Syria is back in the the headlines (not that it was absent in recent years) and the conflict has returned to the agendas of regional and global stakeholders. With the help of Putin and his regular and private military operations, Assad has regained chunks of the territories ceded in the prior six years.
An attack on the Idlib area seems imminent, which may produce new waves of migrants and possible new gas attacks. At this point in the conflict Russia remains supportive of the regime, Turkey is concerned because of the Kurdish role, and Europe is anxiously wringing its proverbial hands.
This week’s questions are: Do we have to accommodate to a lasting role for the Assad regime, forgetting about his war crimes or not, and accept that he will have a role in Syria’s reconstruction. Or should we deny this, keeping supporting the troubled and fragmented militias, trying to limit Russia’s and/ or Turkey’s influence? We can assume that U.S. and EU interference will be quite limited.
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
One of the messiest spots in global politics is Syria. No one seems to know what to do, or what not to do, to stop the civil war with all its international and transnational spillover.
There are different fault-lines converging, and addressing just one of them doesn’t do the job. First, relatively peaceful and secular Syria has been turned into a sectarian fighting place. Increasingly, people identify themselves culturally. Second, and related, this is a space where Shia (the Alawites) and Sunni (IS and other militias) groups clash violently.
Third, this trend is exacerbated by the meddling of two competing regional regimes – Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Fourth, all but one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council are militarily involved. Fifth, some neighboring countries (Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey) may soon not be able to absorb the pressure of the fighting next door as well as the millions of refugees that have already arrived, or are on their way to Europe.
One of the core problems is that almost all of the external actors involved (except the Islamic State) are not so sure how decisively they want to be engaged. There is neither decisive intervention, nor clear non-intervention, but, mostly, meddling.
Do you see any option for progress, however small?