Uncertainties: Which alliances and partnership will hold, which one will fail, which ones will emerge, for how long? Will the Syrian peace conference occur and will it be successful, at which cost and with which geo-strategic impact? Is the European crisis over or not at all? Will Europeans continue to withstand the pressure, and for how long, and what will be next? Will the mammoth monetary experiment endeavoured by Japan be lethal or was it the right daring move? And what if the global financial and economic crisis was not at all over? Is climate change enhancing the likelihood of mega-tornadoes or not? How will the world face the various environmental pressures and the unintended consequences of the remedies pushed forward? Those rising and spreading uncertainties could show that we are now fully moving on a path fraught with multiple systemic shifts., with more dangers and threats, but also with more space for human liberty, if we are wise enough to take the measure of the challenges ahead.
Scenario 2: No Syrian in Geneva
The diplomatic talks fail and the international conference in Geneva does not take place or is a face-saving sham (see “Scenario 1: Peace in Geneva?” and its sub scenarios for what could result from a true international conference).
Considering the current forces on the ground and their balance, we would face a lengthening conflict (probably over years rather than months) with rising prospects of regional and global involvement and chaos. The scope and depth of regional and global spill over would increase with the duration of the Syrian civil war, and, in turn, fuel it.
The spill over and contagion would most probably take four shapes (not mutually exclusive). First, we would face any action ranging from covert operations to war-like actions to war between states (all probably escalating towards wars). This aspect, in its less intense forms, is actually already operating, although the states involved are very cautious not to cross the line (in terms of official statement and language) that would force them into war, as shows, for example, the two Israeli raids on Syria and the way they are reported (among others, see the US apology for confirming Israeli strikes - Jerusalem Post 19 May 2013) . The political part of this spill over is being continually enacted, reminding us of Von Clausewitz famous “War is the mere continuation of politics by other means.” Second, we would face a similar range of actions but between states and actors dubbed “non-state actors,” yet vying for state power). Those two forms of contagion are usually imagined or expected as occurring within the Middle East, lately enlarged to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). This is however too narrow a view, as Russia reminded us on 17 May 2013 when it sent “at least 12 warships to patrol waters near its naval base in Tartous, Syria.” (Times of Israel, 17 May 2013) to underline the importance of its interest in Syria and in the region, as underlined, for example by Eldar (AlMonitor, 19 May 2013). The American debate over the type, value and wisdom of an American involvement in Syria is another obvious example of the way the Syrian conflict spills over beyond the region.
Third, countries welcoming Syrian refugees (1,52 million people on 20 May 2013 – UNHCR - see detailed map below) will face a risk of destabilization stemming from the massive influx of people in countries that were not prepared for them, and were already sometimes facing difficult situations. Furthermore, refugees may be linked to fighting units and carry on activities linked to the Syrian war in the host country, thus heightening the risk of seeing those countries dragged into the conflict. Those factors and resulting tensions are already at work, notably in Lebanon (e.g. Euronews 18 May 2013), Jordan (e.g. C. Phillips, The World Today, Volume 68, Number 8/9), Turkey (e.g. Ibid., Krohn, The Atlantic, 17 May 2013).
A fourth, more unconventional, form of contagion must also be considered. As the crisis lengthens in Europe, European individuals attracted to Salafi-jihadi would increasingly travel to and from Syria (see ICSR Insight, April 2013), heightening not only the direct threat of terrorism within Europe (Europol TE-SAT 2013: 7, 20, 24) and possibly in the U.S. and Canada but also the spread of Salafi-jihadi cells. Considering the crisis and the “fragilising” policies of austerity and “externalization” – i.e. privatization of the state – (especially those concerning the legitimate monopoly of violence), actions by Salafi-jihadi cells could heighten the risk of polarization, for example by favouring further the rise and strengthening of already spreading right-wing extremist movements. Crisis-related unrest could be a favourable environment for violent actions from Salafi-jihadi cells, that would then feed into a more generalized political turmoil. The spread of Salafi-jihadi ideology in countries hit not only by the crisis but also by a lack of hope and vision as well as by denial – whatever the hardship and dangers faced by citizens – is not to discard. In this light, the novel vision promoted by the new Pope Francois 1st, warning against “the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly human goal” (Squires, The Telegraph, 16 May 2013) might be considered as a potential counterweight.
Similar heightened risks would exist for any country where nationals have found their way to fight in Syria, as for example, Tunisia (Sgrena, IPS, 6 April 2013), and increase with the fragility of the domestic political situation.
Until a real peace takes hold in Syria (and this is thus true too for scenarios 1.1.2. and 1.2.2., see previous post), it will be most necessary to use all anticipatory intelligence or strategic foresight and warning means, foreign policy instruments, and, ultimately, military intervention (which may also be seen as a de facto spill over of the conflict), to try preventing further spill over of the Syrian civil war, assuming this is still possible.
In scenarios 1 and 2, the efficiency of the support provided to the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces will need to be intensely monitored, and aid – lethal and non lethal, official and covert – will have to be steered according to results and potential consequences. In scenario 1, this specific aid, as well as all support (see state of play, part I, II, III) given to specific parties should disappear once a peace agreement is signed. In scenario 2, all aid will need to be monitored in the framework of the types of involvement chosen by the various international actors.
Estimating Likelihood for Scenario 2
What could enhance the likelihood to see such a scenario happening? Events happening currently in the MENA region – and beyond – as well as on the Syrian battlefield must also be read with this dimension in mind. The potential spoilers below must be seen as related and most of the time feeding into each other.
- It is finally impossible to find a solution that would be acceptable to all permanent members of the UN Security Council.
- Crucial international actors seek to extract too many advantages from other nations – related or unrelated to the region – and diplomatic talks fail.
- Events surrounding the Syrian issue, be it on the battlefield or internationally, finally derail the diplomatic talks by prompting the withdrawal of too many important (because of their involvement with and in Syria or because of their power) international actors. For example, the 15 May 2013 UN General Assembly adoption of the text “condemning violence in Syria, demanding that all sides end hostilities” was judged by both China and Russia as unhelpful, but it may also be read, as underlined by Nashashibi (AlArabyia, 20 May 2013) as an effort to stress the importance of a peaceful solution to the conflict, of “effective representative interlocutors for a political transition,” and thus of the necessity of an international conference. It is also possible that the terror attack in the Turkish town of Reyhanli is part of an effort to derail diplomatic talks (e.g. Seibert, DW, 14 May 2013).
- It is impossible to bring the regime of Bashar al-Assad to the negotiation table. Similarly, if it were impossible to find a person to represent the regime of Bashar al-Assad that would be acceptable to all parties, then, the international conference could not take place, or, if it were still happening, it would most probably only be a sham, i.e. all parties would not be represented or those accepting to sit at the negotiation table would not be representative of what is happening on the ground.
- A major surprise occurs that would change the international outlook on Syria and the war.The diplomatic talks could be terminated.
Evolutions for Scenario 2
Scenario 2 should lead either to Scenario 1 or to Scenario 3 (A real Victory in Syria, forthcoming). The main challenge we are facing here, as analysts, is to determine when one or the other will become likely or more likely. The timeline will depend upon what happens under the fog of war, knowing that the thicker the fog, the heightened the possibility for surprise. We shall thus have to constantly monitor the war situation, and, accordingly, revise – and improve – all possible scenarios. For example, a potential break up of Syria would then also have to be included as sub-scenario (for Scenario 1 and Scenario 3).
Scenario 2 could also, theoretically, lead to a Scenario 4, the invasion and annexation of Syria by an external power. However, considering the current international norms and settings, such a scenario is most unlikely and may be put aside. Should those norms change, or should the current international tension and crises bring about severe upheavals, then the likelihood of scenario 4 would have to be revised and the scenario developed. We may note an unintended side-effect stemming from the international ban on war for conquest. If it improved greatly peace and stability, it also tends to remove an incentive on domestic actors to stop civil war: the warring factions do not risk to see an external actor use the fragility brought about by civil war to annex their territory, thus they can continue fighting.
Scenario 3: A Real Victory in Syria
To be continued….
Detailed bibliography and primary sources forthcoming.
Redrawing the global strategic and geopolitical map: From the Syrian civil war and its impact on the region and beyond, with its many uncertainties, moving alliances and dilemmas, to the China-Japan unrelenting tension over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, through the rush for the Arctic, without forgetting the European quagmire and its multi-faceted apparently slow-moving polarization, this is actually the global political and strategic map that is being redrawn. How it will look like is still shrouded in the fog of war … or rather of wars, crises, and battles, present and, unfortunately, to come.
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(Updated 22 May 2013) Now that we know and understand better the actors present on the Syrian battlefield, we may start outlining scenarios regarding first plausible futures for Syria and prospects for peace over the short to medium term, and second the regional implications of those scenarios, as the regional and even global geostrategic dimensions of the war in Syria are becoming clearer everyday.
Scenario 1: Negotiating Peace for Syria in Geneva
Sub-scenario 1.1.: All but the Jihadis
The actors brought around the table are the NC and the Supreme Joint Military Command Council (SMC), the regime of Bashar al-Assad represented by a face-saving person for the regime and a person that would be acceptable to all other parties (assuming such a person exist), the Supreme Kurdish Council (SKC) and the Salafi-Nationalist groups.
Sub-scenario 1.1.1.: A fragile Syrian external peace
An external peace can be brokered. We would have a very fragile peace including all actors except those fighting for a global Jihad. Considering the current level of escalation and the intentions of the most extremist factions, if we want to increase the likelihood to see a real positive peace – corresponding to many Western countries’ declared foreign policy vision, upholding the rule of law and human rights – last, then we need to make sure that the following elements are included: a strong presence and support of the international community (despite the public deficit challenge mentioned above), a properly devised strategic plan and real actions rather than unrealistic pledges that are inherently escalating when what must be stopped is also the “people”s war” efficient policy of the extremist factions.
Timing would also be of the essence once the peace is brokered, as speed and real efficiency are crucial. Notably, and considering the heightened sensitivity of a people having had to go through a civil war, as well as the religious environment, corruption and various dysfunctions within the peace-building intervening system, should be avoided.
It would thus be crucial to start working towards a proper plan to construct the peace as soon as possible, using all bilateral and multilateral cooperation channels. To make sure the peace-building process is properly implemented, actionable early warning and monitoring systems should be planned and constructed from the start.
Sub-scenario 1.1.2.: Back to civil war – Jihadis’ advantage?
The negotiations fail and Syria falls again into civil war, but with changed conditions: the failure will have a price for each actor involved, according to the reasons for and conditions surrounding the failure. The global-jihadi groups would most probably benefit most.
Sub-scenario 1.2.: All but the Salafis
The actors brought around the table are the NC and the SMC, the regime of Bashar al-Assad represented by a face-saving person for the regime and a person that would be acceptable to all other parties (assuming such a person exist) and the SKC.
The Salafi-Nationalist groups (all or most of them), even those having linked to the SMC, would refuse to participate in the negotiations.
Sub-scenario 1.2.1.: An unlikely very fragile external peace
The negotiations succeed. The external peace that is brokered is even more fragile. The prospects for successfully implementing it would be greatly reduced. All the risks already present in the previous sub-scenario (1.1.1) would be heightened. With a level of power (resources, troops and actions) constant compared with sub-scenario 1.1.1., the likelihood of success would be inversely proportional to the policy and actions of the Salafi-Nationalist groups, ranging from only refusing to participate in the negotiations and settlement to actively denouncing and fighting them. To increase the likelihood of success, the level of power applied would have to be proportionally enhanced and the length of time during which this power would be necessary would have to be increased. In other words, more troops and more civilian personal, as well as more resources would have to be dedicated to Syria for longer.
Sub-scenario 1.2.2.: Back to civil war – Salafis’ advantage?
The negotiations fail and Syria is dragged again into civil war.
Scenario similar to 1.1.2 but with a very strong advantage for the Salafi groups, be they nationalist or jihadi.
Estimating Likelihood for Scenario 1
What could enhance the likelihood to see such a scenario happening? What are the supporting facts increasing the plausibility of scenario 1?
- The civil war in Syria drags on, with specific evolution and dynamics over the winter 2012/2013 favouring diplomatic talks between international powers (see end of last post);
- Fear by external actors to see further use and spread of chemical weapons,
- Heightened fear by external actors to see the Syrian conflict spilling over further, which was bound to happen considering its regional and global dimension, supported notably by the Al Qaeda nexus April statements, by the declarations of Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah acknowledging his group fights besides the regime of Bashar al-Assad (Black and Roberts, The Guardian, 30 April 2013), by the 3 and 5 May Israeli attacks on Syria (e.g. interesting analysis by Ben Caspit, 5 May 2013, AlMonitor), then by the 11 May 2013 terror attack on the Turkish town of Reyhanli, (Daloglu, 12 May 2013 AlMonitor), the latter linking too to the refugees issue and its destabilizing dimension for neighbouring countries.
- Difficulty to implement rapidly, efficiently and with a high likelihood of success any other solution. Lack of clear support in the domestic constituencies of potentially intervening countries, notably in the U.S., for those solutions, and possible polarisation of opinions, considering multiple diasporas and humanitarian disaster.
- Cost of intervention for intervening countries, considering the widespread problem of public deficits and the solutions usually chosen to face this challenge (reduction of public expenses and privatization of the state).
- Leading to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry announcement that Russia and The U.S. had agreed “to work towards convening an international conference to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria,” and thus to the continuation of diplomatic work in this direction (BBC, 7 May 2013), as well as to the ongoing diplomatic exchanges between concerned partied.
- Increased violence and multiplication of attacks - to a point - would not be an indication that talks will finally fail to bring about peace negotiations, nor that peace negotiations are breaking down, as actors will seek the strongest bargaining position possible at the negotiation table and this position is obtained through fighting. Renewed battles should be seen as (a dramatic) part of the overall negotiation process.
- Which Syrian actors must participate? Considering the diversity of actors on the ground, this point is particularly delicate, crucial and will most probably lead to many discussions, declarations, bargains and twists, as the two declarations below let us expect.
- Moaz Al-Khatib, ex-President of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NC) suggested “We refuse any radical thinking but this does not mean we can exclude them, they are Syrians and they have the right to speak up, and we need to enter into a dialogue with them. They are Syrians and for me a Syrian is worth more than the whole world” (Phil Sands, The National, May 9, 2013). It is most likely that an official participation by Salafi-Jihadi groups will be rejected by international powers as well as by part of the NC factions, however covert dialogue could take place between Syrian some actors. The question could also be asked for Salafi-Nationalist groups.
- The surprising declaration by “Abdul Qader Saleh, commander of the Al-Tawhid Brigade,” member of the Syrian Liberation Front to “the Turkish news agency Cihan” accusing Israel to have destroyed weapons that were about to be seized by “the rebellion” and not arms that were about to reach the Hezbollah, thus to side with Iran and the Hezbollah to support Assad (Ynet, 13 May 2013) could signal an early hardening of the SLF (which had been suggested as possible by Lund, 2013: 27). This declaration might in turn prepare the ground for refusing the potential negotiations or for building a stronger bargaining position.
Scenario 2: No Syrian in Geneva
The diplomatic talks fail … to be continued.
Detailed bibliography and primary sources forthcoming.
(updated 7 May) This post will be the last one that presents the current state of play and the five categories of actors fighting in and over Syria.
The rise of the two groups of factions presented below – the Syrian Sunni factions intending to install an Islamist state in Syria and the Sunni extremist factions with a global jihadi agenda – as well as their mobilization power has been, first, eased by the protracted quality of the conflict and the despair it implied among Syrian people. It was then facilitated by the initial inability of the moderates to find support in the West, thus to demonstrate their power.
Syrian Sunni factions intending to install an Islamist state in Syria
The first nexus is composed of more extreme Islamist groups – compared with those seen previously – and of “Nationalist Salafis” groups – to use Lund (2013:14) terminology. They want to create an Islamic Sharia state in Syria. Lund (2013: 14) quotes Abdulrahman Alhaj, an expert on Syrian Islamism he interviewed in January 2013: Continue reading
The Kurds in Syria:
(Updated 20 May 2013*) The Kurds in Syria have their own agenda, which will determine their actions. As the other Kurdish communities in the region, their priority is to create a semi-autonomous Kurdistan where they live, notably in the NorthEast of Syria. Kurdish enclaves in Syria can also be found around Jarabulus – North – and Afrin – Northwest, North of Aleppo (Tejel, 2009: xiii). As analyzed by Spyer, their recent history tells the Kurds in Syria that mastering their own destiny is the only way to live decently and according to their own way of life, thus benefiting for once from the bounty of their land, in terms of oil and crops (Spyer, March 9 2013). The Syrian Kurds’ objective was again reasserted by Sipan Hamo, commander-in-chief of the People’s Protection Committees or People’s Defense Units (YPG - the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the main Kurdish political force in Syria, see below), in a statement on 4 April 2013: “We will not bargain with any side at the expense of the Kurdish people.” (van Wilgenburg, April 5 2013, AlMonitor).
The Syrian Kurds have already achieved an important part of their goal as they are largely Continue reading
Our own worst enemies – One major lesson that can be learned for the Boston tragedy is that efforts at improving systems and alertness can never stop in times of heightened tension and threats multiplication, at least not as long as problems have not been properly analyzed, causes courageously tackled, and real solutions imagined and implemented. Winning battles do not always mean winning a war, and deep-seated systemic problems will not go away out of wishful thinking, old remedies and temporary efforts, even if the last 60 years of relative peace, easy growth and consumerist society have tried to make us believe otherwise. Hence the various issues that are plaguing our contemporary did not go away those last weeks (and years), but, on the contrary, continue to escalate, while imaginative solutions so far only concern extreme environments, notably space. Should we not also take lessons from this strategically imaginative approach to apply it to other problems?
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Keeping in mind the complex and fluid character of the situation in Syria we addressed last week, this post and the next will present the current state of play and the various categories of actors fighting in and over Syria, namely the pro-Assad groups, the moderate opposition forces and the Muslim Brotherhood “related” groups, the Islamist groups fighting for an Islamist state in Syria, the groups linked to a global Jihadi Front, and, finally, the Kurds in Syria, without forgetting the external actors. Scenarios for the future will follow from this assessment. The scenarios will then evolve, notably in terms of likelihood, from changes on the battleground and in interactions between all actors.
Pro-Assad regime groups
The regime and government of Bashar al-Assad has lost full domestic legitimacy (or there would not be a civil war) and a large part of international legitimacy, but it remains Continue reading