The decision by the Americans to provide arms to the Syrian rebelsIs is as misplaced as the decision of the British government not to. Unilateral decisions by governments to withhold the supply of arms to either side will prove disastrous as decisions to supply arms to both sides. Each decision will lead to an unequal struggle and a significant loss of civilian life. This situation is described in the systems archetype “Escalation”, shown below. When arms are supplied to the rebels, the relative superiority of the government forces goes down. When this happens the threat to the Syrian government goes up, this leads to an increase in arms to the Syrian government and the re-establishment of their superiority and consequently an increase in the threat to the rebels. This in turn leads to a greater supply of arms to the rebels and the decline in the relative superiority of the government forces.
The supply of arms to each side is meant to bring the situation into balance, and indeed both of the loops are balancing loops. Unfortunately, the combination of two balancing actions is a reinforcing or escalating action and this situation escalates as larger and larger amounts of arms are supplied to each side.
The next graph demonstrates the consequences of this:
As the relative superiority of the government forces declines (shown in the top graph), the supply of arms increases, the relative superiority of the government forces increases and as a consequence the threat to government declines.
And so the situation continues to escalate and the damage to the civilian population increases with it.
Paradoxically, the same situation exists if the supply of arms to only one side is reduced unilaterally by a single government. When the British cut isback the arms supplies, the Americans step in to fill the gap.
The answer is for a bilateral reduction in the supply of arms to both sides to a point where both are equally balanced and equally impotent. Arming the soldiers with feather dusters is a good example of this balanced impotence.