A contribution by Chloé Marie, 1st-year student of the ESSCA Bachelor in International Management. “A decade-long conflict -an important topic to write about and one that best highlights the complexity of international relations.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the world, the Syrian civil war is silently continuing.
Started in 2011, this conflict has been going on for almost a decade now. It began with a wave of protests against governments in the Middle East called the “Arab Spring”. What was meant to be simple protests from the Syrian population requesting democratic reforms from the Bashar Al Assad government, marked the beginning of violent confrontations between the government and the protesters.
This multi-sided war is at the same time a domestic conflict opposing the government to the rebels, and a fight against terrorism, which is an ongoing issue in the Middle East. A decade after the beginning of the war, could there be some kind of peace in Syria in 2021?
In 2012, after a wave of massacres, the Syrian conflict is officially proclaimed “a civil war” by the United Nations. However, in 2013 a new threat came to worsen the war, the rise of ISIS, the Islamic State, a terrorist organization. Different countries such as the United States decided to get involved to fight ISIS. In 2015, Russia also got involved in the war, taking side of the Syrian Ba’athist government and striking ISIS as well as rebel groups. Progressively, different nations started taking part in the war against ISIS such as France, the UK, Canada and others, in support of the Syrian Democratic Forces, mostly led by Kurds, aiming to fight ISIS.
Hopes of peace for the Syrian war
Syria is far from what it used to be. The bombings have destroyed the country, killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, and millions of refugees have moved to other countries causing a massive flow of immigration. But it seems like the time for negotiations have come.
The two opposing parties have finally decided to find solutions and to start communicating. According to the Anadolu Agency, during a meeting in Geneva, they both decided to open a discussion on the national principles, a big step towards a possible agreement between the regime and the opposition. While the Syrian Armed forces, the regime’s army, is progressively re-taking control of many territories such as Aleppo in 2016, the rebels are withdrawing. Supported by Russia, which is very active in this war, the Syrian Ba’athist government forces are getting stronger. Another hope for peace came when Russia and Turkey, the respective allies of the war parties, decided in 2017 to agree on a common plan to end the Syrian war. It seems like both the Syrian regime and Russia, as well as the rebels and Turkey, have decided to start discussing a future possible end for the Syrian war. In March 2020, Turkey and Russia agreed on a ceasefire in the region of Idlib, but in October 2020, dozens of rebels were killed after supposed-Russian strikes.
Despite attempts at negotiations occurring between the regime and the opposition and between Turkey and Russia, peace does not seem to be a possible outcome in the near future. The current situation shows that, even if most of the territory has been recaptured by the Syrian army, small battles seem to carry on. In fact, the region of Idlib is currently a zone of confrontation between the Syrian forces, supported by Russia and the rebels, supported by Turkey after the failure to find an agreement during a meeting in Kazakhstan. Turkey has recently brought new reinforcement into the Idlib area, after pro-Turks rebels were killed by a Russian strike; maybe a preview of future bombings.
From the very beginning, Iran has been supporting Bashar Al Assad’s government, taking part militarily against the protests. But the presence of the Iranian forces in the Syrian territory led Israel, Iran’s principal enemy, initially neutral in the conflict, to get involved in the war. Both countries are currently leading a proxy war against each other, bombing the troops of the adversary in the Syrian territory.
Elsewhere, the Kurds, left alone after the US withdrawal, were forced to open a discussion with the Assad’s regime in order to find some support against the multiple attacks of Turkey against Kurdish forces. But on the other hand, Turkey, who is claiming to want the end of the war, is actively contributing to the prevention of peace in the country. In fact, Turkey is constantly trying to fight the Syrian Democratic Forces, led by Kurds, almost exclusively for domestic reasons.
With all this information, it still remains hard to imagine the scenario of a ceasefire in 2021. In fact, even if Bashar Al Assad has most likely won the war, the possible ending of confrontations between the regime and the opposition doesn’t mean that the country will find peace so quickly. Small conflicts will carry on, on Syrian land like it is currently happening between Israel and Iran. All the actors of the war still remain active in Syria, and their presence does not favour peace.
Moreover, the battles against terrorist organizations such as ISIS are not over. Even if the presence of ISIS is decreasing, the military operations keep going as long as ISIS is representing a threat for the global security. This war against terrorism is not close to an end yet and intensifies the ongoing conflict in Syria.
While the scenario of rebels receiving unexpected support and somehow managing to recapture more territory seems to disappear; the scenario of Assad’s victory, which is most likely to happen, is far from being exciting news for the country. As a result of the civil war, 50% of the Syrian population has emigrated to other countries, the country is devastated, and a massive economic crisis is happening due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Syrian population is currently facing hunger and famine in a devastated country. Not only does the government have to find money to feed the population but it also needs to find money to rebuild the country, it is estimated this will cost between $250 and $400 billion.
Unfortunately, a peaceful scenario is thus not really likely for 2021. And as a result of a decade of war, even if the bombings finally come to an end, the country is facing a very important economic crisis and keeps Syria far from what it used to be, when it once was a stable and prosperous country.
This student contribution was produced within the framework of the 1st-year module “Topics in International Relations” of ESSCA’s Bachelor in International Management, following a course design developed by the EU-Asia Institute. The opinions expressed are of course those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the institute.