Syria Scenarios: Thoughts on Transcending Violence (2012)

By Ivana Milojević

Syria Scenarios
1. Continuation of a totalitarian state/crackdown. President Bashar al-Assads’ regime continues, maintained by the security forces use of violence, repression and bloodshed also continue. This is reminiscent of 2009-2011 Iran or 1992 Algeria. This scenario will also lead to Syria’s international isolation and the impoverishment of the Syrian population. The scenario relies on power based methods used by the regime. It is likely short-term, but unlikely long-term, because it can be expected that it will ultimately create some implosion within the regime itself (i.e. internal coup).
2. Transition to a western style democracy. Removal of current regime (perhaps violent overthrow of the current leader/leadership, Iraq-Egypt-Libya style or a removal by local groups currently militarily fighting the regime), via a combination of non-physical sanctions and military intervention, support of the opposition, rebel fighting groups, followed by the reform of the security sector and state institutions. This scenario also relies on power based methods, used by the international community and local groups such as the Free Syrian Army. Within this scenario diplomatic efforts by the Syrian National Council and Friends of Syria Group extend further. This scenario is likely.
3. Transcend solution. Transition to a federation, local autonomy, Sunnis/Shias-Alawis, Christian and Kurds autonomy and networking across the borders, international/UN peacekeeping, protection of religious and ethnic minorities, no foreign bases and flows of arms, utilisation of local peace-keeping and peace-building initiatives. This scenarios relies on interest/needs based methods used by both local and international groups. Unlikely short-term, necessary long-term.
4. Chaos/spreading of war. Dispersal of violent conflict into Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan; mass migration of refugees into Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon. This scenario relies on randomness, ad/hoc and chance based methods. Also possible within this scenario is war by proxy, i.e. involvement of regional stakeholders supporting various factions within Syria. Some aspects of this scenario are likely, but a whole scale spreading of war into other states is unlikely at this stage.

Citizens of Syria, Bashar al-Assads’ regime, Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party and minor parties in the coalition (National Progressive Front), (illegal) Kurdish political parties, Military of Syria, Syrian opposition – Syrian National Council, rebel forces, governors of muafazat (administrative divisions), local human-rights groups/civil society, religious groups and their leaders, International community (UN security council, The Arab League, GAFTA, state-based governments, militaries, Friends of Syria group, human-rights organisations).

Analysis and policy advice based on four scenarios
Without an acceptable exit strategy Bashar al-Assads’ regime is highly unlikely to be motivated to negotiate and arrest the current extreme violence and repression. It is also less likely they will agree to negotiate with groups that are currently using violent methods aimed at overturning the regime. The regime’s main political goal is to remain in power. Their main need is to survive and to not be humiliated. The investigation into finding possible allies within the current regime and security forces should be seriously considered. ‘Softer’ elements of this group should be sought. These groups are more likely to negotiate with groups that are currently not killing or injuring their associates. In order to locate these ‘softer’ individuals (more interested in compromising and negotiating), local/regional groups (political analysts, journalists, civil society, religious leaders) and the Syrian opposition (Syrian National Council) as well as the international community (The Arab League, GAFTA, Friends of Syria group and various human-rights organisation) should be consulted. The goal is to find allies within the regime itself, those who can perhaps influence negotiation between harder elements of the regime and the international community. These individuals/groups can also provide further advice on acceptable ‘exit strategy’ for the regime. As well, as the regime counts on the continuous support of China and Russia to veto the UN security council decisions, and perhaps even provide other types of support (including military one), the role of diplomats of these countries may also prove vital in negotiating potential exist strategy for the regime.

International community is already involved, and it is highly likely that it will continue to enhance this involvement. Therefore, Continuation of a totalitarian state/crackdown, which relies on no further external involvement, though likely in the short-term, is highly unlikely in the long-term. Preparations for the type of involvement should thus be enhanced. The most likely scenario for the international community’s involvement is Transition to a western style democracy. This scenario is highly costly and can potentially backfire. Any military intervention is going to create a humanitarian deterioration and increase already the high number of deaths in Syria. If the scenario comes into being largely via military involvement it can potentially facilitate the emergence of a protracted conflict, entrenchment of the regime, later retribution within Syria and against external nation-states and their citizens involved. There is also a danger of the violent conflict spreading and becoming regional. Other dangers involved with this scenario are the financial costs to the international community if military involvement is long-lasting, and, once embarked upon, it is highly likely that it will be. Further to this, new grievances and injustices may be created in the process, i.e. support of the opposition parties/stakeholders who may replace one injustice-violence-repression with an another one (ethnic cleansing, insurgence, legitimising criminal elements, increase in fundamentalism, breakup of areas, sectarianism). The Chaos/spreading of war scenario can be prevented via selective use of peace-keeping operations, the goal of which would be maintenance of negative peace (the absence of direct, physical violence and destruction). Cooperation between the UN peacekeeping forces and local governments’ security forces is needed if the likelihood of this scenario increases (some aspects of this scenario are already happening, i.e. situation in Lebanon, although whole scale spreading of war into other states is at this stage still unlikely). The Transcend solution scenario relies on proposing alternatives that are meeting the needs of all involved, are sustainable in the long(er) term, are creatively disembodying conflict from the current dynamics and into visions of desired/preferable futures. The premise within this scenario is that the more alternatives are outlined the less likely is the violent outcome. Some of these alternatives may include: 1) Involvement of as many stakeholders in decision-making processes as possible (including civil society/ NGOs/ humanitarian organizations, business leaders, prominent organisations and religious community groups); 2) Work on consensus between the majority of the Arab league, Turkey and Western nations on one side and Iran, Russia and China on the other, in regards to the initiatives based on the International law (i.e. UNGA Resolution 2625) and nonviolence; 3) Proposal for the amnesty for Ba’ath Party members and security forces, with the exception of top political leadership and those directly involved in mass killings; 4) The Establishment of truth and reconciliation commission; 5) The Establishment of mechanisms for local control of oil industry and oil exports; 6) The Establishment of mechanisms for protection of minorities, human rights in general and women’s rights in particular; 7) The Prevention of widespread retributions against Alawite community; 8) Support for Syria to join WTO and consider re-joining GATT; 9) Enhancement of humanitarian aid efforts, provision of access for humanitarian organisation; 10) Support for de-militarisation initiatives, 11) Gradual transition to a new, more open and democratic society coupled with national reconciliation, 12) The unification of the opposition around the principles of nonviolence and explicitly outlined vision of desired future, and 13) Making clear that any group that uses violence will not receive any support by the international community. The Transcend solution initiatives are necessary for long-term conflict resolution in Syria, but may be difficult to implement in the short-term. Nonetheless, they should be attempted, either as the main set of strategies or in some combination with the initiatives outlined within previous scenarios. In any scenario, arming of the opposition would not be advisable, given that it may increase death toll among the civilian population. Work on peaceful negotiated settlement with as many local and global stakeholders is the most preferable.