Syria’s Phase of Radicalisation
International Crisis Group
10 April 2012
As the 10 April deadline Kofi Annan (the UN and Arab League joint Special Envoy) set for implementation of his peace plan strikes, the conflict’s dynamics have taken an ugly and worrying turn. Syrians from all walks of life appear dumbfounded by the horrific levels of violence and hatred generated by the crisis. Regime forces have subjected entire neighbourhoods to intense bombardment, purportedly to crush armed opposition groups yet with no regard for civilians. Within the largest cities, innocent lives have been lost due to massive bomb attacks in the vicinity of key security installations. Perhaps most sickening of all have been pictures displaying the massacre of whole families, including the shattered skulls of young children. The first anniversary of what began as a predominantly peaceful protest movement came and went with only scattered popular demonstrations. Instead, there was immeasurable bloodshed.
Annan’s initiative to end the violence and initiate a political transition was greeted with widespread, justifiable scepticism; the Syrian regime’s initial acceptance of his plan was met with even broader disbelief. (…)
(…) Full and timely implementation of Annan’s plan almost surely was never in the cards. But that is not a reason to give up on diplomacy in general or the Annan mission in particular. The priority at this stage must be to prevent the conflict’s further, dangerous and irreversible deterioration. In the absence of a realistic, workable alternative, the best chance to achieve that is still to build on aspects of the envoy’s initiative and achieve broad international consensus around a detailed roadmap.
One of the more disturbing aspects of the recent escalation is that it has not elicited a dramatic response from any key player, making it likely that things will only get worse. The regime has long been locked in a vicious cycle, heightening repression in response to the radicalisation of the popular movement that regime repression was instrumental in bringing about in the first place. The opposition is deeply polarised, between those who harbour the largely illusory hope that the regime will abandon its elusive quest for a “security solution” and those who – by calling to arm rebels on the ground and lobbying for international military intervention – essentially aspire to a “security solution” of their own. (…)
(…) As the crossing of ever more alarming thresholds suggests, this is not a static stalemate but a conflict in perpetual motion and moving in ever more dangerous ways. Whether regime elements or armed opposition groups are to blame for any particular bomb attack or civilian massacre is an essentially futile debate. The fact is that the regime’s behaviour has fuelled extremists on both sides and, by allowing the country’s slide into chaos, provided them space to move in and operate. (…) As a result, conditions have been created in which extreme forms of violence may well become routine. In turn, this will further empower the most radical elements on all sides, justifying the worst forms of regime brutality and prompting appalling retaliation in response. Should such trends continue, the conflict’s current death toll – already in the thousands – likely will appear modest in hindsight. (…)
Given the evolving dynamics, Annan’s mission, however frustrating, likely will remain the only available option for some time. That period should not be wasted awaiting its end or banking on its collapse. Without renouncing prospects for a genuine political agreement on a transition, the priority today must be to de-escalate the violence. This should be attempted by focusing on and fleshing out ideas being advocated by Annan and purportedly endorsed by the regime. (…)
(…) Odds of success admittedly are slim. But far worse than giving this a chance would be to repeat the mistake committed during the last diplomatic, Arab League-sponsored initiative, which also included a monitoring mission: to expect its failure; rush to pull the plug on an unsatisfactory policy; wait for the emergence of an alternative that has been neither considered nor agreed. And then watch, as the killing goes on.
To read the overview, see here.
For the full report, see here.