What Next for Western Policy Toward Syria?

Foreign Affairs & Security
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Jake Ramsamugh


It is time to recognise that the situation in Syria is far too complex for airstrikes alone to solve

IHS Conflict Monitor


When, as 2015 drew to a close, Parliament voted to allow the RAF jets to conduct airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria, I firmly believed that this was the right decision. A Western Coalition was already undertaking such operations in Iraq and the process appeared to be succeeding as IS were stopped in their advance mere miles from Bagdad. I supported similar airstrikes in Syria because I believed that Western military intervention could produce similar results.

Unlike Iraq, Syria is in a full scale civil war, with numerous warring factions all holding wildly different aspirations for the country. For now In Iraq it’s simple, everyone against IS. As the day edges closer to the recapture of Mosul and IS will be eradicated in Iraq further problems will arise: can Iraq survive as a country, will the Kurdish region remain, and is the Iraqi government capable to ruling with impartiality to all religions and creeds? But these are questions for later, for now the current military strategy is working and IS are in retreat. The same cannot be said for Syria, which is experiencing all of Iraq’s future problems now in congruence with the bloody civil war.

Syria needs more than airstrikes, it needs firm Western intervention, lest the country remain a haven for extremists for many years to come. I believe that only two options remain for the country, either Assad is removed or the country is partitioned. Assad cannot remain in power in the Syria as we know it, too many groups will not accept him as the legitimate leader and it would be of upmost Western hierocracy to allow him to continue in his position after his regime’s plentiful crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, Russia and Iran are highly unlikely to support this option which would spell the end for a truly international and cross-ideological resolution to the crisis.

The other option is to partition the country along ethnic and religious divisions, Assad would control the Shiite territory and both the Sunni’s and the Kurds would get their own territories. This option would be more likely to succeed as it would separate the warring parties and allow for the West to compartmentalise the conflict and eradicate Islamist extremists without treading on the current Syrian regime’s or Russian toes, who’s only interest is maintaining a strategic ally in the region. However, while I believe that this option is more likely to succeed it is not without its own substantial problems. Putin will be unimpressed that, although he still has an ally in the region, his ally will be substantial economically and militarily weaker than before. The Turkish government will be whole heartedly against allowing any Kurdish peoples gaining their own sovereign state is it will galvanise efforts for the Turkish Kurdish region to break away as well as increasing the movement’s legitimacy. Finally, rather than ending the conflict separating the sides might just turn the intra-state conflict into an inter-state one.

Whatever the problems with the alternatives I offer, I believe that they are workable alternatives to the current strategy with appears to have stagnated with no further advancements in approach, and will more than likely continue to remain inert until the end of the US election cycle. This is time Syrians do not have, with Russia’s ageing, but fully operational, aircraft carrier approaching one can only imagine what further trauma awaits the people of Aleppo when Putin and Assad commence the next stage of their campaign.

We are in an uncomfortable state of limbo with regards to Russia. Its war crimes mean that it does not deserve a say in the future of Syria, however Russia is so deeply intertwined within the crisis that it is almost impossible to extract their influence. If Western powers are to have control over the situation we must be prepared to continue punishing Russia, economically through sanctions and diplomatically through the UN and other international organisations, in order to limit their capacity to engage in the war. We must also be prepared to ramp up our military intervention to control the situation on the ground. If we want to stop the refugee crisis, stop the violence and death we must stop to war as soon as possible.

Jake Ramsamugh is an Intern at the Bow Group