With the world watching on as Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad continues to carry out horrific crimes against his own people, the West has finally responded with coordinated calls for him to stand down. The US have also imposed severe sanctions on Syria, including the freezing of their US assets and banning US citizens from operating or investing in Syria. A UN delegation has also been sent in the last couple of days to assess humanitarian needs in the country. However, these actions still fall some way short of the military intervention seen over the past 5 months in Libya by UN forces and there are also doubts over how long it will take for such sanctions to have an impact on the country and its President.

Is there any other way to ensure a regime change? The military option which the coalition jumped on so quickly for Libya, is not practical. Syria has a strong army and a powerful friend in Iran. It is one of those troublesome countries like Burma, North Korea, Zimbabwe and Iran itself, where it’s very easy for the West to convince itself that it has a justification for intervention, but military and political considerations get in the way.

So, what about negotiating a deal for regime change? Ironically this might have been possible in Libya, but the coalition didn’t really give itself a chance before opting for the military route. Gaddafi may be mad as well as bad, but he was happy enough to do a deal with Tony Blair to renounce terrorism when it suited him. It may be that a dignified exit which met his needs could have been negotiated. This would have saved lives, a lot of money on the military campaign, and perhaps limited the tribal conflicts which seem to be at the root of the fight, and that will persist once Gaddafi is forcibly removed. We will never know if this might have been different.

Syria may not be the same. Assad is not just part of a family dynasty, he and his Alawite community are part of a tiny minority running a country with a large Sunni majority – only a very small, single digit percentage of Syria’s Muslims are Alawite, but 74% are Sunni. Assad will have deep-seated survival needs which may be impossible to negotiate over – you can only do a deal if both sides want to play.

So, we may be in for more of a long haul in Syria. Sanctions may not make much difference, but the army is not homogeneous – it is made up of human beings who may ultimately get fed up of killing their own people. Or the unrest may become so over-whelming that the army cannot deal with it. There are over 11 million Sunni’s in Syria, if an enormous number took to the streets they would be impossible to contain – look how stretched our own forces were when riots blew up in several UK cities at once.

So, it may take some time to unseat Assad. With Libya we may be reaching the end of the beginning – the tribal conflict will not end when Gaddafi is removed. With Syria we may only have reached the beginning of the end.