1. Update
  2. Middle East & Iran

Syria: Diplomacy, Not More War

By Kate Gould, October 7, 2016

With Aleppo burning and war drums beating, it’s more urgent than ever to continue to press for the only way to stop the bloodshed in Syria: an immediate negotiated ceasefire, and ultimately, a political solution to end the crisis.

Eventually there will be a political settlement reached, and the only question is how many Syrian lives will be taken to get there.

As latest ceasefire efforts have broken down, some, including Vice Presidential candidates, have called for militarily imposing a so-called ‘safe zone’ and/or ‘no fly-zone.’

Syrian Safe Zone = Danger Zone

I lay out in my piece for Vox why a so-called ‘safe zone’ imposed in Syria today would put civilians in even greater danger. One of the many concerns that the humanitarian and human rights community has highlighted about a ‘safe zone’ in Syria is that it would concentrate vulnerable people in one place, making them a perfect target. As Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch has said, “[a safe zone] is more likely to be a death trap than a place of sanctuary.”

A 'safe zone' in Syria would concentrate vulnerable people in one place, making them a perfect target.

While the terms ‘safe zone’ and ‘no fly zones’ are often misleadingly used interchangeably--including in the Vice Presidential debate--there is a difference. Military force is used to stop aerial attacks in a ‘no fly zone,’ while military force would be used to stop both air and ground attacks in a ‘safe zone.’ What ‘safe zones’ and ‘no fly zones’ have in common is that both would, in the case of Syria, have to be unilaterally imposed by U.S.-backed military force.

Both have the laudable goal of stopping attacks, but in the absence of consent from the warring parties, both would be a radical escalation of U.S. military force that would undermine prospects for diplomacy.

Diplomacy Now

In an op-ed for the New York Times, two former White House officials also warned of the dangers of a ‘no fly zone.’ They point out that although the latest ceasefire has fallen apart, “the next step, unsatisfying as it may be, is to try again.” They pointed out that, ceasefires, though fragile, still “ratchet down the overall level of violence and save lives.”

The stakes couldn’t be higher. The UN Syrian envoy warned that Aleppo could be “destroyed” by December if the fighting rages on. Syrian lives depend on how much the international community prioritizes and persists for a diplomatic settlement.

More Resources

Kate Gould

  • Legislative Director, Middle East Policy

Kate Gould served as FCNL's Legislative Director for Middle East Policy. Kate was one of only a handful of registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C. working to advance human rights objectives and support diplomatic solutions to resolve disputes between the U.S. and Iran and the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Israel/Palestine.