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  • Author: Dario Cristiani
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: Russia’s return as a major geostrategic actor in the Mediterranean is one of the most significant trends characterising this area over the past few years. Part of a broader geopolitical pluralization of this space, Russia’s 2015 intervention in Syria marked a new phase in Moscow’s Mediterranean engagement. Based on a stringent logic of intervening where other powers leave strategic vacuums, Russia has succeeded to carve out an increasingly central role in Mediterranean equilibria, despite its limited resources. Russian diplomatic and economic support for the Syrian regime in Damascus had steadily increased since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011. Yet, it was Moscow’s direct military intervention in September 2015 that signalled a decisive upgrade in engagement. Moscow’s military involvement shifted the tide of the conflict, proving decisive in avoiding the collapse of the Syrian regime, which is also backed by Iran and the Lebanese group Hezbollah.
  • Topic: Civil War, Diplomacy, Geopolitics, Economy, Military Intervention, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Jonathan Spyer
  • Publication Date: 03-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS)
  • Abstract: The fight to depose Assad is over. The battle over his regime’s boundaries has no end in sight.
  • Topic: Civil War, Terrorism, Military Strategy, Islamic State, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Efraim Inbar
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS)
  • Abstract: Israel must adapt as quickly as possible to the evolving situation in northern Syria, while continuing to adhere to self-reliance and invest in its military.
  • Topic: Civil War, Military Strategy, Hegemony, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Middle East, Israel, Syria
  • Author: Melissa Dalton
  • Publication Date: 02-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: 2017 marked a significant shift in the two wars in Syria. Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Coalition forces drove ISIS from its self-proclaimed caliphate capital in Raqqa, across northern Syria, and down the Euphrates River Valley. Meanwhile, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, backed by Russia and Iran, secured key population areas and strategic locations in the center and coast, and stretched to the eastern border to facilitate logistics and communications for Iranian-backed militias. In both wars, Syrian civilians have lost profoundly. They also have shown incredible resilience. Still, the outcome of both wars is inconclusive. Although major areas have been cleared of ISIS, SDF and Coalition forces are fighting the bitter remnants of ISIS in the Middle Euphrates River Valley. Enduring security in ISIS-cleared areas now depends on governance and restoration of services. Turkey’s intervention into Syrian Kurdish-controlled Afrin risks pulling the sympathetic Kurdish components of the SDF away from the counterterrorism and stabilization efforts in Syria’s east in order to fight Turkey, a U.S. ally. With a rumbling Sunni insurgency in pockets of Syria’s heartland, Assad and his supporters continue to pummel Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus and threaten Idlib. They are unleashing both conventional and chemical weapons on the remnants of Syrian opposition fighters and indiscriminately targeting civilians. The Trump administration now is attempting to connect the outcome of these two wars. The Obama administration tried similarly but ultimately prioritized the counter-ISIS mission. The drivers of the Syrian civil war and the ISIS war are rooted in the same problem: bad governance. Thus, a sensible resolution of both wars must address Syria’s governance. However, squaring U.S. policy goals with current operations and resources the United States has employed in Syria will require a degree of calibration, stitching together several lines of effort, and committing additional U.S. and international resources. Orchestrating this level of U.S. effort has proven elusive over the last six years.
  • Topic: Civil War, Violent Extremism, ISIS, Civilians
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Seth G. Jones
  • Publication Date: 05-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: The Issue Some U.S. policymakers have argued that the United States should withdraw its military forces from Syria. But the United States has several interests in Syria: Balancing against Iran, including deterring Iranian forces and militias from pushing close to the Israeli border, disrupting Iranian lines of communication through Syria, preventing substantial military escalation between Israel and Iran, and weakening Shia proxy forces. Balancing against Russia, including deterring further Russian expansion in the Middle East from Syrian territory and raising the costs—including political costs—of Russian operations in Syria. Preventing a terrorist resurgence, including targeting Salafi-jihadist groups like the Islamic State and al Qaeda that threaten the United States and its allies. Our Recommendations: Based on U.S. interests in Syria, Washington should establish a containment strategy that includes the following components: Retain a small military and intelligence footprint that includes working with—and providing limited training, funding, and equipment to—groups in eastern, northern, and southern Syria, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Coordinate with regional allies such as Jordan and Israel to balance against Iran and Russia and to prevent the resurgence of Salafi-jihadists. Pressure outside states to end support to Salafi-jihadists, including Turkey and several Gulf states. As the war in Syria moves into its seventh year, U.S. policymakers have struggled to agree on a clear Syria strategy. Some U.S. policymakers have argued that the United States needs to withdraw its military forces from Syria. “I want to get out,” President Trump said of the United States’ military engagement in Syria. “I want to bring our troops back home.”1 Others have urged caution, warning that a precipitous withdrawal could contribute to a resurgence of terrorism or allow U.S. competitors like Iran and Russia—along with their proxies—to fill the vacuum.2 In addition, some administration officials have argued that the Islamic State has been decimated in Syria and Iraq. The National Security Strategy notes that “we crushed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq.”3 But between 5,000 and 12,000 Islamic State fighters remain in Syria and continue to conduct guerrilla attacks, along with between 40,000 and 70,000 Salafi-jihadist fighters in Syria overall.4
  • Topic: Civil War, Terrorism, Military Strategy, Military Intervention
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran, Middle East, Israel, Syria
  • Author: Melissa Dalton
  • Publication Date: 08-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton assemble their own senior Middle East teams, a number of U.S. interests hang in the balance in Syria: the enduring defeat of ISIS and al-Qaeda in the Levant; the vulnerability of neighboring Iraq to extremist disruption; the return of Syrian refugees; the mitigation of Iranian influence; the need to both compete and cooperate with Russia to end the civil war; and the security of regional partners and allies. U.S. values are also at stake: the conflict has precipitated a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions, with over 500,000 civilians dead and 12 million displaced. The U.S. ability to shape high-level outcomes in Syria is limited. Russia and Iran have outmaneuvered the United States there. With their backing, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is extending his control throughout Syrian territory—most recently via an offensive on southwestern Syria, previously the site of a “de-escalation zone” agreed between the United States, Russia, and Jordan, precipitating immense civilian displacement. Assad’s consolidation of extremists in Idlib amongst civilians raises the specter of another slaughter like Aleppo in 2016. The UN-backed Geneva process is moribund, though still worth supporting, while the United States has limited influence in the Astana and Sochi processes, which are also demonstrating limited returns. More broadly, Assad is already also brutally shaping the facts on the ground regarding “reconstruction” through forcible movement of populations, demographic engineering, constricting property rights, and predatory governance that favors loyalists. In his meeting with President Putin, President Trump reportedly discussed Syria, although there was no official joint summary of the summit. The discussion may have included options for drawing down U.S. forces in Syria in exchange for Russia convincing Iran to minimize its presence in Syria. However, Russia lacks the will and leverage over Iran to fulfill such a bargain. The national picture is bleak. Zooming into the Syrian map more closely, one subnational enclave currently outside of Assad’s control has taken some steps towards stability. Eastern Syria still offers leverage to salvage a marginally but meaningfully better outcome for U.S. interests and the Syrian population. In the weeks ahead, the United States should: take stock of the sources of leverage in eastern Syria; articulate its goal for translating these sources of leverage into a defined political endstate; develop this stated goal into a broader stabilization operational framework; and then execute “the art of deal” in developing a burden-sharing plan to support these objectives.
  • Topic: Civil War, Fragile/Failed State, Al Qaeda, Refugees, ISIS, Displacement
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Douglas Barrie, Howard Gethin
  • Publication Date: 05-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: NATO Defense College
  • Abstract: In September 2015, the Russian military, predominantly though not exclusively through the use of air power, intervened in Syria’s civil war. Moscow’s aim appears to have been to bolster the Bashar al-Assad regime with even a comparatively modest Russian force, to allow it to prevail against the disparate array for opposition forces reined against the Baath administration. As 2017 drew to a close this appeared to be paying off, with the Syrian regime in an increasingly strong position, and the Russian political and military leadership effectively proclaiming success and the end of substantive hostilities. Russia’s credibility as an ally has been enhanced in the region and beyond.
  • Topic: Civil War, Imperialism, Military Strategy, Weapons
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Janko Bekić
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for Development and International Relations (IRMO)
  • Abstract: After seven years the war in Syria is nearing its completion, even though the result will almost certainly not be a decisive victory by either side, but rather a frozen con�lict and unstable peace dictated by the regional and global powers embroiled in the con�lict. From a political scientist’s point of view, the most interesting feature of the war in Syria has been its gradual transformation from a failed revolution to oust president Bashar al-Assad and introduce democratic rule to a civil war between regime loyalists and a myriad of local as well as foreign islamist factions, and from there to a war on terrorism concentrated on eradicating Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s murderous and enslaving Islamic State. In its last phase, starting in late 2017, the war in Syria has mutated into a textbook example of proxy warfare in which the exhausted belligerents are fully dependent on their external sponsors and �ight mainly to accomplish geopolitical interests and goals of outside actors.
  • Topic: Civil War, Terrorism, Conflict, Repression
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Udi Dekel, Assaf Orion, Anat Ben Haim, Zvi Magen
  • Publication Date: 05-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for National Security Studies (INSS)
  • Abstract: If Israel is in fact responsible for the April 29, 2018 attack in Syria, it is sending the message that it is determined and ready to fight a campaign to prevent Iran from consolidating its position in the northern arena, and that it will act to thwart the Iranian response. A war game conducted recently at INSS intended to clarify the boundaries of the ongoing campaign on the northern front and possible developments toward escalation between Israel and Iran and its proxies. Another goal was to consider a fundamental strategic question: is the northern arena truly one unit with two fronts – Syria and Lebanon, or is it two separate fronts operating according to different logics and reflecting distinct interests. Each of the involved actors – Israel, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Russia, and the United States – has a shared interest in preventing escalation that could lead to war. However, escalation has a dynamic of its own, and incidental elements – unintentional outcomes along with miscalculation – have a significant influence on events and developments. The most significant challenge for Israeli policy is how to resolve its goals vis-à-vis Iran. Thus the time has come for Israel to relinquish the comfort of its position of ambiguity on Syria; to understand that as far as it is concerned, the Assad regime is the least of all evils; and to strive to drive a wedge between Assad and Iran, and between Russia and Iran.
  • Topic: Civil War, Military Strategy, Armed Conflict , War Games
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Alimar Lazkani
  • Publication Date: 11-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: By monopolizing political, economic and social life in Syria, the Assad regime has barred the emergence and growth of independent, popular or influential local leaders and equated voicing reservations or being neutral towards its policies to opposition. With the outbreak of the revolution, the rules of loyalty to the regime have not changed for fear of reprisal or loss of opportunity. The opening of the market to large businesses have fed the ambitions of small entrepreneurs, making them more loyal. Neutrality and reservations have come from opponents who are waiting for the opportunity to organize, and from some cultural and artistic actors. This paper draws a rich map of the political, economic, cultural and religious elites of the Syrian coastal area and the extent to which they can become an actor able to build a national inclusive project for post-war Syria.
  • Topic: Civil War, Social Movement, Revolution, Dictatorship
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Damascus
  • Author: Bassma Kodmani
  • Publication Date: 12-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Eight years of a high intensity conflict in Syria resulted in the forcible displacement of over half of the population of the country, some internally, while over six million others fled outside, causing the most severe refugee crisis the world has known since World War II. Little is written however on the estimated 18 million Syrians who have been living abroad for years, often decades. These Syrians emigrated in waves and settled in some 30 different countries worldwide, including in the most remote lands of South America and the Caribbean islands. Together with the refugees who fled as a consequence of the conflict, the number of Syrians outside the country is now three times higher than those living inside. This is not specific to Syrians. The number of Palestinians, Lebanese, Armenians and, of course, Jews scattered across continents is also three to four times higher than those inside Palestinian occupied territories, Lebanon, Armenia or Israel. But the Syrian conflict and its toll on civilians has undoubtedly triggered a new awareness of the existence of a strong Syrian diaspora which had, so far, kept a rather low profile. To the stories of suffering and misery about refugees, diaspora communities oppose inspiring stories of the successful integration of individuals and families in their host societies. The Syrian diaspora is no exception. Its story contrasts with the dire situation of desperate boat people and helpless refugees. In general, the Syrian diaspora is economically self-sufficient and composed of well-integrated communities spreading across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. This report is the result of a collective effort to draw the first comprehensive picture of the de-territorialized Syrian people encompassing the old diaspora and the recent refugees. Co-authored by 13 experts, it describes the socio-economic and cultural features of the old diaspora communities (a subject largely under-researched by scholars) and captures the fast moving but very uneven process of transformation of recent refugees into a new component of the Syrian diaspora. Scholarly research and interviews with key members of the diaspora in their different living contexts reveal the considerable effort that the diaspora has mobilized to support Syrians during the conflict and its potential to be a major player in the reconstruction and development of Syria when the conflict ends.
  • Topic: Civil War, Diaspora, Immigration, Refugees, Revolution
  • Political Geography: Africa, Europe, Middle East, South America, Syria, North America
  • Author: Cecilia Baeza
  • Publication Date: 12-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: This paper examines the stance taken by the Syrian diaspora in Latin America vis-à-vis the war in Syria and how it envisions its aftermaths. It builds on an ethnographic field research and analysis carried out between 2011 and 2014 in Argentina and Brazil, and expands its scope by including a questionnaire prepared by ARI on the diaspora’s future role in the reconstruction Syria in a post-conflict scenario. The questionnaire has been sent to Syrian immigrants and descendants from Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. The first section examines the patterns of Syrian emigration to Latin America and its diasporization process under the influence of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Ba’ath. The second section shows how those historical elements have impacted the diaspora’s attitude towards the conflict in Syria. The last section analyzes the answers to the questionnaire and identifies the main topics of shared interest.
  • Topic: Civil War, Diaspora, Refugees, Revolution
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Brazil, Argentina, Latin America, Syria, Mexico, Chile, Damascus
  • Author: Jonathan Spyer
  • Publication Date: 04-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS)
  • Abstract: “Sadat” is heavily involved in Ankara’s training of Syrian Sunni rebels for the fight against Assad.
  • Topic: Civil War, Military Strategy, Conflict, Humanitarian Crisis
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Michelle Nicholasen
  • Publication Date: 07-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: The war in Syria is remarkable in its cumulative destruction of a society in a short six years. The toll on human life has been heavy; the involvement of multiple states, factions, and terrorist groups undermines resolution; the instigation of forced migration unprecedented; and the unfettered aerial bombardments against civilians—and perhaps most viciously, the deliberate destruction and targeting of health care facilities, health care workers, and patients—have defied all norms of war. Achieving an accurate picture of the human cost of this conflict has been an extraordinary challenge for aid agencies and health officials. In an effort to understand the impact of the war thus far, last winter the British medical journal the Lancet convened a commission of medical professionals to investigate and report on this conflict through the lens of public health. In Lancet parlance, a commission is always anchored at an elite university; in this case the American University of Beirut (AUB). In an early publication to set the stage, The Lancet-AUB Commission on Syria (the Commission) has called Syria “the most dangerous place on earth for health care providers,” and notes that the many reported atrocities “undermine the principles and practice of medical neutrality in armed conflict.” One of the three co-chairs leading the Commission is Weatherhead Center Faculty Associate Jennifer Leaning, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who has studied war and its long-term effects on societies in many parts of the world, including in the Middle East. Her fellow Commission co-chairs are Professor Iman Nuwayhid, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at AUB, and Dr. Samer Jabbour, a cardiologist on the AUB faculty. The Weatherhead Center sat down with Jennifer Leaning to discuss the Commission’s work, its goals, and the scope of the devastation in Syria.
  • Topic: Civil War, Displacement, Civilians, Public Health, Armed Conflict
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Melani Cammett
  • Publication Date: 09-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: opular discourse, especially in the West, presents the current conflict in Syria as part of an age-old struggle between the Sunni and Shi’a communities within Islam. Despite the sectarian trappings of the conflict, these divisions are not the root cause of the war in Syria. Rather, the hyperpoliticization of sectarian identities is one of the outcomes—and an increasingly salient one as conflict progresses. The origins of the Syrian war lie in much more mundane political and economic grievances. Despite steady economic growth and an extensive public welfare infrastructure, the vast majority of the population was excluded from the fruits of development and faced thwarted aspirations for social mobility and political expression. Rising poverty rates, endemic corruption, the poor quality of social services and government repression—factors present to varying degrees elsewhere in the Middle East—constituted a critical background to the Syrian uprising, even if they do not predict precisely why and when individual protestors took to the streets. More proximately, the evolution of a peaceful uprising into a full-blown civil war was sparked by the regime’s response to the initial waves of demonstrations. On March 13, 2011, several teenagers in rural Dara’a in southern Syria spray-painted the slogan of the uprisings, al-sha’ab yurid isqat al-nizam, or “the people want the fall of the regime,” on walls in their town. Government security forces arrested the young men and tortured them, inciting peaceful demonstrations by family members calling for the boys’ release. Syrian forces then cracked down violently, spurring other protests across the country.
  • Topic: Civil War, Religion, Sectarianism, Violence
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Publication Date: 01-2016
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Small Arms Survey
  • Abstract: More than four years after the start of the Syrian uprising, the country is the stage of a protracted civil war with a perplexing multitude of armed opposition factions competing over territory with the regime and among each other. Well over 1,000 such groups are currently active in Syria (Carter Center, 2014a, p. 11). They range from relatively small local protection units with a few hundred fighters to large movements with a national reach, such as Ahrar alKSham, which is estimated to number at least 10,000 fighters (Stanford University, 2014b).
  • Topic: Political Violence, Civil War, Armed Struggle, Non State Actors, Violent Extremism, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: Syria
  • Author: Elif Özmenek Çarmikli, Mehmet Onur Kader
  • Publication Date: 04-2016
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Strategic Research Organization (USAK)
  • Abstract: The pace at which Turkey will take these steps is up for debate. Turkey has become one of the international centers for migrant smuggling starting with the Arab Spring and deepening with the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War. Although migrant smuggling existed in Turkey before 2011, with the Syrian Crisis, it evolved into an ad hoc and flexible structure that could keep up with sudden shifts promote serious competition. Combating migrant smuggling, which can integrate into local and social structures while also working within an international modus operandi, has become more and more difficult as it grows into an increasingly multidimensional struggle. Migrant Smuggling in Turkey: The “Other” Side of the Refugee Crisis focuses on these issues by taking into account the JAP’s sensibility towards the prevention of migrant smuggling. The primary prediction of the report is that there will be important changes regarding the way the migrant smuggling sector will work in Turkey following the JAP. Moreover, it can be said that two main changes are predicted to occur; one with regard to the migration routes and the second to the organization of the sector. Regarding the routes, the report forsees that the Black Sea Route will be more popular and major changes will occur in the Mediterranean Sea Route. Because the JAP will see the return of migrants from Greece to Turkey, migrant smugglers will most likely produce a new strategy based on alternative routes. Migrant smugglers are expected to use Italy route not only from Turkey, but also from Albania, Montenegro, and Greece. A second trend that may come to greater prominence could be seen in changes in the way migrant smuggling networks organize across borders. It is highly likely that major networks which conduct business at the international level will become stronger in Turkey and beyond.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Civil War, Refugee Issues, Arab Countries, Refugee Crisis
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Syria
  • Author: Lina Khatib
  • Publication Date: 06-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Abstract: The self-proclaimed Islamic State is a hybrid jihadist group with a declared goal of establishing a “lasting and expanding” caliphate. Its strategy for survival and growth blends military, political, social, and economic components. Yet the U.S.-led international intervention against it has largely been limited to air strikes. The gaps in the international coalition’s approach as well as deep sectarian divisions in Iraq and the shifting strategies of the Syrian regime and its allies are allowing the Islamic State to continue to exist and expand.
  • Topic: Civil War, Islam, Terrorism, Insurgency, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Arab Countries, Syria
  • Author: Dr. W. Andrew Terill
  • Publication Date: 11-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College
  • Abstract: In an unexpected effort to protect a key Middle Eastern ally, the Kremlin intervened in Syria with military forces in late September 2015. This effort was undertaken to protect the Bashar Assad regime from Islamist and secular rebels now threatening his regime. Moscow initiated this action with a limited force that may be primarily designed to prevent Assad’s ouster but does not have the capabilities to help him retake large tracks of the country from the rebel groups that are now holding them. The Russian leadership made the decision to use military units in Syria at some political cost, aware that it was poisoning relations with many conservative anti-Assad Arabs and complicating its troubled relationship with Western powers.1 At some point, the Russians will have to consider the questions of how well these efforts have met their goal of bolstering the regime and what will be their next moves. They may also be rapidly faced with pressure to escalate their commitment to support the regime, if current actions do not produce meaningful results. They may also learn the painful lesson of other great powers, that military intervention in the Middle East is often much more problematic than national leaders initially expect.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Civil War, Islam, Politics, War, Military Strategy, Military Affairs
  • Political Geography: Russia, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Dr. W. Andrew Terill
  • Publication Date: 10-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College
  • Abstract: The Syrian civil war began in March 2011 and has claimed nearly 250,000 lives so far. After over 4 years of internal fighting, the Kremlin has decided to expand its role in this conflict by moving combat aircraft and some ground troops to Syria to support the Bashar al-Assad government. These actions seem like a clear prelude to a direct Russian combat role, although the scope of such an effort is not yet clear. It has started with a limited number of air strikes against the opposition forces fighting Assad. Additionally, Russia is providing the Syrian army with new weapons supplies which that army seems to be absorbing very quickly. The United States has expressed concern about the deployment and is facing the question of how seriously it seeks to oppose increased Russian involvement in this war, and what, if anything, to do about it.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Civil War, Islam, Military Strategy, Armed Struggle
  • Political Geography: Russia, Syria
  • Author: David Andres-Vinas, Daniel Gorevan, Martin Hartberg, Melissa Phillips, Alexandra Saieh
  • Publication Date: 11-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Oxfam Publishing
  • Abstract: With no end to the conflict in Syria in sight, the four million people forced to flee the country have no foreseeable prospect of safe return. And as the impact of the crisis on neighbouring countries grows and aid dries up, the situation for these refugees is becoming increasingly dire. This briefing calls for a new approach by the international community, including Syria's neighbours; one which offers hope, safety and dignity to the millions of refugees, and gives them a chance to contribute to the societies and economies of their hosts.
  • Topic: Civil War, Refugee Issues, Refugee Crisis, Humanitarian Crisis
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Global Focus
  • Author: Hrair Balian
  • Publication Date: 08-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Norwegian Centre for Conflict Resolution
  • Abstract: There is a renewed push to establish “no-fly” and “IS-free” zones in Syria. An external military intervention to establish such zones, even with the good intention of protecting civilians, is likely to precipitate more chaotic fighting and further harm civilians. Instead, the international community should build a minimum consensus among the “Friends of Syria”, Russia, and Iran to accommodate the interests and concerns of Syria’s external stakeholders, and reconcile the existential fears of various communities and regime supporters in Syria with the aspirations of the country’s majority Sunni population. Once these fundamental issues are addressed, a political solution to the Syrian crisis will become possible.
  • Topic: Defense Policy, Civil War, Military Strategy, Air Force
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Iran, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Pavel K. Baev
  • Publication Date: 11-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Norwegian Centre for Conflict Resolution
  • Abstract: The military intervention launched by Russia in Syria in September 2015 has altered the character of this protracted civil war and – quite remarkably – has both advanced and jeopardised Russia’s positions in the Middle East. This risky experiment in power projection constitutes a continuation of traditional Russian policy in this rapidly transforming region, but is also a departure from the strategy of careful manoeuvring aimed at exploiting the confusion in U.S. and European policies. Quite possibly the main drivers for this proactive move were either domestic factors or issues related to the confrontation with the West caused by Russia’s conflict with Ukraine. The present analysis, however, deals only with the Middle Eastern contexts, aims and consequences of this enterprise.
  • Topic: Civil War, Imperialism, Military Strategy, Military Intervention
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, Europe, Ukraine, Middle East, Syria
  • Publication Date: 02-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Carter Center
  • Abstract: This report outlines constitutional and legislative options for a political transition in Syria under the umbrella of the Final Geneva Communiqué, issued by the Action Group on Syria on 30 June 2012, and revived in early May 2013 at a meeting in Moscow between the U.S. and Russia. The Communiqué embodies the greatest degree of consensus that the international community has been able to achieve regarding the Syrian conflict, detailing a potentially viable path to a negotiated end to the civil war. Since May 2013, efforts by UN and Arab League Joint Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and others to host a peace conference on Syria (dubbed "Geneva II"), have reinforced the importance of developing possible constitutional and legislative modalities for a transition.
  • Topic: Civil War, Government, International Cooperation, Armed Struggle
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Michael P. Kreuzer
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination, Princeton University
  • Abstract: Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs), commonly referred to as “drones,” have been the subject of much discussion surrounding potential operations in Syria, primarily in the context of enforcing a “no-fly” zone or enforcement role similar to their role in Libya and modeled after operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. This LISD White Paper examines the prospects of the use of RPAs in Syria and possible future humanitarian crises. In conflict zones, deploying RPAs as currently operated would likely be counterproductive to political aims in an enforcement capacity. Smaller RPAs, however, operating in a number of tactical and other roles, could play a critical role in ameliorating humanitarian crises—for instance in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. Tasks may include monitoring key sites designated by the international community and allowed by the host country government, to providing humanitarian aid, to the over-watch of convoy movements and possible general surveillance functions. The stigma of RPAs given their use in other conflicts and elsewhere must be overcome to allow RPAs to be evaluated and used as an instrument for monitoring, assisting, and aiding in humanitarian crises among other roles, not just as (offensive) intelligence or weapons platforms. Examples of RPA use in natural disasters and relief operations in Southeast Asia and pending models for search and rescue operations in the United States and beyond provide a blueprint for similar RPA operations, with their scope limited by the mutual consent of parties to the conflict.
  • Topic: Civil War, Drones, Peace, Humanitarian Crisis, Air Force
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Ana Villellas
  • Publication Date: 04-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Norwegian Centre for Conflict Resolution
  • Abstract: The Kurds in Syria, Turkey and Iraq face complex challenges. Among the current Kurdish realities, the emergence of Kurdish self-governing areas in northern Syria controlled by what is considered to be the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) generates considerable uncertainty. The complex civil war in Syria and antagonism between the Kurdish Democratic Union Party and a fragmented Kurdish political spectrum generate many questions as to the future of these Kurdish areas in Syria. In the case of Turkey, old and new internal and regional factors have threatened the dialogue under way between Turkey and the PKK. These include the lack of clear state policies to resolve the conflict, Turkey's current internal crisis, the complications of cross-border dynamics, and the mutual impact of the Kurdish questions in Syria and Turkey. In Iraq, tensions continue between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the country's central administration. The consolidation of Kurdish autonomy – with new elements such as the energy agreement between Erbil and Ankara – continues to generate uncertainty in a context where many issues remain unresolved.
  • Topic: Civil War, Economics, Ethnic Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Turkey, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Valerie Szybala
  • Publication Date: 01-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Damascus is the Syrian regime's center of gravity. The capital of Syria has long been viewed by the rebel forces as the key to winning the war in Syria, and its loss is unthinkable for Bashar al-Assad. Thus the struggle for Damascus is existential for the regime as well as the opposition. An operational understanding of the battle for Damascus is critical to understanding the imminent trajectory of the war. This report details the course of the conflict as it engulfed Damascus in 2013; laying out the regime's strategy and describing the political and military factors that shaped its decisions on the battlefield.
  • Topic: Security, Political Violence, Civil War, Armed Struggle
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Helle Malmvig
  • Publication Date: 08-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Danish Institute for International Studies
  • Abstract: The Middle East regional security order is under rapid transformation. The Arab Uprisings and the Syrian War are changing not only the relationship between state and societies, but also some of the region's core norms and historical divisions. This report analyses key changes in regional security order the Middle East in the period after 2010. It identifies five key issues where regional order is changing: State-society relations Relations with the West and foreign policy posturing The impact of the Iran-Syria –Hezbollah Axis (the Resistance Front) and radical-moderate divide The Sunni-Shia rift and the rise of identity politics The Saudi-Qatar rivaling, and the role of the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Security, Civil War, Islam, Insurgency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Syria, Qatar
  • Author: Walter Kemp, Jérémie Labbé, Lilianne Fan
  • Publication Date: 09-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Peace Institute
  • Abstract: As the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, could the humanitarian crisis afflicting the country and its neighbors provide an entryway for regional cooperation? This policy paper examines how regional responses to humanitarian crises have succeeded or failed to meet humanitarian objectives in order to inform approaches to contemporary crises. It also assesses whether such regional responses contributed to strengthening regional integration and cooperation, paving the way for increased regional stability and an improved capacity to respond to emergencies. The report explores two different humanitarian crises: the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008. Examining the ways in which countries in each region and regional organizations addressed humanitarian needs, it draws a number of lessons that could be applied in contemporary crises: Regional ownership over the response is crucial, but not necessarily spontaneous. External actors can usefully contribute through a balanced mix of pressure and technical support. Preexisting regional organizations can provide a valuable institutional framework on which to build the response. An approach that focuses on the specific needs of the most vulnerable individuals can help to depoliticize discussions while strengthening trust among regional stakeholders. Complementary policy-level and expert-level processes can equip the response with both political commitment and regular working relationships for addressing tangible needs.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Civil War, Humanitarian Aid, Islam, Regional Cooperation, Peacekeeping
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Yugoslavia, Syria, Myanmar
  • Author: Brian Haggerty
  • Publication Date: 09-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: MIT Center for International Studies
  • Abstract: In the aftermath of a chemical attack in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21, President Obama's threat to launch a limited cruise missile strike to "deter and degrade" Syrian President Bashar al-Asad's chemical weapons capability has once again thrust U.S. Syria policy to the forefront of national debate.
  • Topic: Civil War, Military Strategy, Hegemony, Military Intervention
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Elizabeth O'Bagy
  • Publication Date: 03-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Fragmentation and disorganization have plagued Syria's armed opposition since peaceful protestors took up arms in December 2011 and began forming rebel groups under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army. A lack of unity has made cooperation and coordination difficult on the battlefield and has limited the effectiveness of rebel operations. Since the summer of 2012, rebel commanders on the ground in Syria have begun to coordinate tactically in order to plan operations and combine resources. This cooperation has facilitated many important offensives and rebels have taken control of the majority of the eastern portion of the country, overrunning their first provincial capital in March 2013 with the capture of al-Raqqa city. However, rebels have been unable to capitalize on these successes, and fighting has largely stalemated along current battle fronts particularly in the key areas of Aleppo, Homs and Damascus. In order to overcome the current military stalemate, the opposition needs to develop an operational level headquarters that can designate campaign priorities, task units to support priority missions, and resource these units with the proper equipment to execute their missions. Recently, the opposition has established a new national military structure that may grow to serve this purpose. On December 7, 2012, rebel leaders from across Syria announced the election of a new 30-member unified command structure called the Supreme Joint Military Command Council, known as the Supreme Military Command (SMC). The Supreme Military Command improves upon previous attempts at armed opposition unification through higher integration of disparate rebel groups and enhanced communication, which suggest that it could prove to be an enduring security institution. The SMC includes all of Syria's most important opposition field commanders, and its authority is based on the power and influence of these rebel leaders. Its legitimacy is derived from the bottomup, rather than top-down, and it has no institutional legitimacy apart from the legitimacy of the commanders associated with the council. Thus, the SMC is not structurally cohesive, and its ability to enforce command and control is dependent on the cooperation of each of its members. The incorporation of rebel networks has resulted in chains of command that are not uniform across the five fronts, with each sub-unit retaining their own unique authority structures. The SMC's primary function to date has been to serve as a platform for coordination. Regardless of the limits of its current command and control, the SMC has played an important role in syncing rebel operations with several notable successes. It has allowed for greater opportunities for collaboration and coordination among the disparate rebel groups operating in Syria. As the SMC develops its institutional capacity, its ability to assert greater authority will likely depend on its transactional legitimacy and its ability to distribute critical resources to rebel-held communities. To date, disparate sources of funding have significantly handicapped the rebels' ability to unite and consolidate authority on a national level. Although private sources of funding will likely continue outside the parameters of the SMC, uniting the support channels of rebels' main state sponsors will be fundamental to ensuring the legitimacy of the new organization. The ability to provide resources and material support to its sub-units is the determining factor in whether or not the SMC will be able to unite rebel forces under its command and establish a level of command and control. The SMC has the potential to serve as a check on radicalization and help to assert a moderate authority in Syria. If the SMC can create enough incentives for moderation it will likely be able to marginalize the most radical elements within its structure. To this end, the SMC has recognized the importance of the inclusion of some of the more radical forces, while still drawing a red line at the inclusion of forces that seek the destruction of a Syrian state, such as jihadist groups like Jabhat Nusra. Ultimately, even if the SMC only serves as a mechanism for greater cooperation and coordination, it is a significant development in that it has united the efforts of rebel commanders across Syria. It is the first attempt at unity that incorporates important commanders from all Syrian provinces and has enough legitimacy on the ground to even begin the process of building a structure capable of providing a national-level chain of command. Syria's state security apparatus will collapse as the Assad regime finishes its transformation into a militia-like entity. The Supreme Military Command is currently the only organization that could serve to fill the security vacuum left by this transformation. As the Syrian opposition begins to build a transitional government, the SMC could create a framework for rebuilding Syria's security and governing institutions if properly supported. The SMC's ability to act as a basis for a national defense institution will be an important component in filling the power vacuum left by Assad's fall and will aid in a secure and stable Syria. There remain a number of critical obstacles ahead for the SMC. They include the incorporation of existing command networks, which will have an impact on command and control and resource allocation; mitigating the strength of extremist groups; and managing disparate sources of financing. Overcoming these obstacles will be difficult, especially as the nature of the conflict transforms and the sectarian polarization makes it more challenging to create a strong military institution and professional armed force. Although the SMC must do its part internally to overcome these obstacles, its success will largely depend on greater international support and access to more resources. The goal behind U.S. support to the opposition should be to build a force on the ground that is committed to building a nonsectarian, stable Syria, with a government more likely to respect American interests. Working with the SMC could enhance America's position vis-à-vis Syria's armed opposition and provide a mechanism for stability should the Assad regime fall.
  • Topic: Security, Civil War, Military Strategy, Armed Struggle
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Niamh Maria O'Sullivan
  • Publication Date: 08-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: Few issues in international politics have sparked more debate this year than the events unfolding in Syria. What began 17 months ago as peaceful marches seeking reform has brought Syria to the brink of a civil war that threatens to stop the Arab Spring dead in its tracks. As the death toll rises and accusations of crimes against humanity mount against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his ruling Ba'ath Party, many are calling for an armed intervention to put an end to the Assad regime's widespread human rights abuses. Finding the right way forward for Syria, however, is proving elusive and so we turn to philosophy and, in particular, to Just War theory for guidance. Though often criticized as a soft or unrealistic approach to foreign policy, principles like just cause and proportionality guide our way through the moral enigma that has confounded the international community since the uprising began. The answers are far from easy. As the battle for Syria rages on, the most ethical, and difficult, thing to do might just be to stay out.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Civil War, Human Rights, Regime Change
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Syria
  • Author: Camilla Committeri
  • Publication Date: 10-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: The Syrian crisis is dividing the international community like no other Arab uprising has done so far. While the United States and the European Union stand squarely against the Syrian regime, Russia remains a staunch defender of state sovereignty and the Al-Assad regime. There are three main factors that explain this position: Moscow's historical relations with Damascus; Russia's traditional opposition to US presence in the Middle East; and the surge in domestic opposition in Russia itself. This last factor, and the recent evolution of Russian domestic politics, is crucial to grasp Moscow's foreign policy towards Syria and the Middle East, a s well as towards the United States and Europe.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Civil War, Bilateral Relations, Foreign Aid
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, Middle East, Arabia, Moscow, Syria