The International Committee of the Red Cross has determined that the Syrian Civil War is a internal war, which has a variety of implications for military targeting and legal responsibility. Charli has some initial thoughts on what this means. Robert Chesney has this on regime targeting:
The Syria scenario provides yet another instance in which it matters a great deal whether LOAC/IHL (Law of Armed Conflict/International Humanitarian Law) should be understood to encompass a category of persons associated with the non-state party who may be targeted based on status rather than solely while they are currently directly participating in hostilities. In that respect, the U.S. government has, most awkwardly, a dog in this fight so to speak. I say awkward because U.S. officials no doubt have zero interest in saying or doing anything that would smack of sympathizing with, let alone defending, Assad regime actions. I say dog-in-this-fight-so-to-speak, however, because the U.S. government certainly does have an interest in the abstract legal claim that status-based targeting is proper in a NIAC (Non-International Armed Conflict) for some category of enemy personnel (as well as a stake in what that category should be defined to be). When questions arise regarding which attacks by the Assad regime might constitute war crimes along the dimension of the principle of distinction, the U.S. government thus may find itself in quite a bind; it will be tricky to stay appropriately critical of the Assad regime while standing firm for legal principles that have much broader applications.
While the legal issues are interesting, I’m also curious about the politics. The Assad regime should be understandably reluctant about acknowledging that it has become embroiled in a civil war. At the same time, recognition that a state of civil war exists could potentially change the atmospherics of Syrian military activity; inflicting heavy casualties on a group of rebels ceases to be a “massacre” and become normal military activity in the context of an ongoing conflict. Of course, it is always difficult in such situations to distinguish between an actual massacre of civilians and a legitimate infliction of casualties on a military target, especially given that both sides have big incentives to deceive about the conditions on the ground.