There is a commonly-used phrase that says that academics and analysts are better at highlighting problems rather than coming up with solutions. This feature attempts to move beyond a purely descriptive analysis of events in Syria and instead paint a picture of the trajectory of the country, potential scenarios it may experience, and options for key actors.
(The Majalla) After over 450 days of protests and an estimated 15,000 reported deaths, there is no sign of Assad’s regime reasserting its control over Syria. Both the US and the EU have signalled their belief that the regime is in a death spiral and that it is only a matter of time before the endgame is reached, with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon accusing it of having “lost its fundamental humanity.” However, the notion of military intervention is off the table. Not only are the Russians and Chinese preventing any movement from within the UN, but with less than 20 percent of their respective publics supporting military intervention, both Washington and London currently have no stomach for military action.
There is no sign of an imminent collapse of the regime, with defections from the military and ubiquitous secret police failing to reach a critical mass for a host of reasons, including the regime’s threat of retribution against defectors’ families. Syria’s armed forces remain strong, and are thought to number 325,000 regulars with more than 100,000 paramilitary personnel, not to mention the numbers of pro-regime Shabiha. The International Crisis Group (ICG) reported that while at “the outset of the crisis, many among the security forces were dissatisfied and eager for change; most are underpaid, overworked and repelled by high-level corruption. They have closed ranks behind the regime, though it has been less out of loyalty than a result of the sectarian prism through which they view the protest movement and of an ensuing communal defence mechanism.”
Civil wars are rarely declared, but rather are entered into as a consequence of the failure of politics.
This leaves us with the prospect of continued conflict over the short to medium term. However, it is important to note that this scenario is not static, and that a ‘wildcard’ event could lead to either the current regime defeating the rebels, or to the regime being successfully overthrown. An internal, high-level coup or assassination, for example, could suddenly bring about an end to regime. In May, opposition elements reported that they had successfully poisoned several senior regime figures including General Hasan Turkmani, an assistant vice president, and Lieutenant General Mohamed Al-Shaar, the minister of the interior. Although the official Syrian Arab News Agency has called the assertions that they are dead “baseless,” the story is a reminder of how unexpected events can come into play. Indeed, reports of the regime preparing to use chemical weapons against the protesters could end opposition and be another catalyst for a change. In February, the opposition reported that Syria’s military had begun stockpiling chemical weapons and equipping its soldiers with gas masks near the city of Homs. A ‘Syrian Hallabja’ could force a new momentum on building a still non-existent appetite for intervention.
Despite a Chatham House paper speculating that a ‘Syrian Srebrenica’ massacre could act as a ‘tipping point’ for intervention, the reaction to the Houla and Qubair killings proved otherwise. Indeed, Kofi Annan has warned that “mass killings could become part of everyday reality in Syria.” There is also the prospect of unforeseen regional events, such as a third intifada in the occupied Palestinian territory or an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, which could lead to a host of ramifications.