The original core conflict in Syria is over. The popular revolt against decades of authoritarian rule has been defeated by the regime, at least for the moment. This very regime is now in the process of gradually re-constituting itself. This does not mean that the war is over and peace within reach. To the contrary. The complex mix - and mess - of local, national, regional and global interests means that a durable resolution to the conflict will be difficult to obtain. Key factors that will influence the duration of the conflict are the relations between the regime of President Assad and the Syrian Kurds, as well as the length of presence of US forces in the north and east of the country.
Senior Research Fellow Erwin van Veen was invited to share his insights on the political and security situation in Syria during an exchange of views titled 'The war in Syria: recent military developments and future perspectives' in the Subcommittee on Security and Defense (SEDE) of the European Parliament in Brussels. This session took place in association with the Delegation for relations with the Mashreq countries.
In his conclusion Erwin van Veen stated that the re-establishment of authoritarianism in Syria makes it probable that many facets of the current situation will persist – consider a large-scale refugee problem, persistent violence of variable intensity and replication of the original causes of the conflict.
This situation jeopardises the realisation of current Western policy objectives like its implicit expectation of a meaningful political transition, a strong push for accountability and an approach that sees refugees being taken care of in the region ad infinitum. Against this backdrop, what can be done to reduce human suffering without supporting a return to authoritarianism? Three issues merit consideration:
- Consider how the Syrian diaspora can be structurally supported so that its human capital can gain institutional, democratic and leadership experience for when a more propitious moment arrives for dealing with this – or the next - Syrian regime;
- Engage Iran more thoughtfully and recognise its geopolitical interests in the region – without necessarily agreeing to them. Some form of accommodation is essential if a parallel Syrian quasi-state of Iranian proxies and loyalties is not to project permanent instability in the area;
- Develop a containment strategy that can deal with negative effects like extremism, organised crime, illicit business and corruption that is likely to spilover from Syria into the region and towards Europe.
In this exchange of views he was joined by Jean-François Hasperue (Policy Officer for Syria and Security Expert (MENA.1) of the European External Action Service -EEAS) and Florence Gaub (Deputy Director of the EU Institute for Security Studies - EUISS).
The video of this session can be viewed here. (Erwin van Veen at 1:07:40)