There are a number of things that we have taken as established facts in the Syrian conflict where alternative scenarios must also be considered – recent events give us cause to hope for a solution outside the expected seemingly endless bloodbath. Opposition forces have convinced themselves that the military defeat of the Assad regime is inevitable, possibly imminent, but the creation of the new coalition council hints at a possible diplomatic solution which would avert the power vacuum which so often results when a government falls. A political substitution of Assad would be much less unpredictable and potentially unstable than a military defeat, as there would be no period in which the country was without government. Russia has shown the largest amount of inclination towards a political solution so far, by attending talks with GCC representatives in Abu Dhabi. This is the first time the international community has had reason to hope for a diplomatic agreement with Russia and the truth is, the possibility of a resolution is present – Russia needs to stand firm against the encroachment of NATO power in Syria but this does not have to preclude negotiations. Although Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and the GCC representatives failed to come to an agreement during the two-day meeting, the initial hurdle of opening talks has been overcome. There is no doubt that a US-Russia cooperation would be a strategic u-turn for everyone, but the feeling of America and Russia being at loggerheads with one another has faded and the two powers appear more on the same page than ever.
Amongst the international community there is talk of elections to determine the political future of Syria. Above all, a balance must be struck between the various factions and sects, including the Ba’ath, such that no group goes unrepresented. It seems that this would leave Turkey in a difficult position however: Turkey has put its support firmly behind the opposition, allowing them to hold meetings in exile and posturing against Assad by threatening military intervention. It may then be difficult for Turkey to secure its interests in the future with a government containing anti-Turkish political players.
But this is the only way to avoid long-term civil strife and the possible rise of a new dictator. The first election must take place within the Ba’ath Party itself, to appoint a new candidate for president, and only then can a national election take place to decide the political distribution of the parliament. This is a way to step around the issue of excluding Assad –an arrangement with the Ba’ath Party would be impossible if the outside world set a precondition that Assad could not run for President again – the party would need to come to that decision by itself. This set-up tallies with Kofi Annan’s suggestion that some members of the Ba’ath Party be included in any interim body. The new National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, founded in Doha, has received preliminary backing from some NATO and GCC countries, many of them recognising the coalition as a representative of Syria, with France naming it the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
The international community must tread very carefully in our interference however. The Syrian conflict has the potential to continue for many years, and every day of fighting pulls apart the fabric of society a little more. The international community should be aiming for a political solution which has the potential to last – to weather the militant attacks which are almost inevitable in a war with such a wide scope of opponents and so many fronts. Another consideration is that Iran and Iraq are also undeniably involved in the situation – the Iraqi government fears that removing the Shi’a influence in Syria could have terrible consequences for the stability of Iraq.
It is vital, then, to tackle the security situation sooner rather than later if the international community expect a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis. The creation of a national army, with the merging of the government military and the FSA, excluding the handful of those responsible for war crimes, could be the best way to calm the brutality. The international community cannot support one side militarily and expect a peaceful outcome, as maintaining the delicate balance of factions is the only way to prevent a massacre.
The new national army could offer the military support which the new government would need. This tactic has gone wrong before in Afghanistan, where a number of US troops have died at the hands of Afghan National Army soldiers who were either Taliban infiltrators or merely disaffected recruits. Another failure of this plan was the 1978 attempt to reunify the Lebanese army after it splintered along sectarian lines, which resulted in a period of extreme military inefficacy. Syria could use its knowledge of these failures however, to ensure the Syrian army does not have the same problems.
All of this means that the international community must keep a close eye on developments in Syria. Any heavy-footed blundering could have disastrous consequences for the whole region. Now is not the time to arm one faction against another and promote sectarianism – in fact, the best thing for the international community to do is keep an open mind, consider all possible scenarios, and try to maintain a balance between powers.
By Roisin Blake