All eyes will be on Syria on Thursday as the country promises to "cease all military fighting throughout Syrian territory as of 6 a.m." If the pledge is broken, it will be mean the collapse of the United Nations peace plan brokered by special envoy Kofi Annan. It will also mean the peace process was exploited by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to continue killing rebels and civilians. But what are the actual consequences of blowing the U.N. deadline? We asked the Brookings Institution's Daniel Byman, director of research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy. Here's what a blown deadline can mean:
Increased American involvement. First off, the authorization for Annan's U.N. mission in Syria doesn't talk about specific consequences if Syria doesn't cooperate, but that doesn't mean there won't be indirect geopolitical ramifications. One of these is the U.S. playing a greater roll in supporting the Syrian rebels. "We're almost backing into this," he said. "Initially it was diplomacy, then a concerted diplomatic campaign and now humanitarian aid. Each step is an escalation." Already, the U.S. has given the rebels $25 million in humanitarian support, satellite communications equipment and night-vision goggles. "The next step is military aid," Byman said. "You can see the progression moving here." The Los Angeles Times has indicated that the implementation of a no-fly zone or "pinpoint airstrikes on Syrian artillery" are both possibilites.
The "shame game" on Russia and China heats up. After China and Russia vetoed a U.N. resolution to end the violence in Syria in February, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said the U.S. was "disgusted" by the two countries. If Syria torpedoes the diplomatic route, you can bet the calls for outrage will ramp up on its closest allies. "The American approach for increasing pressure is to prove that alternative situations haven't worked," Byman said. "To get Russia and China on board, you show that that none of the alternatives are working." It's not clear if Syria's allies can be swayed by diplomatic pressure but Byman noted that at least Russia and China haven't said "they don't care" if the peace plan succeeds or fails. "They're not saying that at least."
Arab countries openly start arming the rebels. Arab states like Saudi Arabia have been the most vocal in calling for the international community to directly arm Syrian rebels. Some reports have indicated that the Saudis are already attempting to funnel weapons in, though the country has denied such allegations. Byman said he's seen some unconfirmed indications that Arab states are already supplying arms to Syrian rebels and that a blown deadline could justify more arms shipments. "It could get bigger," he said.
Of course to avoid all this, Assad has two options: Comply with the cease-fire or offer some sort of concession that doesn't satisfy the peace plan but doesn't completely kill it. Either way, the ball is in Assad's court.