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Syria Crisis: How will it be resolved?

Gautam Sen is a retired IDAS officer who has served in senior positions at the Centre and in a north-east State Government.
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  • October 22, 2013

    Syria has reached a stalemate between President Bashar Assad and his political opponents – the Syrian National Coalition of Opposition and Revolutionary Forces (SOC ) and their military arm the Syrian Military Command and the Free Syrian Army. The UN Resolution 2118 of September 27 to put on hold international coercive action against the Assad regime is a welcome development. However, the regime has been given clear notice to totally clear up its stock of chemical weapons by mid-2014 and comply with the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Notwithstanding this Resolution, the threat of an eventual punitive military action under UN Chapter 7 still remains if the Assad regime does not dismantle its capacity to produce chemical weapons. Another issue of international concern and also of contention between Damascus and its political opponents is on how to render humanitarian assistance to the massive number of refugees. The UN has not yet taken any decisive action under its Charter provisions making it obligatory on Syria to allow unfettered movement of relief personnel and stores for its refugees across territories held by antagonistic forces.

    The hostility between Assad and his supporters and the Syrian Opposition and its military arm seems to have become irreconcilable. The external supporters of the Syrian Opposition like Saudi Arabia, UK and France and even some elements of the Al-Qaeda have an interest in the continuation of the civil war. These primarily concern the need to provide an abundant flow of arms, particularly mines and some anti-aircraft weaponry to the SOC and the Free Syrian Army with the objective of ensuring significant political influence and control on them. The arms flow to the anti-Assad forces will invariably lead to a more stubborn posture on their part on the issue of de-militarisation or arriving at some military balance. Russia support to Assad has likewise encouraged military action against the Free Syrian Amy.

    A solution to the Syrian crisis is unlikely to emerge with either Assad in power or in the existing circumstances of the military stand-off. A political solution will have to be imposed from outside, possibly an understanding between the US and Russia with tacit consent of China. This appears achievable given the understanding reached recently between US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at Geneva, as a prelude to UN Resolution 2118. It suggests that the Syrian situation has to be brought under control in the interest of an international order and not subservient to a single dominant power or group of powers’ interest. Importantly it has to be instituted through the UN system. Moreover, the international consensus must be evolved in a manner that it does not undermine Israel’s security interests, does not isolate Iran and is restricted to Syrian territorial limits.

    The promulgation of a ceasefire, however, has to be strictly enforced under an UN Security Council mandated resolution and its enforceability can only be possible by imposing an international arms embargo to all parties of the Syrian conflict, invoking the threat of UN military intervention if armed hostilities between the parties to the internal conflict do not cease. Deployment of a combined Arab League-UN peacekeeping force may possibly be required to keep the supplies and services of essential items for the Syrian people. Once a ceasefire is truly enforced the refugee problem will then gradually come under control.

    However, the most crucial issue will be to work out an alternative governance mechanism with the support of the Syrian people. Though conducting free and unfettered election, even under an UN or international supervision, is difficult at the moment, it nonetheless, will have to be held eventually. A possibility of an interim government representing different political, religious and regional interests within Syria and how it is perceived by the Syrian people will determine the political fate of the country. A Syrian regime of national consensus is critical and needs to be facilitated by UN administrators. Such a structure working under the UN mandate, for at least a year, with reconstruction and rehabilitation of the internally-displaced refugees and also those forced to go out of Syria as its priority can help in stabilizing the country.

    Al-Qaeda and its affiliate, the Al-Nusra, will perhaps remain the only political element out of the loop of accommodation. How the other major external players having interests in the region, deal with the Al-Qaeda-Al-Nusra phenomenon, will also determine whether a viable understanding will be possible in Syria, a major middle-level power in the region since the early 1950s with a fair degree of social and religious tolerance. Without an accommodation under international auspices political instability and turmoil will continue to grip the county leading to endless difficulties for its people.

    Shri Gautam Sen , is an ex-Additional CGDA , presently serving as Adviser to a North-East State Govt. in India.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.