Conflict and Fragility

Policy briefs

The geopolitics of Syria's reconstruction: a case of matryoshka

23 Apr 2019 - 15:13
Source: Source: Delil Souleiman

The supply of, and demand for, the reconstruction of Syria is grossly mismatched in both focus and volume. This essay examines whether Russia, the United States, the European Union, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel are likely to close, maintain or increase this gap. Such an examination helps assess the prospects for Syria’s future stability. In the final analysis, the combination of the misaligned global interests of the US (war on terror, anti-Iran) and Russia (re-establishing great power status, keeping Syria on its side) with the regional conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran makes the reconstruction of Syria hostage to irreconcilable agendas given the country’s association with Iran. Potential intermediaries like Turkey and the EU will not engage in countrywide reconstruction at this point. Turkey suffers from domestic turmoil and radical shifts in its foreign policy that have made it partisan and limited in its scope, while the EU’s foreign policy indecisiveness has relegated it to the sidelines. Israel was never going to engage directly in Syria’s reconstruction but also finds itself without political influence other than the one-trick pony of its regular airstrikes. The result is that the reconstruction of Syria will be fragmented, incomplete and focused on the immediate interests of the regime, Russia and Iran, with attendant negative consequences for the livelihood prospects of many Syrians in the short to medium term. There is an urgent need for detailed scenario-planning that explores the long-term consequences of this state of play – for the Syrian regime, for the Syrian population, for Syria’s neighbours and beyond.