Unpacking the Syrian Conflict: What’s Next?

Syria made the headlines again today. In more than two year of fighting, the Syrian civil war has resulted in over 90,000 deaths, displaced over 4 million people, and has caused more than $80 billion in damage. Yet, there is still no end in sight. As described in the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and the New America Foundation’s June 2013 Report, Dissecting an Evolving Conflict: The Syrian Uprising and the Future of the Country, the conflict in Syria has reached a stalemate, a condition if not resolved soon could spiral Syria into becoming a failed state.

Syria was the fifth Arab spring country, following in the footsteps of Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen. What began as a peaceful call for political reformation in March 2011 quickly took up the slogan of the Arab Spring revolution – “the people want to overthrow the regime” – and was consequently met with stark regime crackdown. The regime’s use of violence transformed the nature of the conflict from one of rebellion, seeking political reform, to one of revolution, seeking the overthrow of the Assad regime. As the protests gained momentum, the Syrian governments stepped in with increasing force, perpetuating further protests. Each time this cycle occurred, the conflict escalated a little bit further.

The militarization of the rebellion came in response to Assad’s implementation of the security solution—a plan that involved breaking up protests but quickly escalated to include the use of military might to disband the unarmed protesters. Syrian soldiers, who are now being asked to fire on unarmed civilians, began to defect from the Syrian army. The defected Syrian military officers formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in July 2011 to combat the unchecked Syrian army in its campaign of human rights violations and crimes against humanity.

After the 18 July 2013 bombing of Syrian regime’s National Headquarters and the killing of four high ranking Syrian personnel, the opposition gained momentum and provided the catalyst of numerous opposition victories. Despite immediate successes, the progress of the rebels has since been slowed and has been met with immense opposition. With Assad’s government backed by Russia and Iran, the question in the last six months has been whether the West would intervene and support the rebels. For President Obama, the Syria’s use of chemical weapons was the ‘red line’ the eventually prompted the US to support the Syrian rebels.

An end to this conflict is in the interest of regional stability. The conflict has already spilled over into neighboring countries, putting tremendous stress on the region. Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey have all experience shelling and/or fighting as a direct consequence of the Syrian conflict.  Moreover, the conflict has forced the creations of regional alliances, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar supporting the Syrian rebels, while Iran continues to support the Assad regime.

The stability of the region is now tied to the stability of Syria, a country locked in civil war stalemate. If the support of the US is able to tip the scales in favor of the rebels, this alone will not be sufficient to bring stability and security to the region. Over time the rebel movement has become fragmented and the success of the rebels would not bring stability alone. This is all to say that the road to regional stability in Syria may be longer than is immediate apparent. The end to civil war will not equate to stability. There are many difficult steps in between.