The War in Syria: Manifestation of Regional and Global Transformations
To detect the regional and global implications of the more than two years of violent developments in Syria warrants an accurate definition of these developments. Borrowing the classifications of conflicts by relevant scholars (Harbom, 2004; Stewart & Brow, 2007; Pettersson & Themner, 2009), a definition of the war in Syria can be formulated as follows:
With number of deaths exceeding 1000 and involving arms on both sides, the armed conflict in Syria represents a war between parties with incompatibility over the political system. Further the war is
– Intra-state war
– Moved from being one-sided violence to conflict between organized parties: state and non-state actors
– Secondary non-warring support extended by neighbouring and super power states
– Revolutionary War
– War for autonomy (Kurds and dismantling of Syria)
– War to gain supremacy by Islam Fundamentalists
– War to gain political supremacy by the opposition coalition
However, the war in Syria can well be termed as quasi-internationalized war with the presence of foreign warriors with its unique features of foreign combatants of 83 nationalities, some officially delegated by their countries albeit undeclared. In addition, it well represents war by proxy supported by number of analysts.
The Us is Waging An All-Out Proxy War With Russia in Syria (Geoffrey Ingersoll, Business Insider Military & Defence, January 4,2013).
The Syrian war is proving to be just as dirty as any other modern proxy war (Robert Haddick, Foreign Policy, 10/8/2012).
The Syrian people have lived through two difficult years that have transformed the country into a battleground for a proxy war for many regional and international parties, with Iranians, Iraqis, Russians, Saudis, Qataris, Turks, members of Hizbullah, the Al-Nusra Front and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) all fighting in the country (Bassel Oudat, Al-Ahram, 20/3/2013).
The complexity of the definition of the war in Syria is derived from its complexity in reality which but reflects the multifacetedness of the war, where the region on its own right and on behalf of the global powers affects and gets affected. This reality best described by Independent’s Patrick Cokburn who reported
Syria is many conflicts rolled into one; the center of two regional struggles: a long-running confrontation between Sunni and Shiite factions across the Muslim world and the conflict that pits the U.S., its European allies, Israel, Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) headed by Saudi Arabia, against Iran and its friends Iraq, Alawite Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza(Zhao Jinglun, China.org.cn, 7/1/2013).
The global scene is getting reconfigured with the end of post-cold era and the revival of super powers rivalry with the emergence of BRICS states headed by China and Russia and European Union perseverance towards independence, however futile hitherto, and heading towards multi-polar world order. These super powers seeking areas of influence and resources compete for alliances world-wide not least in the Middle East where rivalry for influence is emerging involving new actors, between Saudi Arabia and Qatar on one hand and the new-old rivalry between Turkey and Iran.
The war in Syria doesn’t only reflect global transformation but as well regional one. Curtis Ryan presents this regional transformation through perceiving the present regional politics as signs of a New Arab cold war manifesting itself in a struggle for Syria where monarchical systems cooperate in self-defence while underlining
In the Arab cold war of the 1950s and 1960s, inter-Arab relations were characterized by power struggles between “revolutionary” republics, led by pan-Arab nationalist military officers, and more conservative or even reactionary monarchies. The republics saw themselves as the future of Arab politics, with the aim of changing not only the type of regime in Arab states, but also the map of the region through repeated unification efforts. This pan-Arab project led to extensive intervention in the affairs of various states, by both sides, as the republics and monarchies waged proxy wars in civil conflicts in Yemen, Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere.
The first signs of the new Arab cold war predate the Arab uprisings of 2011-2012, and became especially clear during the 2006 war between Israel and Hizballah…The Arab uprisings of 2011-2012 have deepened the divisions of the new Arab cold war, including along Sunni-Shi‘i lines…. Today’s Arab cold war features not only state-state rivalries, but also state-society conflicts characterized by re-emergent Arab identity politics, a public sphere expanded by a revolution in media and communication, a rise of Islamist social and political movements challenging incumbent regimes and, finally, new norms and popular expectations regarding participation in public life…These dynamics have led to a reassertion of foreign policy activism on the part of conservative monarchies, to the point that one of the most active forces in regional politics today, somewhat amazingly, is the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The GCC is no military juggernaut, but has risen to prominence because the uprisings came at a time when the three traditional (and often rival) power centers — Cairo, Baghdad and Damascus — had all receded from the regional balance of power. Each state was overwhelmed with domestic concerns: Egypt with its own revolution, Iraq with the effects of US invasion and occupation, and Syria with its own uprising. Domestic unrest and insecurity had forced the regimes in Cairo, Baghdad and Damascus to cede the stage to Riyadh and, more surprisingly, to Doha. These changes in regional dynamics have had important effects for uprisings in Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and now Syria. And this time, there is no countervailing force to check the conservative monarchies…unless it comes from the people under their rule…The rise of Qatar to at least temporary status as a regional “power” is perhaps the oddest phenomenon in contemporary inter-Arab relations.
Further, the weakening of pillars of Arab nationalism with its transnational qualities, Egypt, Iraq and now Syria further weakens the once Middle East as a whole coherent Regional Security Complex (RSC) where “the shared symbols of Arabism and Islam, and their focus on the conflict with Israel, that enabled the security dynamics of the Middle East to link up across such large distances. Without them, there would almost certainly have been no single Middle East RSC. Instead, distance would have dictated two or possibly three smaller RSCs formed around the Gulf, the Maghreb, and the Levant (Buzan and Woever, 2003/200).
Through dismantling centers of Arab nationalism, big coherent RSC in the ME is getting dismantled especially through amplifying the violent, though traditional, competition between Arabism and Islamism however “closely interlinked ideas (Dawisha, 2000).”
Present regional transformation in the Middle East towards further disintegration well supports and expands the below statement dating back to 2003 (Buzan & Woever, 186).
Only in a few patches, most notably Lebanon after 1976 and northern Iraq, did African-style state disintegration take place. In some ways the Middle East can be seen as the EU story in reverse.
There is almost consensus that the war in Syria was triggered by the crackdown of demonstrations by the ruling regime in March 2011. However, some analysts dates the armed conflict to preceding years and diverse motivation.
According to Tony Cartalucci, “since 2007, the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel have been documented as conspiring to overthrow the Syrian government by way of sectarian extremists, including groups “sympathetic to Al Qaeda,” and in particular, the militant, sectarian Muslim Brotherhood. While the West has attempted to portray the full-scale conflict beginning in Syria in 2011 as first, a “pro-democracy uprising,” to now a “sectarian conflict,” recent atrocities carried out by US-Saudi-Israeli proxies have shifted the assault to include Sunni Muslims unable or unwilling to participate in the destruction of the Syrian state” (Global Research, 30/3/2013).
While Peter Apps reveal the motivations of the other actors in the proxy war and states
Moscow’s backing for Assad might in part be driven by local strategic interests, analysts say, particularly a desire to preserve its main regional ally and weapons buyer as well as retain a naval base in the eastern Mediterranean. But most believe President Vladimir Putin and others believe much more is at stake. For Russia, and to a slightly lesser extent China, Syria is seen as a battleground, in which they can draw a line in the sand and end years of unilateral Western foreign intervention (Reuters)
Relevance of proxy war is equally highlighted by Curtis Ryan, however on behalf of regional actors and through introducing regional context to the war in Syria. Ryan writes
Once again, regional politics shows many signs of an Arab cold war and, once again, that broader conflict is manifesting itself in a struggle for Syria…Many of the same elements — power struggles, ideological and identity conflicts, and proxy wars — are present today…The Syrian crisis began as part of the Arab uprisings, with civilian activists marching for greater freedom and openness in Syria. It was only after the regime responded with violence in Dir‘a that protest movements sprang up across the country.
Curtis Ryan further elaborates and states
The struggles of the earlier Arab cold war were particularly virulent in Syria, from independence in 1946 to the coup d’etat that established the authoritarian regime of Hafiz al-Asad in 1970. As both Kerr and Seale demonstrated, Syria during those years was a key battleground in regional struggles between republicans and monarchists, among nationalists, communists and Baathists, and between global superpowers. Coup after coup toppled governments in Damascus as rival civilian political parties and military officers maneuvered against one another, aided and abetted by local and global cold war dynamics. Today, if anything, the dynamics seem even worse, as external powers including the GCC, the Arab League, Iran, Israel, Turkey, the United States, Britain, France, Russia and even China spar over Syria’s future.
As with regard the destination of the war, while Ided Eran implies the reshaping of Middle East through his below statement
Throughout the course of history, some states have been born out of long periods of gunfire, blood, and destruction. Others were the result of colonial officials conferring in smoke-filled rooms, poring over maps, and penciling in lines that ultimately became the borders of new states. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan belongs to the second category, as do its neighbors, Syria and Iraq… There is, however, no arguing that the existence of all three is now challenged in a process that threatens the collapse of the Middle East political order that emerged in the wake of the Great War and that has lasted for generations…Thus far, no borders have changed in the eighteen months of upheaval in the Middle East, yet new geopolitical realities are emerging. Iraq is already a de facto confederation maintaining a thin veneer of statehood. This, of course, is a development that may be replicated in Syria after the collapse of the Assad regime (Israel Journal of foreign Affairs VI: 3 (2012).
Cartalucci goes further describing the destination of the war as West’s goal neither to institute “democracy,” nor even take sides in a “sectarian conflict,” but rather carry out the complete and permanent destruction of Syria as a nation-state, sparing no one, not even Sunnis.
Whereas Zhao Jinglung meets Cartalucci in dismissing democracy as the war’s destination and introducing an additional dimension by stating
What is the issue here? Is it democracy versus dictatorship? The Assad family has ruled Syria since 1970. But the GCC, sometimes known as geologically endowed medieval Gulf monarchies, have long suppressed democratic uprisings in their own countries. Washington wants Basher al-Assad out to deprive Iran of a key ally.
The type of the conflict in Syria within regional and global context ends up in impacting the region if not the glob as testified below
The Syrian uprising threatens to take an even more dangerous path, both for the Syrian people and the region as a whole…With Iran and Hizballah backing the Asad regime, and the GCC states and Turkey actively opposing it, the Syrian conflict is already becoming a regional conflict. As the United States, Britain and France call for action through the UN Security Council, blocked only by rival imperial powers Russia and China, the Syrian crisis has assumed international dimensions as well (Curtis Ryan, MER 262, Vol. 42, Spring 2012).
But this is no ordinary civil war. It is a conflict of growing consequences for much the Middle East (Ian Bremmer, Foreign Policy, 22/10/2012).
Whereas the direct ramifications of the proxy war in Syria touch the components of human security of not only of the Syrian people but those of the neighboring countries suffering from daily influx of Syrian Refugees. Further, the national security of neighboring states is equally threatened by such influxes which well comprise warriors trained to carry out terrorists acts with cross borders ideologies enhanced by the fact that “Syria’s problem, like Iraq’s and Lebanon’s, is that the nature of its pluralistic population means that major demographic groups have strong ties with fellow populations in nearby countries, such as Alawites, Kurds, Druze, Sunnis and even Christians (Jordan Times, March 1-2, 2013).Foremost, the possible outcome of the conflict will eventually impact the international, regional and national Balances of Power.
Academic Researcher, Adviser and Analyst
Conflict Resolution/Peace and
Socioeconomic and Political Development
Amman, November 26, 2013