Of Syria and Civil Wars

Virinder Kaur POLS 202-01: International Relations Reaction Paper #1: Of Syrian Wars and US Foreign Policies Due: October 4, 2012 Modern Syria first gained its independence in 1946, following many years of violent strife. Before this, the state had been under a French Mandate and had suffered under a conditional (or more aptly, false) independence, wherein the French State held veto power over any potential laws introduced by the Syrian people (US Dept. of State). In 1970, the Baath party came into political power in Syria in yet another bloody coup-d’etat, with Minister of Defense, Hafiz al-Assad, taking up the mantle of President (US Dept. f State). He would remain in power up until his death in the year 2000. This would ultimately result in the appointment of his son, Bashar al-Assad, to the presidency, a position that would once more see civil malcontent and intrastate violence (US Dept. of State). Over the past 18 months, there have been ongoing violent conflicts in Syria between the Syrian government and various groups of rebel fighters (US Dept. of State). According to BBC News, this extremely bloody conflict within the state has instigated a multitude of international war crimes on the side of both the government and the rebel groups involved.
The civil war in Syria began in mid-March of last year when citizens first openly protested against Assad’s administration (US Dept. of State). Shortly following the Syrian Army’s continued violent suppression of the protests, the situation quickly turned to armed rebellion, ultimately leading to 18 months of violent assault on the citizens of Syria by its government and by rebel/terrorist groups (US Dept. of State). These continued violent uprisings in Syria are in no part a failure on the part of the United States foreign policies. In fact, the United States played very little role where the start of this conflict is in question.
Beyond its support of the protestors’ cry for democratic proceedings, the US was not responsible for instigating violence on either front. Furthermore, the United States was openly critical of Assad’s earlier reaction to what had started out as peaceful protests. According to Al-Monitor News, the US financially supported the opposition to the Syrian government by granting a waiver to a Free Syrian Army (FSA) support group, also called the Syrian Support Group, or SSG, which is an NGO aiming to provide the FSA with intelligence, communications, and financial support (Rozen).

The US, like most governments, is reluctant to strike any arms deals or provide lethal aid to the FSA and other loosely organized militant groups as they cannot control the violence of all of their members (Frieden). Any intervention beyond this would be unreasonable and a hazard to state interests of which, according to realists, in the hierarchy of issues facing the state, national and international security is most important (International Relations Text, 40). Direct involvement in the conflict will only further incite the violence as intervention by foreign states is believed to cause, not prevent, rebellion (Frieden).
Al Arabiya News maintains that the United Kingdom and France have also provided similar support for the Syrian opposition. The UK offered monetary assistance and France offered non-lethal military aid (Al Arabiya). France, in particular, was adamant against becoming directly involved in the bloody conflict without UN support. Instead, it provided “means of communication and protection” for the FSA (Al Arabiya). France justifies its determination to avoid direct involvement by reiterating the mistake George W.
Bush made when he independently decided to invade Iraq. France had also opposed that proposal and, in time, had proven correct (Al Arabiya). Russia and China, on the other hand, are vehemently opposed to the UN’s resolution to impose force and economic sanctions, believing they are measures taken by American and European states to further assert their power over Syrian sovereignty or as a means to line the US Treasury and EU banks, according to George Lopez, a professor of Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame (Lopez).
However, the people of Syria are rebelling against the Assad regime, from which it can be inferred that the legitimacy of the Syrian government is already under question. Russia, in particular, is against UN intervention in Syria, predominantly in providing aid to the rebel groups. As stated in the The Moscow Times, this is because Russia has strong economic ties to Syria; due to its’ economic and military interests in Syria, Russia will not rescind its support of the Syrian government in favor of the anti-Syrian government sentimentalists (Amos).
Russia’s economic interests include its billion dollar arms contracts with the Syrian government and its military interests lie in the Russian navy base in Tartus, which is “Russia’s last base beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union (Galpin). ” According to BBC, China has also blocked many UN proposed economic sanctions on Syria, a decision that reflects China’s Communist leaders’ concern that the West is trying to provoke a regime change in Syria under the guise of humanitarian action.
This regime change could ultimately threaten China’s economic interests in Syria, its oil interests, in particular. According to BBC News, Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi also rejects the notion of foreign interference in the conflict in Syria, insisting that the solution to the problem lay “only in Syria and within the Syrian family (Doucet). ” Despite this claim, Iran was, in itself, interfering in the conflict by sending out Iranian planes making arms deliveries to the Syrian government under the cover of humanitarian aid (Doucet). bb While it would be possible for the US to intervene and perhaps dissolve the issue in Syria, it would not be in our best interest. Foreign intervention in the Syrian Civil War will only result in a high price to be paid, mainly the US’ loss of support on the international front as well as the financial expenses that the US would incur if involved militarily. Such civil wars and intrastate conflicts between rebel groups and the government can be resolved through diplomatic negotiations that can avoid these expenses (Frieden).
The US is not financially secure enough to engage in yet another bloody conflict in the Middle East, particularly one as convoluted as the one in Syria. The usage of the word convoluted is significant in that it remains uncertain who the non-FSA and who the actual leaders of the rebellion are. According to Frieden, it is difficult to gather information about who is a part of these militant groups because they are covert and because terrorist groups have incentives to exaggerate. Furthermore, should that question and the identities of the FSA be resolved, how would we distinguish the innocent from the terrorists?
Both important actors in these uprisings, the Syrian government, and the Free Syrian Army and other rebel fighters, have participated in what may be considered international war crimes that have resulted in a multitude of civilian deaths. The Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria reported that murder, torture, and sexually violent acts have been authorized by the Syrian; it also found the anti-Assad sentimentalists were also guilty of war crimes, though not to the same extent as the Assad regime (Syria War Crimes Suspects, BBC).
The question to ask ourselves should be “Is it worth it? What can we gain from this involvement, and more importantly, what are we at risk of losing should the situation spiral out of control, as it so often does? ” With many significant UN actors being divided on how the situation should be handled, the idea of any kind of “strategic interaction between relevant actors” is difficult to even imagine (Frieden, 75). International politics concerns itself mostly with benefit analysis and bargaining to maximize state security and protect state interests above all else.
Getting involved in the conflict would be an unrealistic venture that would ultimately undermine national interests; this is because involvement in this particular conflict reflects a negative sum outlook (International Relations Text, 55). This implies that, in the end, the gains and losses will add up to less than zero, meaning all actors lose in comparison to what they currently have, in which case the US has more to lose than to gain (International Relations Text, 55). Machiavelli theorizes that states are pragmatic entities that ought to protect their own interests above all others (International Relations Text, 45).
This concept reflects on the political theory of Realism, which states that a state’s primary interests lies in maintaining or expanding its’ power and security, economically and militarily (Class Notes, Wk 1). In correlation to the theory of Realism, statesmen (i. e. the decision-makers) follow a different “code of conduct” than the average citizen; this implies a different set of ethics and decision-making processes (IR Text, 46). According to classical realism, if one assumes national security an end, than any means employed to achieve that end are justified (IR Text, 46).
The means by which to achieve an end are Joseph Nye’s notions of hard power and soft power. Hard power is concerned mainly with the economic and military capabilities of a state while soft power deals primarily with cultural values and practices of a given state to introduce a diplomatic capacity to influence states (IR Text, 53). Neo-realists, such as the United States, relate more to the notion of smart power, an integral or blend of hard and soft power, advance their purposes and attain their goals (IR Text, 53).
By intervening in Syria, the US would be put at risk in the economic and international relations realm as they would be once again swamped with the cost of war and would be looked upon in an unfavorable manner by Russia and China, who stand firm in their decision to not get involved due to their own economic and military interests in Syria. US’ involvement in Syria would reinforce Hannah Arendt’s idea that “thinking without a banister,” or in this case, acting, has become prevalent in contemporary politics.
In her essay, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt discusses how, in this modern day and age, great politicians and world leaders are thwarted by the ability to think and act without any sort of “transcendental grounding,” the most significant of which being history (Strong, Politics Without A Vision). Should the United States decide to follow through with intervening in Syria, it would be a repeat of Iraq; countless more soldiers will be stationed in the Middle East, more money that we just don’t have will be spent on a war where very few actors have significant interests (i. . Russia and China). Such blatant disregard for recent historical events while contemplating a decision as massive as US association with the violence in Syria would be concerning and outright dangerous to United States national security. Another concern that arises is the idea of random occurrence and chance; the concept of unpredictable elements, causality, and the effect they may have on the outcomes of a given circumstance (Class Notes, Week 3). The “Uncertainty Principle” was first introduced in the world of physics by Werner Heisenberg in 1927.
Often, particularly in situations of extreme violence or chaos such as the Syrian Civil War, the multitude of actors as well other variables, makes it near impossible to determine the possible consequences given a sequence of conceivable actions. This relates to the realists’ principle of Game Theory, which is essentially an approach to determining the best or optimal course of action in a competitive situation, for example, the Syrian Civil War (IR Text, 55).
According to Game Theory, the actors involved in a given situation will try to maximize gains and minimize losses under uncertain conditions and with incomplete information (IR Text, 55). Due to chance, circumstances, and personal initiatives of world leaders, unintended consequences are an inevitable consequence. While these inadvertent effects may be of a positive nature, it is just as possible that they may be negative and end up unraveling the very foundation of our country. Ultimately, the United States should look to wage peace and not yet another war overseas.
John Horgan, author of The End of War, entreats not only the US but countries all around the world to embrace the notion of peace rather than of war because we, as humans, are endowed with the ability to bring an end to war for good. Becoming involved in one more skirmish in the Middle East, only undermines our freedom of will and of choice. That we should choose to engage in violence rather than in peace, would be a poor resolution if the US’ primary goal is to protect its interests. WORKS CITED “Background Note: Syria. “U. S. Department of State. U. S. Department of State, n. d. Web. 01 Oct. 2012. .
Rozen, Laura. “US Authorizes Financial Support For the Free Syrian Army. ” Al-Monitor. N. p. , n. d. Web. 1 Oct. 2012. . Al Arabiya. “France Gives Non-lethal Military Aid to Syrian Opposition: PM. “France Gives Non-lethal Military Aid to Syrian Opposition: PM. N. p. , n. d. Web. 29 Sept. 2012. . Lopez, George A. “Russia and China: Sabotaging U. N. with Vetoes – CNN. com. “CNN. Cable News Network, 08 Feb. 2012. Web. 29 Sept. 2012. . “UN Draws up New List of Syria War Crimes Suspects. ” BBC News. BBC, 17 Sept. 2012. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. . Amos, Howard. “Billions of Dollars of Russian Business Suffers Along With Syria. The Moscow Times. N. p. , n. d. Web. 1 Oct. 2012. . Galpin, Richard. “Russian Arms Shipments Bolster Syria’s Embattled Assad. ” BBC News. BBC, 30 Jan. 2012. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. . Doucet, Lyse. “Syria Conflict: No Military Solution, Says Ban Ki-moon. ” BBC News. BBC, 20 Sept. 2012. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. . Frieden, Jeffry A. , David A. Lake, and Kenneth A. Schultz. “A Primer on Game Theory. ” World Politics: Interests, Interactions, Institutions. New York: W. W. Norton, 2010. 74-79. Print. Viotti, Paul R. , and Mark V. Kauppi. “Chapter 7: Positivism, Critical Theory, and Postmodern Understandings. International Relations Theory. New York: Longman, 2010. 322-337. Print. Strong, Tracy B. Politics without Vision: Thinking without a Banister in the Twentieth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2012. Print. Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966. Print. Horgan, John. The End of War. San Francisco, CA: McSweeneys, 2012. Print. *Also referenced class notes, discussions, and anything else that Professor F. mentioned during lecture. * *One case of referencing notes from another class (Comparative Politics) whilst explaining the uncertainty principle. *

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