Syria “Safe Zones?”

Turkey’s foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu says that Turkey is running out of room for Syrians streaming across the border. Right now, about 70,000 Syrian refugees have fled to camps inside the Turkish border. Davutoglu says that these camps are nearly at capacity.

“If the number of refugees in Turkey surpasses 100,000, we will run out of space to accommodate them. We should be able to accommodate them in Syria. The United Nations may build camps in a safe zone within Syria’s borders,” he was quoted as saying. (Emphasis mine)

This is a very loaded statement.  Implementing a “safe zone” requires the effective invasion of Syria by some outside power. The Security Council would need to approve this for it to be legal, but that does not look like it will happen anytime soon. If it the council relents, or if a coalition works outside the Security Council, Turkey would presumably be the country to lead on the ground. But aside from the very legitimate humanitarian impulse to protect vulnerable populations inside Syria there may be some not-so-humanitarian motives at work as well.

This question of safe havens has come up from time to time throughout this crisis. I have not yet seen any convincing argument that such a move can be legal without the Security Council’s consent. Neither have I read any discussion of who will do the intervening and how? Will Turkish or NATO planes patrol the skies above the safe zones? And who will protect the safe zones from ground based assaults. Finally, I have not seen anyone explain how to prevent humanitarian safe zones from becoming defacto bases from which the rebels can launch attacks against Assad’s forces?

The Security Council is set to meet at the ministerial level in 10 days. If this safe zone idea is to gain any legs, its proponents need to offer some answers to these questions.