The Realist Case for a Safe Zone In Syria

The West's Triple Imperative

A Kurdish member of the Self-Defense Forces stands near the Syrian-Turkish border in the Syrian city of al-Derbasiyah during a protest against the operations launched in Turkey by government security forces against the Kurds, February 9, 2016. Rodi Said / Reuters

The war in Syria has reached a tipping point. The humanitarian crisis has worsened as the Syrian regime has begun taking back lost territory. Last week, Washington and Moscow helped their proxies in Syria negotiate a cease-fire. But with that accord unlikely to alter much on the ground, the time has come for the United States, Europe, and the Saudi-led Gulf countries to take back the initiative from Russia, contain Turkey, and stabilize the conflict.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the United States and its allies have three options, and none of them are good. They could attempt to implement the loophole-ridden cease-fire accord; allow Russia to continue bombing “terrorist groups,” that is, the opposition forces; or take more direct military action against the Syrian military, for which there is zero public appetite. But there is a fourth option, and it could work: putting a no-fly zone back on the table, which would not only support the joint interests of Western and Gulf allies but also prove viable on the ground.


Turkey will be critical for getting to an eventual endgame in Syria, but at this point it needs to be contained itself. Turkey has been shelling Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia forces for a week. Presumably in retaliation, a YPG operative allegedly launched Wednesday’s major terrorist attack in Ankara. Now Turkey is on the verge of a highly destabilizing escalation. The country legitimately needs the United States to press the YPG to back off, and a safe zone abutting the Turkish border just north of Aleppo and west of Kobani would be one way to do it. It would provide Turkey with a buffer from the fighting, something that it has called for. Turkey might then acquiesce to U.S. pressure to cease attacking the YPG beyond the confines of the zone.

A Syrian girl walks as they wait to cross into Syria at Oncupinar border crossing in the southeastern city of Kilis, Turkey February 11, 2016. Osman Orsal / Reuters

Loading, please wait...

To read the full article

Related Articles

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.