Playing with Fire: Why Private Gulf Financing for Syria’s Extremist Rebels Risks Igniting Sectarian Conflict at Home

December 9, 2013 Comments off

Playing with Fire: Why Private Gulf Financing for Syria’s Extremist Rebels Risks Igniting Sectarian Conflict at Home
Source: Brookings Institution

In this new Saban Center analysis paper, Elizabeth Dickinson examines why private financing by Gulf donors for Syria’s extremist rebels risks igniting sectarian conflict in Gulf countries. Over the last two and a half years, Kuwait has emerged as a financing and organizational hub for charities and individuals supporting Syria’s myriad rebel groups. These donors have taken advantage of Kuwait’s unique freedom of association and its relatively weak financial rules to channel money to some of the estimated 1,000 rebel brigades now fighting against Syrian president Bashar al-Asad.

The paper charts how individual donors in the Gulf encouraged the founding of armed groups, helped to shape the ideological and at times extremist agendas of rebel brigades, and contributed to the fracturing of the military opposition. From the early days of the Syrian uprising, Kuwait-based donors—including one group currently under U.S. sanction for terrorist financing—began to pressure Syrians to take up arms. The new brigades often adopted the ideological outlook of their donors. As the war dragged on and the civilian death toll rose, the path toward extremism became self-reinforcing. Today, there is evidence that Kuwaiti donors have backed rebels who have committed atrocities and who are either directly linked to al Qaeda or cooperate with its affiliated brigades on the ground.

FACTBOX — Women’s rights in the Arab world

November 23, 2013 Comments off

FACTBOX — Women’s rights in the Arab world
Source: Thompson Reuters

Egypt is the worst country for women in the Arab world, closely followed by Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen, according to gender experts surveyed in a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll released on Tuesday.

Comoros, Oman, Kuwait, Jordan and Qatar came top of the survey, which assessed 22 Arab states on violence against women, reproductive rights, treatment of women within the family, their integration into society and attitudes towards a woman’s role in politics and the economy.

The results were drawn from answers from 336 gender experts invited to participate in an online survey by the foundation, the philanthropic arm of the news and information company Thomson Reuters, in August and September.

+ Complete poll results

Turkey and Syrian Refugees: The Limits of Hospitality

November 19, 2013 Comments off

Turkey and Syrian Refugees: The Limits of Hospitality
Source: Brookings Institution

There are five major challenges currently facing Turkey in responding to the Syrian crisis:

  1. Sustaining the Turkish response to an ever-growing number of refugees
  2. Mobilizing international solidarity to support the state’s efforts
  3. Effectively implementing Turkey’s innovative “zero point delivery policy”
  4. Addressing security issues resulting from both the violence in Syria and presence of an ever-increasing number of Syrian refugees in Turkey
  5. Recognizing that humanitarian action cannot take the place of political action to resolve the broader crisis

CRS — Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Issues for Congress (9/12/13)

September 23, 2013 Comments off

Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Syria has produced, stored, and weaponized chemical agents, but it remains dependent on foreign suppliers for chemical precursors. The regime of President Bashar al Asad possesses stocks of nerve (sarin, VX) and blister (mustard gas) agents, possibly weaponized into bombs, shells, and missiles. The government also has associated production facilities. Chemical weapons and their agents can deteriorate depending on age and quality; little is known from open sources about the current condition of the stockpile. Syria continues to attempt to procure new supplies of chemical weapons precursors, which are dual-use, through front companies in third countries. Most countries that have had chemical weapons arsenals in the past have destroyed, or are in the process of destroying, these weapons under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The U.S. intelligence community cites Iran, North Korea, and Syria as having active chemical weapons programs. The use or loss of control of chemical weapons stocks in Syria could have unpredictable consequences for the Syrian population and neighboring countries, as well as U.S. allies and forces in the region. The United States and other countries have assessed that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against opposition forces in the country. The largest- scale use to date was on August 21, 2013. A U.N. inspection team began working in Syria on August 19, 2013 and completed their mission on Au gust 31. Laboratories are currently analyzing samples collected by the inspectors.

President Barack Obama and other world leaders had said that the use of chemical weapons against the civilian population would be met with consequences, which could include the use of military force. For example, President Obama suggested during an August 2012 press briefing that the United States might take military action against Syria if Damascus used or lost control of its chemical weapons, explaining that “a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus.”

On August 31, 2013, President Obama stated that the United States should respond with “military action against Syrian regime targets” and added that he would ask Congress to grant authorization for the use of military force. The White House had previously announced on June 13, 2013, that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons “on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year.” The statement added that, in response to the Asad regime’s use of chemical weapons, the President had authorized the expansion of military assistance to the opposition forces in Syria.

However, President Obama subsequently explained in a September 10 speech that he had asked congressional leaders to postpone a vote to authorize the use of military force in order to give the Administration time to pursue a new diplomatic initiative. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem stated the previous day that Damascus had accepted a proposal presented by the Russian government, according to which Syria would turn over its chemical weapons for international control and supervised destruction. The United Nations Security Council is discussing a French draft resolution designed to accomplish this goal. Key issues for negotiation include verification procedures, inspectors’ access, and security of international personnel.

While the United States and other governments have said they believe the Asad regime has kept its chemical weapons stocks secure, policymakers are also concerned about what could happen to these weapons in the course of the civil war, such as diversion to terrorist groups or loss of control during a regime collapse. There is also concern that Syria could transfer its chemical weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Administration officials have stated that the United States has been working with regional allies to detect the movement of chemical weapons, prepare interdiction scenarios, and mitigate possible use against military or civilian populations.

During conflict, the intelligence community and Special Forces units would likely play a major role in locating and securing such weapons in a combat environment. The nature and recent course of the conflict in Syria suggests that rapid changes in control over critical military facilities may occur. U.S. government programs established to secure or remove chemical or other weapons of mass destruction through threat reduction or nonproliferation programs have focused on destruction or scientist redirection in an atmosphere of cooperation. At present, such programs are providing border security assistance to neighboring states. U.S. policymakers and Congress may wish to review and discuss authorities, funding, forces, and scenarios.

For additional information on chemical weapons agents, see CRS Report R42862, Chemical Weapons: A Summary Report of Characteristics and Effects , by Dana A. Shea. For a broader discussion of U.S. policy options, see CRS Report RL33487, Armed Conflict in Syria: Background and U.S. Response , by Jeremy M. Sharp and Christopher M. Blanchard.

CRS — Possible U.S. Intervention in Syria: Issues for Congress (9/12/13)

September 23, 2013 Comments off

Possible U.S. Intervention in Syria: Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Reports of a mass casualty chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus are reshaping the long-running and contentious debate over poss ible U.S. intervention in Syria’s bloody civil war. Obama Administration officials and some foreign governments report that on August 21, 2013, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Asad attacked opposition-controlled areas in the suburbs of the capital with chemical weapons, killing hundreds of civilians, including women and children. The Syrian government has denied the accusations categorically and blames the opposition for the attack. United Nations inspectors who were in Syria to investigate other alleged chemical weapons attacks collected and are analyzing information related to the incident. Varying accounts suggest that several hundred to more than 1,000 people were killed from exposure to a poisonous gas, with symptoms consistent with exposure to the nerve agent sarin.

Possible punitive U.S. military action against the Asad regime is now the subject of intense debate, amid the broader ongoing discussion of U.S. policy toward the Syrian civil war and its regional consequences. The August 21 incident is the latest in a string of reported instances where Syrian forces appear to have used chemical weapons despite President Obama’s prior statement that the transfer or use of chemical weapons is “a red line” that would “change his calculus.” The President and senior members of his Administration have argued that the United States has a national security interest in ensuring that “when countries break international norms on chemical weapons they are held accountable.” At the sa me time, President Obama still maintains that extensive, sustained U.S. military intervention to shape the outcome of Syria’s civil conflict is undesirable. Prior to the August 21 incident, U.S. military leaders had outlined options to accomplish a range of U.S. objectives, while warning that U.S. military involvement “cannot resolve the underlying and historic ethnic, religious and tribal issues that are fueling this conflict.”

Alternatives to military action also are under intense consideration. On September 10, Syrian officials responded to a Russian disarmament proposal by signaling their willingness “to disclose the locations of chemical weapons, to stop producing them, and to reveal these locations to representatives of Russia, other states, and the United Nations” with the goal of “ending our possession of all chemical weapons.” Members of the United Nations Security Council began discussing proposals to implement an internati onal framework for such a disarmament initiative.

Members of Congress have expressed a broad range of views on the question of an immediate U.S. military response and the proposed disarmament initiative. Some express support for military action and others express opposition or question how a military response would advance broader U.S. policy goals. Similarly, some Members seek to explore the potential of disarmament proposals and others warn that it may delay a forceful U.S. response or undermine U.S. policy with regard to Syria’s civil war. For more th an two years, many Members of Congress have debated the potential rewards and unintended consequences of deeper U.S. involvement in Syria. Some Members express concern that the Administration’s policy of providing support to the fractured Syrian opposition could empower anti-American extremist groups, while others warn that failure to back moderate forces could prolong fighting and strengthen extremists.

As Members of Congress consider the merits of possible military intervention in Syria, they also are reengaging in long-standing discussions about the proper role for Congress in authorizing and funding U.S. military action abroad and the use of force in shaping global events or deterring dictatorships from committing atrocities. This report attempts to provide answers to a number of policy questions for lawmakers grappling with these short- and long-term issues.

United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic: Report on the Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in the Ghouta Area of Damascus on 21 August 2013

September 17, 2013 Comments off

United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic: Report on the Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in the Ghouta Area of Damascus on 21 August 2013 (PDF)
Source: United Nations

In transmitting simultaneously to the Security Council and the General Assembly the report on the incident which took place on 21 August 2013 in the Ghouta area of Damascus (see annex), the Secretary-General expresses his profound shock and regret at the conclusion that chemical weapons were used on a relatively large scale, resulting in numerous casualties, particularly among civilians and including many children. The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of chemical weapons and believes that this act is a war crime and grave violation of the 1925 Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare and other relevant rules of customary international law. The international community has a moral responsibility to hold accountable those responsible and for ensuring that chemical weapons can never re-emerge as an instrument of warfare.

CRS — Armed Conflict in Syria: U.S. and International Response

September 10, 2013 Comments off

Armed Conflict in Syria: U.S. and International Response (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The popular-uprising-turned-armed-rebellion in Syria is in its third year, and seems poised to continue, with the government and an array of militias locked in a bloody struggle of attrition. Members of Congress and Administration officials are debating options for responding militarily to President Bashar al Asad’s forces’ reported use of chemical weapons in attacks on rebel-held areas and civilians. After the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Asad’s forces used weapons in limited attacks earlier this year, the Obama Administration had signaled a pending expansion of U.S. civilian and military assistance to the opposition.

Earlier in the conflict, U.S. officials and many analysts asserted that President Asad and his supporters would be forced from power, but had difficulty articulating how that outcome would take place within the timeframes they set forth. Recent developments suggest that both the opposition and the Asad regime face considerable challenges in their attempts to assert greater control over Syria. Increasingly, analysts have focused on the potential for the regime and its opponents to carve out strongholds and prolong the fighting. Rapid escalation or swift regime change could deal a decisive blow to actors seeking to advance goals contrary to U.S. interests, but it could also further jeopardize the security of chemical and conventional weapons stockpiles and/or lead to wider regional conflict.

Opposition forces are formidable, but regime forces, backed by Hezbollah fighters and Iranian and Russian material support, have initiated successful tactical counteroffensives in some areas. The Syrian military continues to use air strikes, artillery, and pro-government militias in punishing attacks on areas where rebels operate. Some members of Syria’s Sunni Arab majority and of ethnic and sectarian minority groups—including the Alawite minority from which the Asad family hails—view the conflict in communal, zero-sum terms. U.S. officials believe that fighting would likely continue even if Asad were toppled.

Amid extensive damage to major urban areas and reports attributing war crimes to both government and opposition forces, the war has created a regional humanitarian emergency. Some estimates suggest more than 100,000 Syrians have been killed since March 2011. As of September 6, more than 2 million refugees had fled Syria, and the United Nations projects that the total may reach 3.5 million by year’s end. As many as 4.25 million Syrians have been internally displaced. U.S. humanitarian assistance to date totals more than $1.01 billion. President Obama and his Administration have been calling for Asad’s resignation since August 2011, and have pressed the United Nations Security Council to condemn the Syrian government.

The United States has recognized the National Coalition of Revolution and Opposition Forces (SC) as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and has provided nonlethal assistance to the Coalition and an affiliated Supreme Military Council (SMC). Although the Administration is seeking congressional authorization for the use of force in Syria, and preparing military plans for various contingencies, it continues to maintain that there is “no military solution” and that a negotiated political settlement is essential.

During more than two years of unrest and violence, the central question for policy makers has been how best to bring the conflict in Syria to a close without irretrievably destabilizing the region and/or endangering key U.S. allies or interests. The debate over a potential military response to reported chemical weapons use adds new complications to this question. Given the human cost and the polarizing effects of the fighting, security, humanitarian, and economic challenges will beset Syria and probably implicate U.S. interests for years to come. For the latest on proposed legislation to authorize the use of force against Syria, see CRS Report R43201, Possible U.S. Intervention in Syria: Issues for Congress, coordinated by Jeremy M. Sharp and Christopher M. Blanchard.

See also (PDFs):
+ Possible U.S. Intervention in Syria: Issues for Congress (September 3, 2013)
+ Syria: Overview of the Humanitarian Response (September 4, 2013)
+ Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Issues for Congress (August 30, 2013)

Internet Freedom and Political Space

September 6, 2013 Comments off

Internet Freedom and Political Space
Source: RAND Corporation

The Internet has become a new battleground between governments that censor online content and those who advocate freedom to browse, post, and share information online for all, regardless of their place of residence. This report examines whether and how furthering Internet freedom can empower civil society vis-à-vis public officials, make the government more accountable to its citizens, and integrate citizens into the policymaking process. Using case studies of events in 2011 in Egypt, Syria, China, and Russia, researchers focus on the impact of Internet freedom on freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and the right to cast a meaningful vote, all of which are the key pillars of political space. Researchers analyze the mechanisms by which Internet freedom can enhance the opportunities to enjoy these freedoms, how different political contexts can alter the opportunities for online mobilization, and how, subsequently, online activism can grow out into offline mobilization leading to visible policy changes. To provide historical context, researchers also draw parallels between the effects of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty programs in the Soviet Union during the Cold War and the ongoing efforts to expand Internet freedom for all. The report concludes by discussing implications for the design of Internet freedom programs and other measures to protect “freedom to connect.”

Airpower Options for Syria: Assessing Objectives and Missions for Aerial Intervention

September 4, 2013 Comments off

Airpower Options for Syria: Assessing Objectives and Missions for Aerial Intervention
Source: RAND Corporation

As the Syrian civil war drags into its third year with mounting casualties and misery among the civilian population, and the large-scale use of chemical weapons, interest in the possibility of military intervention by the United States and its allies is growing despite U.S. wariness of becoming involved in a prolonged sectarian quagmire. Without presuming that military intervention is the right course, this report considers the goals an intervention relying on airpower alone might pursue and examines the requirements, military potential, and risks of five principal missions that intervening air forces might be called on to carry out: negating Syrian airpower, neutralizing Syrian air defenses, defending safe areas, enabling opposition forces to defeat the regime, and preventing the use of Syrian chemical weapons. It finds that (1) destroying the Syrian air force or grounding it through intimidation is operationally feasible but would have only marginal benefits for protecting Syrian civilians; (2) neutralizing the Syrian air defense system would be challenging but manageable, but it would not be an end in itself; (3) making safe areas in Syria reasonably secure would depend primarily on the presence of ground forces able and willing to fend off attacks, and defending safe areas not along Syria’s borders would approximate intervention on the side of the opposition; (4) an aerial intervention against the Syrian government and armed forces could do more to help ensure that the Syrian regime would fall than to determine what would replace it; and (5) while airpower could be used to reduce the Assad regime’s ability or desire to launch large-scale chemical attacks, eliminating its chemical weapon arsenal would require a large ground operation. Any of these actions would involve substantial risks of escalation by third parties, or could lead to greater U.S. military involvement in Syria.

CRS — Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Issues for Congress

August 23, 2013 Comments off

Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The use or loss of control of chemical weapons stocks in Syria could have unpredictable consequences for the Syrian population and neighboring countries as well as U.S. allies and forces in the region. Congress may wish to assess the Administration’s plans to respond to possible scenarios involving the use, change of hands, or loss of control of Syrian chemical weapons.

Syria has produced, stored, and weaponized chemical weapons, but it remains dependent on foreign suppliers for chemical precursors. The regime of President Bashar al Asad reportedly has stocks of nerve (sarin, VX) and blister (mustard gas) agents, possibly weaponized into bombs, shells, and missiles, and associated production facilities. Chemical weapons and their agents can deteriorate depending on age and quality. Little is known from open sources about the current size and condition of the stockpile. Syria continues to attempt to procure new supplies of chemical weapons precursors, which are dual-use, through front companies in third countries. Most countries that have had chemical weapons arsenals in the past have destroyed these weapons under the Chemical Weapons Convention, or are in the process of destroying them. The U.S. intelligence community cites Iran, North Korea, and Syria as having active chemical weapons programs.

While the United States and other governments have said they believe the Asad regime has kept its chemical weapons stocks secure, policymakers are concerned about what could happen to these weapons in the course of the civil war, such as diversion to terrorist groups or loss of control during a regime collapse.

Reports in early December 2012 quoted unnamed officials as saying intelligence showed possible preparations for use, but this was denied by the Syrian government. Since then, press reports have discussed several alleged incidents of chemical weapons use in Syria by both the government and opposition forces. A United Nations chemical weapons inspection team is negotiating with Syria on access to the sites to investigate. On June 13, 2013, the White House released a statement saying that following its investigation, “our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year. Our intelligence community has high confidence in that assessment given multiple, independent streams of information.” The June 13 statement said that chemical weapons use had resulted in an estimated 100-150 deaths in Syria.

President Obama and other world leaders have said that the use of chemical weapons against the civilian population would be met with consequences, which could include the use of military force. There is also concern that Syria could transfer its chemical weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Administration officials have stated that the United States has been working with regional allies to detect the movement of chemical weapons, prepare interdiction scenarios, and mitigate possible use against military or civilian populations. The June 13 White House statement said that in response to the Asad regime’s use of chemical weapons, the President has authorized the expansion of military assistance to the opposition forces in Syria.

During conflict, the intelligence community and Special Forces units would likely play a major role in locating and securing such weapons in a combat environment. The nature and recent course of the conflict in Syria suggests that rapid changes in control over critical military facilities may occur. U.S. government programs established to secure or remove chemical or other weapons of mass destruction through threat reduction or nonproliferation programs have focused on destruction or scientist redirection in an atmosphere of cooperation. At present, such programs are providing border security assistance to neighboring states. U.S. policymakers and Congress may wish to review and discuss authorities, funding, forces, and scenarios in advance.

For additional information on chemical weapons agents, see CRS Report R42862, Chemical Weapons: A Summary Report of Characteristics and Effects, by Dana A. Shea. For a broader discussion of U.S. policy options, see CRS Report RL33487, Armed Conflict in Syria: U.S. and International Response, by Jeremy M. Sharp and Christopher M. Blanchard.

Arms and Influence in Syria: The Pitfalls of Greater U.S. Involvement

August 20, 2013 Comments off

Arms and Influence in Syria: The Pitfalls of Greater U.S. Involvement
Source: Cato Institute

In the midst of growing public wariness about large-scale foreign interventions, the Obama administration has decided to arm the Syrian rebels. Those who call for increasing the scope of U.S. aid to the Syrian rebels argue that (1) arming the rebels is the cheapest way to halt a humanitarian catastrophe, hasten the fall of the Assad regime through a rebel military victory or a negotiated settlement, and allow the Obama administration to influence the broader direction of Syrian politics in a post-Assad world; (2) failure to step up U.S. involvement will damage America’s credibility and reputation in the eyes of our allies and adversaries; and (3) U.S. objective scan be accomplished with a relatively small level of U.S. commitment in Syria.

These arguments are wrong on all counts. There is a high risk that the decision to arm the Syrian rebels will drag the United States into a more extensive involvement later, the very scenario that the advocates for intervention claim they are trying to avoid. The unique characteristics of alliances between states and armed non state groups, in particular their informal nature and secrecy about the existence of the alliance or its specific provisions, create conditions for states to become locked into unpalatable obligations. That seems especially likely in this case.

The specific way the administration has chosen to increase the scope of its support to the rebels sets the stage for even greater U.S. commitment in Syria in the future. The Obama administration, therefore, should not have decided to arm the Syrian rebels.

Looking ahead, it is important for policymakers to understand the nature of alliances between states and armed non state groups even after the Syria conflict is resolved. Given that Americans are unwilling to support large-scale interventions in far-flung reaches of the globe, policymakers looking for military solutions to political problems may conclude that arming proxy groups may be an attractive policy choice. They should instead, however, avoid committing to conflicts that don’t threaten core national security interests.

CRS — Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Issues for Congress

August 13, 2013 Comments off

Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. Department of State Foreign Press Office)

The use or loss of control of chemical weapons stocks in Syria could have unpredictable consequences for the Syrian population and neighboring countries as well as U.S. allies and forces in the region. Congress may wish to assess the Administration’s plans to respond to possible scenarios involving the use, change of hands, or loss of control of Syrian chemical weapons.

Syria has produced, stored, and weaponized chemical weapons, but it remains dependent on foreign suppliers for chemical precursors. The regime of President Bashar al Asad reportedly has stocks of nerve (sarin, VX) and blister (mustard gas) agents, possibly weaponized into bombs, shells, and missiles, and associated production facilities. Chemical weapons and their agents can deteriorate depending on age and quality. Little is known from open sources about the current size and condition of the stockpile. Syria continues to attempt to procure new supplies of chemical weapons precursors, which are dual-use, through front companies in third countries. Most countries that have had chemical weapons arsenals in the past have destroyed these weapons under the Chemical Weapons Convention, or are in the process of destroying them. The U.S. intelligence community cites Iran, North Korea, and Syria as having active chemical weapons programs.

While the United States and other governments have said they believe the Asad regime has kept its chemical weapons stocks secure, policymakers are concerned about what could happen to these weapons in the course of the civil war, such as diversion to terrorist groups or loss of control during a regime collapse.

Reports in early December 2012 quoted unnamed officials as saying intelligence showed possible preparations for use, but this was denied by the Syrian government. Since then, press reports have discussed several alleged incidents of chemical weapons use in Syria by both the government and opposition forces. A United Nations chemical weapons inspection team is negotiating with Syria on access to the sites to investigate. On June 13, 2013, the White House released a statement saying that following its investigation, “our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year. Our intelligence community has high confidence in that assessment given multiple, independent streams of information.” The June 13 statement said that chemical weapons use had resulted in an estimated 100-150 deaths in Syria.

President Obama and other world leaders have said that the use of chemical weapons against the civilian population would be met with consequences, which could include the use of military force. There is also concern that Syria could transfer its chemical weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Administration officials have stated that the United States has been working with regional allies to detect the movement of chemical weapons, prepare interdiction scenarios, and mitigate possible use against military or civilian populations. The June 13 White House statement said that in response to the Asad regime’s use of chemical weapons, the President has authorized the expansion of military assistance to the opposition forces in Syria.

During conflict, the intelligence community and Special Forces units would likely play a major role in locating and securing such weapons in a combat environment. The nature and recent course of the conflict in Syria suggests that rapid changes in control over critical military facilities may occur. U.S. government programs established to secure or remove chemical or other weapons of mass destruction through threat reduction or nonproliferation programs have focused on destruction or scientist redirection in an atmosphere of cooperation. At present, such programs are providing border security assistance to neighboring states. U.S. policymakers and Congress may wish to review and discuss authorities, funding, forces, and scenarios in advance.

For additional information on chemical weapons agents, see CRS Report R42862, Chemical Weapons: A Summary Report of Characteristics and Effects, by Dana A. Shea. For a broader discussion of U.S. policy options, see CRS Report RL33487, Armed Conflict in Syria: U.S. and International Response, by Jeremy M. Sharp and Christopher M. Blanchard.

Breaking the Stalemate: The Military Dynamics of the Syrian Civil War and Options for Limited U.S. Intervention

August 13, 2013 Comments off

Breaking the Stalemate: The Military Dynamics of the Syrian Civil War and Options for Limited U.S. Intervention
Source: Brookings Institution

The crisis in Syria continues with no end in sight, and in the Saban Center’s latest Middle East Memo, Breaking the Stalemate: The Military Dynamics of the Syrian Civil War and Options for Limited U.S. Intervention, Saban Center Senior Fellow Kenneth Pollack argues that until there is a breakthrough on the battlefield, there will be no breakthroughs at the negotiating table.

In his paper, Pollack lays out the military advantages and disadvantages of both the opposition and the regime’s forces, and looks at how different opportunities for U.S. intervention can affect those critical dynamics. This analysis provides a much-needed counterpoint to the debate over the possible cost of U.S. options in Syria with an analysis of their likely impact on the conflict.

CRS — Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Issues for Congress

July 15, 2013 Comments off

Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

The use or loss of control of chemical weapons stocks in Syria could have unpredictable consequences for the Syrian population and neig hboring countries as well as U.S. allies and forces in the region. Congress may wish to assess the Administration’s plans to respond to possible scenarios involving the use, change of hands, or loss of control of Syrian chemical weapons.

Syria has produced, stored, and weaponized ch emical weapons, but it remains dependent on foreign suppliers for chemical precursors. The regime of President Bashar al Asad reportedly has stocks of nerve (sarin, VX) and blister (mustard gas) agents, possibly weaponized into bombs, shells, and missiles, and associated production facilities. Chemical weapons and their agents can deteriorate depending on age and quality. Little is known from open sources about the current size and condition of the stockpile. Syria continues to attempt to procure new supplies of chemical weapons precursors, which are dual-use, through front companies in third countries. Most countries that have had chemical weapons arsenals in the past have destroyed these weapons under the Chemical Weapons Convention, or are in the process of destroying them. The U.S. intelligence community cites Iran, North Korea, and Syria as having active chemical weapons programs. While the United States and other governments have said they believe the Asad regime has kept its chemical weapons stocks secure, policymakers are concerned about what could happen to these weapons in the course of the civil war, such as diversion to terrorist groups or loss of control during a regime collapse.

Reports in early December 2012 quoted unnamed officials as saying intelligence showed possible preparations for use, but this was denied by the Syrian government. Since then, press reports have discussed several alleged incidents of chemical weapons use in Syria by both the government and opposition forces. A United Nations chemical wea pons inspection team is negotiating with Syria on access to the sites to investigate. On June 13, 2013, the White House released a statement saying that following its investigation, “our in telligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year. Our intelligence community has high confidence in that assessment given multiple, independent streams of information.” The June 13 statement said that chemical weapons use had resulted in estimated 100-150 deaths in Syria.

President Obama and other world leaders have said that the use of chemical weapons against the civilian population would be met with consequences, which could include the use of military force. There is also concern that Syria could transfer its chemical weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Administration officials have stated that the United States has been working with regional allies to detect the movement of chemical weapons, prepare interdiction scenarios, and mitigate possible use against military or civilian populations. The June 13 White House statement said that in response to the Asad regime’s use of chemical weapons, the President has authorized the expansion of military assistance to the opposition forces in Syria.

During conflict, the intelligence community and Special Forces units would likely play a major role in locating and securing such weapons in a combat environment. The nature and recent course of the conflict in Syria suggests that rapid changes in control over critical military facilities may occur. U.S. government programs established to secure or remove chemical or other weapons of mass destruction through threat reduction or nonproliferation programs have focused on destruction or scientist redirection in an atmosphere of cooperation. At present, such programs are providing border security assistance to neighboring states. U.S. policymakers and Congress may wish to review and discuss authorities, funding, forces, and scenarios in advance.

For additional information on chemical weapons agents, see CRS Report R42862, Chemical Weapons: A Summary Report of Characteristics and Effects , by Dana A. Shea. For a broader discussion of U.S. policy options, see CRS Report RL33487, Armed Conflict in Syria: U.S. and International Response , by Jeremy M. Sharp and Christopher M. Blanchard.

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