Alternative Options for Syria (Part II): Sanctions of course

Several decades back in grade school I took Latin as a language, primarily because the teacher was attractive. While to this day I still can’t remember how to properly conjugate a verb, I did take the time back then to read up a bit on both Greek and Roman literature which yielded this quote: Nervos Belli, Pecuniam – Infinite Money are the Sinews of War. – Cicero in Phillipicae Too be fair, the above statement’s author was criticizing his rich enemy and actually resulted in the orator being stabbed to death by said enemy, but hopefully this might play out differently in modern day. Particularly because we make our guns bigger in the U.S. than they do in Syria. Oddly, there has been a lack of serious talk on further sanctions against Syria. The first round of sanctions in Executive Order 13582 was initially successful and prohibits the exportation of goods and services (i.e. financial services) to Syria. That was when ports such as Latakia and Tartous actually had commercial activity going in and out of them and we could catch their financial institutions off guard. However, by this point all ports of entry are primarily serving the Assad regime directly, mainly in a military capacity that doesn’t involve transactions through the U.S. financial system. Likewise, I think Assad has figured out his finances to the point that he can avoid going through the U.S. financial system. So far we have pursued the diplomatic route and have threatened the military route, yet in my opinion cutting off the sources of funding and supply to Syria will do much more to vastly undercut the Assad regime and force an expedient political resolution to this crisis. Assad’s war machine requires fuel, ammunition, communication devices, spare parts, technical labor and a lot of other extremely expensive things. If anyone has access to a study that estimates the cost of daily combat operations for the Syrian regime I would certainly like to see it. Standard expenditures for the military are $1.8 billion under peace time, or about 5 million a day. Under current conditions with the country on full alert and engaged in combat operations I would estimate the cost of operations at easily four or five times that on a daily basis. Albeit, don’t take my guess to heart as it’s literally coming off the top of my head from a quick Fermi estimate. Directly undercutting his sources of funding would do more to hamper the Assad regime then neutralizing a few units and would fall in line with an actual strategic objective. Even if 25% of the regimes sources of funding were cut off, this would decrease Syrian military capacity substantially. Arguments could even be made that a decrease in funding and thus ammunition may encourage more judicious use of munitions and thus reduce collateral damage. So why haven’t we pursued this funding more vigorously? What can we do about it? OFAC has made some efforts to combat this evasion, particularly with the Foreign Sanctions Evaders act (EO 13608). However, there has yet to be a Syria related FSE designation. I’m not a pioneer in suggesting how we can enhance sanctions against Syria, however there are several options which aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive: Option 1: The Russia Problem Despite a very untruthful and hypocritical op-ed, Russia obviously supplies fuel and arms to Assad. So does Iran but we are already sanctioning them in new and inventive ways every day. A first option would be to designate prominent Russian banks and exporters such as VTB and Roboex. It would not be hard...

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Alternative options for Syria (Part I): Why we need them

A week ago it looked like we were going to get to trash another countries air defense systems and lob some cruise missiles at a few strategically placed targets. I always thought that was a bad option1. This week, we are hammering out the details of a diplomatic arrangement for Syria to give up their chemical weapons. Even if this initiative is successful, the war will continue, the international community will continue to pretend that while twitching bodies expiring from chemical attacks are bad, torn up and dismembered bodies from indiscriminate artillery strikes are acceptable, U.S. sanctions will remain in place and in fact, the U.S. will have lost some of its best strategic options that can do more damage then a few well placed CALCMs. I am very skeptical about the mechanics of this deal. Like any good Blackstone consultant, the first thing to pop into my head is how we can ensure compliance. The munitions are most likely dispersed and how do we ensure that every single pound of toxic goo2 is accounted for, particularly without blowing some of our intel agencies sources and methods. Once it is accounted for, how do we maintain accountability? Obviously through the use of inspectors, which will place U.N. or other individuals at great risk. But oddly, compliance is the smallest bit of the equation, with security and disposal paramount. I’m not a chemical weapons expert, but from my understanding of people more knowledgeable than I (weirdly, a ton of my commissioning class wound up branching chemical corps), you either have to flash heat it using specialized facilities or for some of the munitions, the gas can be rendered inert with a specific chemical. Of course, this requires multi-million dollar facilities whose construction in a country under war is probably not the most logical option. Furthermore, because the munitions have to be separated from the warhead at these sites, the process paints a big red bullseye for anyone willing to disrupt the process, steal chemical weapons or detonate them in place. Of course we could always ship the munitions out of the country, because convoying sensitive weapons through areas populated by terrorist elements who desperately want them is totally a good idea. As for the site security, do we really trust the Syrian Army to secure them and remain in compliance with the terms? If not, are U.N. peace keepers capable of such a mission in this hostile environment? If not the U.N., that leaves either the U.S. or Russia. Given that the Russians helped develop Syria’s chemical arsenal, even if they are trust-worthy I don’t think their military is capable and disciplined enough to be trusted with this mission. As for the U.S. providing security, what ever happened to no boots on the ground?     1Not my article obviously, but it’s pretty in line with my thinking and saves me some carpel tunnel syndrome. Plus it’s a good read. Minus his stab on the drone campaign. 2Clearly a technical...

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