Is it becoming harder to define Syria?

A guest blogger has joined the NESA-Strategist. Chris Chapman, a research intern at the NESA Center, will be regularly posting his thoughts on events in Middle East, particularly focusing on the Levant. The Strategist writers welcome Chris and hope you enjoy his first piece which follows below…

As it stands today the very nature of Syria as a state is in question.  Large swaths of land are no longer under government control.  The Assad government no longer holds a clear and legitimate monopoly on the use of force within the state.  Even the boundaries of the Syria state are becoming less definitive as spillover threatens Lebanon to be subsumed by the conflict.  Syria may still claim to have a government, representation in international boundaries, and recognition by the international community, but is it truly a state? Consider two potential outcomes of this conflict. 

The first outcome is the Assad regime finds a way to quell the Sunni rebels.  It is hard to picture a scenario where Assad’s forces completely expel or defeat the rebels.  Instead, we are faced with Assad controlling certain regions of land and the Sunni’s maintaining control of others.  Is this still one state?  Could these groups coexist under the same roof, let alone acknowledge the legitimacy of the other?

An alternate outcome is that Sunni factions breakthrough and defeat Assad’s forces.  This will end the current regime.   Infighting and rivalry already exists amongst the opposition.  The internal division has not yet become a massive problem because each group is primarily fixated on defeating the regime.  If they were to prove successful in that effort, then it is likely that internal competition will escalate into something larger.  Salafist groups, Al Qaeda, the Free Syrian Army, Kurds, and others will claim the right to rule Syria, or seek to carve out a portion in which they rule.  The situation will devolve into more fighting between these groups and Syria in essence becomes a tribal battleground with no clear legitimate leadership.

The outcomes in these two situations pose risks and problems for the international community and native Syrians. If the conflict does not end in absolute victory for one side, then there is a real risk that Syria as it is defined today will no longer exist.  The country could fracture into small segments?  The removal of Assad may not be accompanied by the rise of a competent replacement, which makes Syria a state with no real leadership.

Chris Chapman is currently a Research Intern at the NESA Center and an M.A. candidate at American University’s School of International Service.  Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

 

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