Leadership and Democracy LabWestern Social Science

Syria and 2015

Syria and 2015

January 14, 2014

This article has been produced by the efforts of the following members:

Nithiyaa Pushpanathan and Laura Asta – Team Members studying Leadership in Syria

Edited & Supervised by Conor McGarvey – Team Leader; Syria

With a growing refugee crisis, and developmental collapse the Assad regime continues to struggle in its attempt to hold onto power. Recently (late December), the regime announced it was willing to meet with oppositional forces in order to begin preliminary dialogue on the turmoil that has engulfed the nation since 2011, and the recent addition of Islamic State Jihadists and Kurdish rebels in the region. As a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russia has indicated plans to host the peace talks on January 26, 2015.

Despite the Syrian government claiming they are ready and willing to participate in consultative peace talks, the international community has expressed a number of concerns. Mainly Western Opposition forces are questioning Russia’s credibility as a mediator due to its active involvement in the war. Throughout the civil war, Russia has supplied the Syrian military with arms, enabling the Assad regime to hold onto power amongst major resistance, and subsequently assisting in the deaths of 200,000 people.[1] Additionally, Western states are continuing to insist for the formation of a transitional governing body with full executive powers to be included in any settlement or agreement. However, al-Assad's government has already rejected this possibility, leading officials argue an agreement will not be reached.[2] Last, opposition states claim that the scheduled meeting lacks an agenda and clear purpose. A cease-fire in Aleppo is the only other strategy proposed by the United Nations to date, and although this plan has not gained any considerable momentum, officials continue to discuss the implications of this proposal.[3]

The tidal wave of refugees leaving Syria’s bloody civil war has become one of the largest migrations of refugees since World War Two.[4] The United Nations Refugee agency estimates there will be over four million displaced Syrian refugees by the end of 2015.[5] Currently, Syrian refugees inside Lebanon are running dangerously low on resources, and are begging for relief aid. Additionally, thousands of Syrians are currently living in tents along the Syrian-Lebanese borders. The recent record low temperatures in the Middle East, has resulted in a dire situation with no available secure shelter leading to four deaths, including two children, due to exposure. 

Chemical Weapons Allegation

At the end of 2014, there were numerous allegations against the Assad regime for the use of chemical weapons against civilian and rebel targets. In the east of the country, at Deir Ezzor military airport, chlorine gas was used in an attack on Islamic State fighters, resulting in a number of confirmed deaths.[6] Deir Ezzor borders Iraq to the east and is very rich in oil resources, representing a major financial and military vantage point for whoever holds control.

Furthermore, an international chemical weapons watchdog has provided evidence for these allegations. Thirty-two witnesses have reported either hearing or seeing “helicopters dropping barrel bombs with toxic chemicals”, while twenty-nine individuals stated that they smelled chlorine.[7] There is compelling evidence suggesting that the Syrian regime used the chlorine gas against civilians and rebel groups, but this cannot be stated with certainty. However, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) strongly believes the Assad regime is behind these attacks.

Moreover, the Assad regime is growing weak in numbers. Military-aged men are avoiding conscription and arrests have increased to counter the declining size of the military. In 2011, there were roughly 315,000 soldiers and now there is less than half of that figure.[8] In Syria, all men eighteen years old and over must contribute a year and a half of service to the Syrian military, however, even if this time has been served, men are being forced to rejoin.[9] These dwindling numbers could possibly act as further reasoning for the regime to increase the severity of its military attacks and strategy.

Numerous Syrian opposition factions have formed coalitions in their attempts to overthrow the Assad regime, but none have formed an allegiance powerful enough to carry out a successful coup d’état. The Syrian government is a nominal power exercising illegitimate force: from failing plans for peace talks, increased migration, a deteriorating military, and a rise of insurgent rebel groups, the Syrian civil war isn’t likely to see an end in the near future.