Prospects for Syrian “Safe Zones” Look Dim For Now

The Security Council is meeting on Syria today at the behest of Turkey. This is meant to be a meeting of Foreign Ministers but neither Hillary Clinton nor her Russian or Chinese counterparts will attend, which shows you just how fractured the Security Council has become on the Syria question.

Turkey, though, has an agenda for this meeting. Specifically, it wants the establishment of “safe zones” inside Syria that could protect Syrians fleeing conflict — rather than have the Syrians pour over their border.

Over the past few days, the Turkish government has signaled very clearly that it is reaching its capacity for welcoming new Syrian refugees. They say their refugee camps are reaching capacity and they have a legitimate point.  There are about 75,000 registered Syrian refugees already in Turkey.  The pace of refugee, however, flows has increased dramatically over the past week from about 400-500 people per day to 5,000 people per day. The UN Refugee Agency warns that the number of refugees in Turkey could top 200,000.

This influx of Syrians could be quite destabilizing for Turkey, hence their desire to protect Syrian refugees in Syria.  The problem is, establishing a “safe zone,” is tantamount to declaring war on Syria. It would require some sort of military invasion and occupation of at least part of Syrian territory. For such an intervention to be legal requires the consent of the Security Council. Unless something changes, Russia and China would almost certainly block this move.

The question I have is how long will Turkey be willing to wait until it takes matters into its own hands? Ankara may decide that 200,000 refugees is potentially more destabilizing than the temporary occupation of Syrian territory. It would almost certainly find some international partners willing to back a Turkish-enforced safe zone. One wonders if Ankara is even considering this move?