In Monday’s debate, Romney said the following about Syria and American support of the anti-Assad insurgents:
We need to have a very effective leadership effort in Syria, making sure that the — the — the insurgents there are armed and that the insurgents that become armed are people who will be the responsible parties. (source)
A few years ago, I bought a used book published in 1990 called The Fighting Never Stopped. It was an exhaustive chronicle of the dozens of violent and bloody conflicts that have happened since the end of World War II. A common trope among American academics is that the Cold War was the longest period of peace in modern times without a major struggle. The rise of nuclear-armed states, claimed to be rational, would herald the end of war due to deterrence.
This ignores the millions of dead civilians in various conflicts. Some were coups, insurrections, or purges aggravated by foreign intervention. Some were proxy wars in which a leftist force battled a pro-Western force. Some were bloody wars that involved minor states not given much attention- the First and Second Congo Wars come to mind. The common thread in all of these are massive transfers of conventional arms to regions with ethnic, racial, religious, or political instability.
The Cold War powers that were supposedly keeping the world safe with their deterrence have spent their free time supplying violent factions with the tools needed to carry out mass bloodshed. Often Russia and the United States armed opposing sides- North and South Vietnam in the 60s and 70s, Afghan militias in the 80s, and Bashar al-Assad and the Free Syrian Army today. The solution in Libya by NATO forces was large amounts of light and heavy weapons. But now Libya is a state with no coercive authority, ruled by political and ethnic militias armed to the teeth. The long-term problems of many states can be traced to weapons sales- often to leaders and forces that had little to recommend them.
There has been international action (slowed considerably by the major weapon sellers) on making landmines and cluster bombs illegal. But the continuing issues remain- assault rifles, tanks, surface-to-air missiles. If they are placed into a context where more than one, unified government exists, government cohesion, human rights, and living standards will be compromised.
Part of this is how accepted large arms sales are. Due to Russia’s UN intransigence, much is made of their arms sales to the Syrian government. But the problem is bigger than Russia, and it is much bigger than Syria.