No (military) solutions for the Syrian conflict?

The Syrian conflict resembles an ever more unsolvable bloody quagmire with (too) many stakeholders whose interests, and behaviors, are not compatible. This is the case with the Assad regime and its opponents, but also for different groupings from the opposition. This also applies to the infighting between Saudi and Iranian interests, as well as for Sunni vs. Shia forces in general. In addition, the newly emerging Russian assertiveness is increasingly in contradiction not only to American and Western values, but also to the hesitant and partial involvement of the U.S.A.

The laudable efforts by dozens of NGO’s on the ground are more and more, rendered helpless against the never-ending raids of official Syrian and Russian fighter planes and the bombs. Collateral damage caused by American raids are not helpful either.

The rest of the world is watching this evolving catastrophe in shock and awe, not knowing what to do or how to react. We can just watch the unbearable TV footage of citizens, digging through the rubble of collapsed homes with their bare hands, trying to search for surviving folks.

What can be done apart from hand-wringing? Sometimes, it is overlooked that a clear victory on one side, caused by exhaustion of the other, often does lead to the termination of hostilities. Which side, then, should be the winner? Does it matter? As long as external stakeholders are involved, the engagement of ground troops also has to be discussed. Sending in airplanes and drones may be good for domestic consumption, but does not lead to a decisive shift between the fighting camps.

What are our respondent’s ideas regarding where to go from here?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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  1. Justas Paleckis 2 years ago

    At first Arab Spring promised a lot of hope that quickly turned into disappointment, conflicts, wars and tragedies. Syria – the largest of them. Even with the help from United States and other Western countries efforts to overthrow the ruthless dictator who is supported by the Russian military force are failing. And what if they would succeed? It is hard to imagine larger chaos than the present one, but unfortunately, everything is possible. Maybe Syria would split into the small states which would fight endless internecine war (de facto this is already the case)? Maybe the Kurdish state would emerge which would increase further tension in the region? At best, Syria in the future may become a ground of "smoldering conflict”, similar to what is already going on for many decades with the Israeli - Palestinian fight. But such situation would be created only with an honest and genuine agreement on a peace plan between the great powers. This is not possible when the Cold War between Russia and the United States (officially unrecognized) is becoming hotter. Let's hope that Syria will not become Sarajevo.

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  2. Sergei Medvedev 2 years ago

    The war in Syria is a conflict that may well last for another decade, considering the multitude of interests, the bitter crisis of the Arab world, the radicalization of Islam, and the unwillingness of major powers to interfere to end the humanitarian crisis. The most workable (and the least likely) solution is to cut the Gordian Knot: a Western ultimatum to the Assad government, backed up by credible threat of force, and in case of failure to comply -- a massive intervention by the US (or probably by a NATO force, as in Libya) against any Russian and Iranian opposition, destroying Assad and bringing in an interim coalition government, and an international peacekeeping force. This clearly risks a major confrontation with Russia, and the closest Russia-NATO military standoff since the Kosovo war -- however, Russia will most likely stop short of direct military clash with NATO in a remote region with difficult logistics. True, there is a risk of a major war, but the current Putin threats are most likely a bluff, and the humanitarian crisis is too grave to avoid this risk.

    However, with the EU in disarray, and the US government in transition for the months to come, this solution is highly unlikely -- there is simply no one to take the necessary responsibility.

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  1. Arseniy Frolov 2 years ago

    Initially through the participation in the Syrian conflict the Russian Federation intedned to breach international isolation of post-Crimea period and make the Western countries engage in dialogue over sanctions. Putting aside the the adequacy of the approach, Russia succeeded in that, yet it got tangled in the conflict, just like the West previously did. It became just another player in the game with no winner.

    Yet, blaming everything on the Assad regime and Russia's involvement is short-sided at best. The strict division between the Assads supporters and opposition could be reasonable a year ago at the very beginning of the conflict, but a year has passed since that moment and the real picture and actor's disposition have changed completely. Now the Assad regime fights agains the amorphous forse with no center, driven by complitely different stimula, hostile to any other group and within itself. Bringing Assad down with a military intervention will only inflate the West's self-esteem and create opportunity to withdraw from the conflict saying "we brought the dictator down". At the same time all the hardships of "democratic transition", "coalition building" or "post-war recovery" will be pushed to the exhausted Syrian people. The fact is that as of now Assad regime is the only force capable of negotiation and providing post-war stability, meaning the extermination (killing?) of the Assaed regime will leave Syria completely defendless against the savage extrimist groups, which will turn it into a wasteland with no authority or security, just like Afganistan or Iraq. Never has West's intervention brought anything good to the subject country. The arrogance and ignorance of West denying it is simply appailing.

    The truth is that we all fail to see the bigger picture. The migrant crisis in Europe, the rise of radical islamism, the fall of the eastern regimes are all intercnnected and all parts of this picture. Perhaps what we witness is the first global globalization crisis, where the values and lifestyles of the enitre region on Earth are unable to integrate into the fabric of global society.

    Arseniy Frolov
    GSR Alumni 2015

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    1. worldklaus 2 years ago

      There are indeed multiple security dilemmas in Syria, the most striking one: Who will keep order if the Assad regime is removed. To label the Syrian conflict as Proxy War between "the West" and Russia fails to acknowledge the complexity of the issue, there are just so many players involved, Turkey and Iran being two examples. The only way of ending the violence is a mutual agreement between all major forces. Russia will be not able to extend the current level of military involvement forever, Russias engagement will "dry out" and then the violence will increase even further. The conclusion that we seem to witness the first global globalization crisis, does not consider the Syrian specific factors enough, the geostrategic importance, the historical ties with Russia, there are many historical facts which point to Syria as a uniquely dramatic case.

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  2. Sirous Am 2 years ago

    Prof Medevedev comment seems a little naive for a man of his experience and quality in academia. A military interventation would be never ending, lets just compare syria with afghanistan, in afghanistan ISAF was fighting just the Taliban, but a military presence, which has to be massive for syria, would take ages as there are just to many players to fight with, and the foes know the region and are all pretty much regional and integrated in the society and have been practicing guerilla warfare for some time now so they are pretty good at it. I think a western force would just get stuck in this mess. I have to confess i cannot think of a way out too, but one could be to downsize the number of groups fighting to two or three, then getting them to the table and having them accept an accord could be easier. Also, if there any any signs of a kurdistan country, the trouble would just spread and you cannot keep iran and turkey to accept a peace accord as they do not want to lose their land to this new entity, kurdistan

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  3. Hoda Mekeya 2 years ago

    I think the complexity of the situation in Syria is due to the fact that there are so many parties that have interest in the country thus interfering with the war in Syria could have unimaginable consequences. Bringing Al-Asaad down is key to solving the issue while continuing the war on ISIS because as long as the man remains in his position, his many opponents will not rest and the conflict will never come to an end, also bringing him down should not be postponed any longer so that the focus can be shifted towards ending the very result of the Middle-Eastern instability which is the rise of radical Islam. ISIS, now having territories in Syria and exporting horror and terrorism worldwide, will not eradicated unless Syria is stabilized and ground military intervention takes place. Sending airplanes and drones is not enough for taking ISIS nor for settling the whole situation. It seems that the major powers by opting a no military solution, are just waiting for the fighting parties in Syria to deplete themselves which gives the impression that this war is going to linger for quite a long time. Negotiations are key to end the crisis, negotiations which include representatives from all parties that have interest in the region with the intent to discuss possible military intervention at a level that is adequate to solve the problem without jeopardizing escalation of the war to an international level.

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  4. Christian Wapenhensch 2 years ago

    Following the events of the Arab Spring, there was new hope for stability and change in the region. But with the events of the civil war in Syria is shifted to the opposite and a solution for this struggle is out of reach. There are too many stakeholders involved, all longing for different outcomes. The recently announced veto of Russia in the UN Security Council on the resolution brought in by France is another step further on how the crisis could not be solved. France tried to establish a no fly zone over the city of Aleppo and Russia focuses more on fighting the terrorists. Two major points are to be confronted in that matter. Either protect the civilians by establishing a no fly zone or to keep on fighting the terrorists. Both options are not combinable. To let the situation become even worse the United States and Russia are on their historical low followed by personal insults and bigger disputes at the UN Security Council.
    This issue is not to be tackled either in short term and nor in long term. The big parties are in need of cooperation. Both parties should make clear what goals they are following as well as what intentions they might have for the long term. Fighting each other, killing civilians and bombing hospitals might be the worst options in the current situation. The Syrian crisis need to be resolved in peaceful terms to protect the people and not to make them flee their homes due to air strikes or a siege by Daesh. Without the assistance of the international community and its biggest stakeholders in the conflict this situation is not be solved. We might see another war which will last for many more years.

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  5. Doa'a Sarsour 2 years ago

    Syrian situation derives its importance because of the sensitivity of the role that Syria plays as a guarantor of the revolutionary project against Israel which make supporters of Israel to start a military coup against Assad government.
    The solution of Syrian crisis should start of ceasefire and a pledge from countries who support terrorist groups to stop the funding in addition to a pledge from Al Assad part to commit to the ceasefire and end his supporting groups' work in Syria such as Iran, Hezbollah and Russia After that starting a transition phase ends with a democratic elections.
    Even Though, this solution consider the best choice but it can't be applies because of the presence of ISIS which take us to the point that the problem in Syria is not Al Assad nor his government, its ISIS and their criminal operations. In my opinion, before starting the cease fire, an alliance between all the parties to finish the ISIS should be launched in order to open a way to apply democracy in Syria.

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    1. Marina Zellner 2 years ago

      How can Assad be made committed to a ceasefire? This option was already tried to be implemented but it never lasted for more than a couple of days. Then it was violated by one of the sides, actually mostly the pro-Assad side. The international community is not willing to take action in the Syrian case because it is benefitting from it in some aspect, e.g. the low oil price, that is caused by the cheap flooding of the market by Daesh. Actually, Saudi Arabia and Iran both have an interest in ending this civil war. They are the two largest oil exporters in the world. Both are suffering from the low oil price. Perhaps a solution including those two countries, catching them on their economic soft spot, can be found to end Daesh and the Syrian civil war.

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  6. Ihab S. Al-Nazer 2 years ago

    I believe that the Syrian Crisis which emerged out of the political unrest of the so called "Arab Spring" in 2011, first in form of peaceful protests lead by ordinary people for different righteous demands such as: political and economical reforms, freedom of speech, civil equality, etc. and was then militarized by too many conflicting stakeholders to become one of the most complicated civil wars in modern history and is tearing the whole country apart as we once know it.

    Now, the problem is that in this form of civil wars, that many civil wars experts cannot even predict when it might end, since you do not have two main parties that are fighting the war and in direct conflict with each other, for instance the American Civil War that took place during the 19th century and which was fought for almost five years.

    We are heading to the 6th anniversary of the Syrian Crisis and yet no rational resolution is rising in the horizon, in my opinion, the different stakeholders have to realize that this war cannot be won by any side of the conflict.

    Having said that, the stakeholders have to bear their ethical and social responsibility and to dry all sources of militarization and weapons aiding the fighting parties, and work closely with the International Community to urge them force ceasefire and sending UN peacekeepers (Blue Helmets) and reaching a diplomatic resolution and formula comprising of all political players in the Syrian scene that satisfies the Syrian people expectations, and reaching to resolution for the humanitarian crisis of the refugees and to be returned home safe, and not thinking but acting in the reconstruction process of Syria.

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  7. Haneen Almasri 2 years ago

    The Syrian community, just like any country associated in the Arab Spring, formed an uprising in order to receive justice from the government, and instead, they have been met with a civil war, which made the situation even more complex that it requires international interference. I believe that in order to reach a solution, which is highly doubted in such an escalated situation, that the case must be solved from its roots. But since the situation is way too deep into complexity, I believe that the third party attackers must be eliminated somehow with the involvement of the UN. Getting rid of ISIS might remove the distraction from the real crisis which evolved internally i.e. Al Assad. There must be a way to find some common interest between Syria and other [neighbouring] countries through which resolving the civil war would be in the interest of both of them and not just Syria.

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  8. Toqa Hilal 2 years ago

    What has happened in Syria over the past 5 years is a big stain on our humanity. Millions of internally displaced Syrians and refugees, hundreds of thousands who have been massacred, millions of children who have been stripped of their childhood. It was Assad's's military that fired the first shots at peaceful demonstrators. It was Assad's Shabihha and Mukhabarat that abducted, raped, detained, tortured, gassed, bombed, starved, and slaughtered civilians, long before Daesh even existed. It was Assad who released violent extremists from his prisons in order for them to contribute to the abortion of a legitimate revolution and legitimate demands of the people. It is Assad's forces that the majority of Syrians are killed by, and the majority of refugees are fleeing from. Statistical fact. Daesh is undoubtedly evil and an enemy to mankind, but the regime is the root of all this.

    If Assad had even a shred of decency in his body, he would have stepped down by now. And to those who question the successors' judgment and ability to govern: how much worse can it get?

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  9. Amjad Khashman 2 years ago

    Even for experts in political science, it is hard to have a clear understanding of the conflict in Syria with all of its contradictories. The complicity of the situation on the ground not to mention the number of parties involved make it almost impossible to propose one direct easy solution. As a base to start with, all the parties should understand that there will not be a decisive military victory for any of them and that there is no return to the situation before the crises. Also, the Russian interests in Syria should be respected and to be taken into consideration in any future solution. The Russians made it clear how important is Syria for them and the S-400 air defense system in Tartus is a sufficient evidence. Defeating ISIS could be a turning point in the conflict as cooperation between the fighting parties could emerge. Having a unified opposition front that is eligible to negotiate with the regime can be the first step in the solution.

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  10. Alejandro Triantaphyllou 2 years ago

    Of course, there is a military solution to the war. A war ends when a side results victorious, in other words, the only way to finish this war is to actually win it. Unfortunately due to the vested interests around this conflict there will not be an end to the hostilities anytime soon. Moreover, this conflict would've never been a war if it hadn't been for the intervention of external actors and their interests in the region.
    The conflict escalated from a series of "peaceful" demonstrations against the Syrian Government and ended up being a fully articulated war with so many different actors involved that it has made almost impossible to keep track of all of them. This situation raises many questions, that I think all of us must ask ourselves when we talk about what is going on in Syria today, in addition to the refugee "crisis". First, how come "peaceful" "moderate" had guns in order to fight a war? Who gave those weapons to them? was it wise to do so? After over 5 years of war, would the ones that armed the "moderate" rebels do it again?
    And this raises another question, let's say the war finishes tomorrow, ISIS and Assad are defeated, what will happen then in Syria in terms of stability? It is too naive to think that stability will come back after they are defeated after having armed hundreds of different groups including jihadists and Kurds. So why are the US and the EU still trying to destroy Assad?
    Bashar al-Assad is the best option to end this war and for the post-war environment.

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  11. Wisam Salih 2 years ago

    The West must hold the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council to account. It's not only central to a lasting peace in Syria, but also the safety and security of Europe, North America and the rest of the world.

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  12. Zoltan Eperjesi 2 years ago

    Destroyed beyond repair?

    "There is no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war. Except its ending."
    Abraham Lincoln

    There are really constructive-minded ideas in the contributions. It is blatantly obvious that the Syrian conflict has several "clear" (local) and "hidden" (background supporters) stakeholders at this juncture. Thus, certain stakeholders interests are clashing on Syrian territory and not only (ex. Ukraine, Crimea). Following the logic of wartime economy, propaganda and hybrid war it is to see that various interests of involved participants are not compatible at all. The main problem is that local and international actors are still sticking to their guns. Should we ask who supports whom and why?It is a rather intricate affair. Even if there will be somtimes a list of winners and losers of this partially artificially maintained nightmare war, it is also highly probable that there will be sore winners and sore losers. This is a matrix for postconflicts. Today, one aspect is the use of ultra-modern military tools and non-conventional military technologies in this war and another aspect could be the interests of weapons manufacturer. Why this being the case to let to suffer the Syrian civilian population (and not only)? The answer is again the implementation of ultra-modern military technologies, non-conventional war practices, cyberwarfare and so on. This time the geopolitical weight of the former Syria continues to show its intricated war effects in the eyes of potential legal and illegal heirs. This global conflict really shows again that there is a need to reform and develope further tools of modern diplomacy in order to be able to respond to such multifaceted conflict scenarios as in the former Syria. Most of the wars will end with negociations if there remains "somebody" to negociate on. What is oil and what are clashing interests with a destroyed and multi-traumatized civic population? What is global polititcs after such a long lasting bloody warfare? It is the echo of the Arab Spring and the Cold War. Thus, practical politics waits, but military staff estimates and calculates how the damges and successes of warlords are and will be by the next operation...This complex scenario shows again that the international community, UN, EU, and other potential mediators have to be more prepared and more efficient to such challanging events. This major challange is a serious interdisciplinary verification for the international community and for the EU as well. Mediators have to work intensively togheter on their own diplomatic tools and other devices in order to successfully discuss with Saudi Arabia, Iran, the USA, Russia (etc.) in order to bring warlords as often as possible to the negociation table.
    The war resources of bigger and smaller local warlords are quite limited and can be reduced by cutting their supporters. Nobody will really "gain" in the reconstruction of a totally destroyed country that already has to cope with harsh conditions and further problems will emerge in postwar decades... However, I consider it essential that key actors and potential mediators taking part or rather observing this asymmetric conflict have to completely reconsider their own strategy regarding the Syrian war. It is true that there are certain efforts to make peace, but bearing in mind that various key stakeholders are involved in other conflicts that are tied to geopolitics one can observe that this war is again and again "alive". Therefore it is still questionable if this attempts are really serious for main actors involved in this conflict? The people of Syria have no possibility and power to stop this nightmare scenario by theirselves: not anymore... Is that the logic of current geopolitical powermongers?
    There is no well defined answer to this question, but following this powermonger logic there will be a next step. This will be a well defined task in order to find out who wants to take part on the reconstruction of Syria? Of course, this thinking could be seen as rashly by now. Why to talk about the issue of reconstruction as the first step is a peace resolution, but who is involved in the war probably also wants a slice of the cake... Today it is not the time for recunstructions, not yet..., because obviously the failure to make peace functions as a leveler to continue to destroy, to fight - in spite of the fact that it is quite expensive to do so... Thus, in this case one could reduce universal history in the history of wars or military history. It is a sad and only sided history, with its pros and cons. Nevertheless, one important keyword can not be avoided: geopolitics. This point means in our case a "national" conflict, that turns into a regional multi-ethnic conflict, which also develops into a wave of terror and in turn war on terror. These are just only some facets of the bigger picture.
    I am not sure that local warlords are fully aware about the real devastating consequences of this modern war. In my opinion there is no security or political expert who can give a real estimate about the current situation in Syria as things are changing (or rather changed) rapidly and in many directions. A more real anylisis of the current situation would be only possible if one would have the possibility to put toghether the different puzzles offered by secret service experts, military (and diplomats) who are operating together and against each other in the region and behind the fronts. However, there is no coherent view about what happens in this respect as it is secret, it is national interest and it is wartime etc. Consequently, main actors are still operating even today by conventional geopolitical, military and secret strategies... On further reflection, it remains the duty of historians and other specialists concerned with the past to find out what happened there exactely and how it happened what should not be happened. It will take decades to interpret available facts and to collect data from survivors and other parts involved. Following this, the big picture remains a plaque and a place of remembrance. Some questions are arising:
    Is there a coherent internatonal community who is ready to learn from the sad lessons of contemporary history?
    Are there today enough responsible top politicians and other experts who can mobilize public opinion to really want to end the Syrian conflict?
    Put it others: Is there a coherent international community, (ok, maybe European?) media and strong public opinion that is ready to convice their responsible politicians and diplomats to stop the Syrian war?
    The ongoing conflict is an answer to this questions.
    Conclusion: the profile of this conflict does not allows for Syrian people to put an end to this war by their own, partially because Syria does not exist anymore as we knew it before, and partially because (lets summarise main interests) of geopolitics.
    The outcome and the real end of this ultra-modern military conflict is not clear by now, but a heritage is already clearly recognizable: seriously war disabled people and regions.
    Thus, there will be another historical lesson with large chapters for all parts involved about war and perhaps a rethinking process will start at some time or another how to prevent efficiently such geopolitically important crises. My point is that the EU and European community could play the role of a strong mediator in such multifaceted conflicts as the Syrian one, if it will be ready to work on its intern coherence in order to constitute a common top foreign office departement, that coordinates and accomplishes common external diplomatic goals... In my opinion, the founding members of the EU (European Coal and Steel Community) together with the new member states have the potential to create an effective joint foreign institution as international mediator for the EU in order to not to be "coerced" to assist as a puppet by diveded national interests on the international stage of geopolitics. Moreover, this direction also could help to strenghten internal cohesion of the EU...
    It is a complex task but it could be helpful for the next generation. The creation of such an institution could be too late to change something now in Syria because of diveded and scattered European diplomatic efforts and actions... - thus, various interests of stakeholders here and there...
    Zoltán Eperjesi

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  13. Chan Sam Art 2 years ago

    The prolonging conflict has brought sufferings to the Syrian people and impacted peace and stability in the Middle East region. I believe that the Syrian civil war is the worst humanitarian crisis after the World War II with millions of people having been killed as well as wounded and displaced from home. In my standpoints, the war-torn and issue-prone in Syria are so hard to resolve due to the fact that major powers have been involving in the Syria -- particularly the United States and Russia are the major actors in this issue. We have seen that the rebellion groups are backed by the United States; however, the Assad’s government is supported by Russia. Both of the countries, obviously, are the lack of political will to comprise the problem because of their own interests. Under these circumstances, IR theory; realism is fit to illustrate the actions of superpower actors. Empathically, both sides are thinking of their self-interests rather than the lives of innocent people in Syria. It shows as about human nature that bad, and like to have power in hand. Somehow, we can see that international organization such the United Nations also not really success in doing its job to restore peace and stable in Syria. More than that, the situation in Syria is even worse because of the emerging of ISIS. The interstate war in Syria is the main reason to bring ISIS to be appeared large portions in Syria and Iraq. Therefore, ISIS has been started its own operation in some part of Syria and Iraq territories in order to expand its own power as well as to establish its own state due to ISIS realized that it is a good opportunity for them to augment the ideology throughout both of countries. However, the anti- ISIS campaign has been initiated by the United States come along with many countries involvement. On the one hand, Russia is also involved in this war on terror and bring many countries in participating as like the United States. But both of factions seem to have different perceptions towards ISIS issue. Arguably, western scholars claimed that the intervention of the United States in Syria is a fake of anti- ISIS whereas Russia wants to help the Syrian’s government from the insurgent of many of rebel groups. Therefore, both factions have a controversial standpoint in the form of combating ISIS. This is leading to a very hard to defeat ISIS in reality as well as normalizing peace and stability in Syria.

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