Getting to a diplomatic solution is not easy in the middle of a war in which both Syrian President Bashar al Assad and the rebels favour using military force to extract concessions at the negotiating table. Often it seems that only endless violence looms on the horizon. But cracks are appearing, both the US and Russia seem to be tentatively agreeing to a plan to remove the regime’s chemical weapons stocks and place them under international control. An uncommon slip of the tongue by Secretary of State John Kerry has exposed a platform from which further work in the UN by the US and Russia could be fruitful. Let us be clear, the credible threat of US force has made Assad and his Russian backers realise they must seek alternate options to simply crushing the rebels and using weapons of mass destruction to finish this fight. But force is only a means to an end, as it has ever been. Now that an opportunity for a wider diplomatic solution has arisen, it must be grabbed with both hands. Michael Stephens is a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar.
From the start of the Syria crisis, a wide range of regional and international actors – from Turkey to the Arab League and the United Nations – have launched countless diplomatic initiatives to secure a ceasefire and stop the escalation of violence. But they have failed, and the brutality of the Assad regime triggered a chaotic civil war, with no amount of international condemnation slowing the slaughter. The latest use of chemical weapons follows more than a dozen suspected previous uses. Diplomatic options have previously been effectively blocked by Russia at the UN Security Council, so Assad has had no incentive to stop violence until he regains full control of the country. The latest developments will likely have few implications for the wider crisis. Therefore, a limited and proportional military strike against the regime’s military capacity is the only tangible option to force a ceasefire and bring Bashar al Assad to the negotiating table. Ziya Meral is a research associate at the Foreign Policy Centre.