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Taking Into Account the Power Capabilities Available to the Participants as Leverage, Discuss the Syrian Crisis

In: Historical Events

Submitted By ADIEHAZEL
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Historical Background
Syria is described as a country of fertile plains, high mountains and deserts, and is home to diverse ethnic and religious groups, including Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Christians, Druze, Alawite Shia and Arab Sunnis, the last of who make up a majority of the Muslim population. Syria gained its independence from France in 1946 and united with Egypt from 1958 to 1961 after which a pan-Arab nationalist Baath (Renaissance) party took control in 1963. The Alawite minority (constituting about 12 % of the total population) has exercised monopoly over the political leadership of the country for almost four decades with notable support from the Christian community that is anti- Islamist.
The Baath government has seen authoritarian rule at home and a strong anti-Western policy abroad, particularly under President Hafez al-Assad from 1970 to 2000. In 1967 Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel after the Arab defeat in the Six Day War. Civil war in neighbouring Lebanon in the 1970s allowed it to extend its political and military influence in that country. Syria pulled its forces out of Lebanon in 2005, having come under intense international pressure to do so after the assassination of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. A UN report implicated Syrian and pro-Syria Lebanese officials in the killing, although Damascus still denies any involvement, (CBC News).
BBC News reported that in 2011-12 the Syrian Government, run by Bashar al-Assad tried to crush anti-government street protests inspired by the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The opposition began to organise political and military wings for a long uprising against the Baath government. In 2012, the clashes were declared by the International Committee of the Red Cross a civil. More than a hundred thousand people have been killed. Over two million people have fled the country and of the formally registered as refugees in other countries, 75% are women and children. More than four million people have been displaced.
Possible causes of the crisis
Several theories have been forwarded as the underlying causes of the crisis in Syria. Calls for a change of government arose out of possible political repression. President Bashar al-Assad assumed power in 2000 taking over from his late father Hafez who had ruled Syria since 1970. With no plans for a peaceful transfer of power in place, disgruntled Syrians placed their hopes in a military coup or uprising, thereby discrediting the Baath Party ideology
A crippled and uneven economy where wealth is privatised and concentrated to individuals with close ties to the ruling family has seen the cost of living soaring. Persistent droughts and a clear lack of government aid have done no good to the rapidly growing population of jobless youths. In spite of a tightly controlled state media, the government has failed to control the proliferation of satellite TV, mobile phones and the internet, all of which are critical to the activist networks that underpin the uprising in Syria. Corruption, state violence and minority rule are common displeasures that the activists have put forward in support of the uprising. The Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings were also effective in setting precedence to the Syrians.
According to Goldstein (2005), power is the ability to get another actor to do what it would not otherwise have done, or not to do what it would have done. The power of a state may include the country’s standard of living, natural resources, industrial capacity, moral legitimacy, military preparedness and popular support of the government. A state may also derive its power from the size of the population, its territory and geography. Other power resources may include political culture, education of the population and the level of technology. These resources show the potential power of a state.
Power capabilities as leverage
Power capabilities of states enable them to exercise influence in the short term. The most important capability is military force. The size, composition and preparedness of a nation’s army are the deciding factor in any conflict situation. The industrial capacity of a state to produce war artillery, the bureaucracy’s function of gathering information, regulating trade and participating in international conferences are power capabilities a state could have. The legitimacy of a government as endorsed by the support it commands from its citizens and the international community seen by citizens and other states are also worth noting as power capabilities.
Power capabilities can be used to influence a bargaining process. Bargaining is tacit or direct communication in an attempt to reach agreement on an exchange of value. The process of bargaining has two or more participants who have a direct stake in the outcome. There may also be mediators but these do not have direct stake in the outcome. The participants in a bargaining process have different preferred outcomes and this tends to create conflicts. Participants in a bargaining process bring different means of leverage to influence the result in their favour. Leverage can be the promise of positive sanctions (rewards), threat of negative sanctions (damage to valued items) if the other participant cannot give what one wants, or an appeal to the other’s feeling of love, friendship, sympathy or respect for oneself. The amount of leverage that a participant has relative to the other influences the outcome of the bargaining.
Key participants
The Syrian crisis has captured the attention of several other countries and organisations (national, regional and international), most of whom have vested interests and are directly and indirectly affected by the chaos in that country. The following discussion seeks to highlight the key participants and the various roles they are playing to either supress or directly promote the civil war given their power capabilities.
The Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces was formed to bring together members of various religious sects opposed to Assad. After days of intense talks in Qatar, and under mounting international pressure, Syria's scattered anti-government groups like Al-Nusra Front and Free Syrian Army struck a deal to form a unified opposition in November 2012. By December 2012 the US, Turkey, Gulf states, France and Britain had recognised the main opposition National Coalition of the Syrian Revolution as the "sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people", signalling their belief that the Assad government is beyond redemption. Canada has so far distanced itself. However the diversity of interests and ties to terrorist organizations make the United States, United Kingdom, and any other country's decision to support the opposition forces a much harder one. A group of more than 100 countries came together in February 2012 at the initiative of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy to call for tougher international sanctions against the Assad regime. The group calls itself Friends of Syria. At the group's fourth meeting, in Morocco in December 2012, many countries officially recognized Syria's new opposition group as the sole representative of the Syrian people.
Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group, has crossed the border to fight in support of al-Assad and his government. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said Hezbollah members are fighting in Syria against Islamic extremists who pose a danger to Lebanon, and pledged that his group will not allow Syrian militants to control areas that border Lebanon. Syria, along with Iran, has been the main backer of Hezbollah and much of the group's arsenal consisting tens of thousands of rockets is believed to have come through or from Syria.
The Chemical Weapons Convention came into force in 1997. The international agreement bans the production, storage and/or use of chemical weapons and their precursors. The Assad regime submitted its chemical weapons inventory to the OPCW, as demanded, on September 20 2013. A directive was given for all chemical weapons and related components to be removed from Syria by mid-2014. Assad is certainly willing to give up his chemical weapons, but he wants the US to accept a bunch of concessions like a guarantee that he will not be attacked by the United States or by anyone else and that the US stops giving weapons to al-Qaeda terrorists and other jihadist rebels that are fighting against the Syrian government before he will give up his chemical weapons. Assad also wanted the Israelis to give up their weapons of mass destruction too.
The United States foreign policy making is dominated by the President, who under the constitution is commander in chief of the military, chief executive of the diplomatic and policy bureaucracies, head of state and spokesperson of the nation in the international arena. United States congress checks the power of the president and executive branch. Public opinion affects the United States foreign policy indirectly but a small elite group runs the show with relative freedom. Some consistent themes revolve around internationalism versus isolationism, unilateralism versus multilateralism and morality versus realism.
Under the hegemonic theory, power is concentrated in one state and that state can enforce rules and norms unilaterally avoiding the collective goods problem. The United States is currently enjoying that status on the international stage. President Barak Obama could have gone directly and attacked Syria if he liked, but he went to Congress so he could lobby representatives around the idea, and use that as representation for his support. Public opinion and interest groups are very influential in democracies, so many Americans, outraged at the thought of the U.S. 'defending' the side of al-Qaeda, contacted their representatives in unbridled anger and lobbied them to oppose it. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham openly supported the Syrian war. Robert Menendez, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Press TV that he “almost wanted to vomit” after reading Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plea for peace in the New York Times. According to CNN, US Secretary of State John Kerry had stareted talking about the “consequences” that will happen when the Syria deal fell apart. He went further to explain that any agreement reached must be “comprehensive,” “verifiable,” “credible” and “able to be implemented in a timely fashion,” adding that “there ought to be consequences if it doesn’t take place.”
After a purported chemical attack in August 2013 that Obama has labelled an ‘assault on human dignity’, the US started sending weapons to the Syrian rebels. As justification for their action, the White House claimed that the evidence they had, such as the fact that the Syrian government's military handed out gas masks to its forces and that the attacks were launched from areas controlled by the Syrian army, conclusively proves that al-Assad's government was behind these attacks. The US however agreed to pursue the diplomatic solution backed by Russia before launching any strikes.
The Obama administration at one time seemed to have decided that “diplomacy” was going to fail so had started to position military assets for the impending conflict with Syria. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey continue to heavily pressure the Obama administration. They have invested a huge amount of time and resources into the conflict in Syria, and they want the US military to intervene. However overwhelming domestic and global opposition to an attack on Syria has slowed down the march toward war. The CIA had begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria.
War is regarded by many as obsolete as a means of leverage in international conflict. It is not very effective in a highly complex and interdependent world. Military technology is now too powerful to make an isolated strike possible. Apart from it being too costly not only to the attacked but to the attacker as well, the United States’ position distorts the “ new world order” envisioned by the then president George Bush during the Iraq- Kuwait crisis. The new world order was said to include four principles namely peaceful settlement of disputes, solidarity against aggression, reduced and controlled arsenals and just treatment of all. More cost effective, non- violent approaches like foreign aid, economic sanctions and diplomacy can be used as leverage. The United States was using threats of negative sanctions and threatening to attack in bargaining to have Syria surrender its weapons of mass destruction.
On the world stage Syria has become increasingly isolated in recent years, coming under fire for its support for insurgents in Iraq and over its role in Lebanon. That isolation showed brief signs of easing after efforts by France to bring Syria back into the international fold in 2008, but Syria's violation of a UN ban on arming the Lebanese Hezbollah militia led to the extension of US sanctions in May 2010. Further international sanctions were imposed amid the bloody repression of protests in the descent into civil war.
The sources of conflict in Syria's civil war are not confined to its borders, making it difficult for the international community to come up with an absolute solution. Russia and China, two countries with whom the U.S. has had rocky relations in recent years, have large economic ties to Syria and also do not support Western intervention in the region. Also worth noting is the fact that China and Russia are among the five permanent members in the U.N. Security Council whose vote matter should any action to stop the bloodshed in Syria be taken. The Russia-China dynamic put the U.N. Security Council in gridlock, making it almost impossible to create a limited strike that will get the necessary approval in the U.N. The two powers also dispute al-Assad's involvement in the alleged chemical attack that has received world wide condemnation. Russia and China have further blocked efforts by Western countries such as the United States to pass harsh sanctions on Syria.
The UN Security Council was deadlocked on how to respond to August 2013 allegations of chemical weapons use by Assad's regime. The opposition's ties to radical terrorist groups, mixed with the unknown blame of who actually executed the attacks, pressured governments to halt a limited strike until the U.N. had finished their inspection for the use of sarin, the chemical nerve gas implicated. First to back down was the U.K. as Prime Minister David Cameron received massive backlash from his constituents on his support for a strike.
Just recently, United States and Russian diplomats worked out a U.N. resolution to have Syria hand over all chemical weapons into international hands to have them destroyed. Under Chapter VII of the U.N. charter, the Syrian government would be subject to international force if they did not fully comply. This was a huge step forward in Russian-U.S. relations, although the two superpowers still disagree on many things. Modalities of how to destroy the weapons are at an advanced stage.
Turkey and Syria have been bitter rivals for a very long time. CNN reported that Turkey moved troops to the border with Syria in anticipation of an upcoming attack. Syrian forces shot down a Turkish military jet near the countries' shared border yet the Syrian government maintains the flight had violated its airspace. The latest blow to relations came in May 2013 when Turkey accused a group with links to the Syrian intelligence service of setting off car bombs that killed 46 people in a Turkish border town. Syria rejected the allegations. Turkey has said it will defend its interests by force if necessary, and has received the backing of its NATO allies. Dozens of Syrian regime soldiers were killed in an ambush inside Iraqi territory in March 2013, amid heightened concerns that Iraq could be drawn into Syria's civil war. The fact that the soldiers were on Iraqi soil in the first place raises questions about Baghdad's apparent willingness to quietly aid the Assad's embattled regime. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, has told The Associated Press that he feared a victory for the anti-Assad side would create a new extremist haven and destabilize the wider Middle East.
Mohammed Morsi, then Egypt's Islamist president, announced on June 15 2013 that he was cutting off diplomatic relations with Syria and closing the Syrian embassy in Cairo. Morsi also called on Lebanon's Hezbollah to leave Syria. When Morsi was ousted as president, the new government signalled a new ideology. Egypt's foreign minister told reporters in July 2013 that "there are no intentions for jihad in Syria," while still supporting a regime change in the country. The country refuses to back a military strike on Syria and has urged the warring parties to launch peace talks.
Russia and Iran support al-Assad and his government. Russia is one of Syria's most important international allies. Syria has been among Russia's top customers for international arms exports. The trade, while legal, has raised concerns over whether Russia was arming Assad's regime with weapons to use against the rebels or not. Russia firmly opposed the American plan for military action. It backed a diplomatic solution that would see the Assad regime turn over its chemical arsenal to international authorities by mid-2014. In June 2013, President Vladimir Putin told Obama that Russian and U.S. positions on Syria do not "coincide". But the two leaders said during that month's G8 summit that they shared an interest in stopping the violence.
Qatar is calling for US military intervention in Syria. Qatar has also spent billions of dollars in support of the rebels in Syria, and it has been reported that “Arab countries” have even offered to pay for all of the costs of a US military operation that would remove Assad.
Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia has backed the opposition groups that are trying to topple the Assad regime. It is suspected that the Saudis have even provided the opposition with arms, as have its allies in Qatar and Turkey. Saudi Arabia appears to be for the idea of US military intervention in Syria as well. The Saudis have spent billions of dollars to support the rebels in Syria, and they have been lobbying very hard for an attack (Press TV).
British politicians voted against a military response in Syria on August 29 2013. Prime Minister David Cameron lost the vote with 285 against the idea compared to 272 in favour. Cameron said he "strongly" believes in the need for a tough response to alleged chemical weapons use, but also believes in respecting the will of the House of Commons. The U.K. vote was not binding, but in practice the rejection of military strikes means Cameron's hands are tied.
A top Israeli military intelligence official said in April 2013 that the Assad regime used chemical weapons the previous month in its battle against insurgent groups. The claim was based on visual evidence of alleged attacks. It was the first time that a senior Israeli official had levelled such an accusation against the Syrian regime. In response, Israel launched an airstrike against a suspected Syrian weapons site in May 2013.
Lakhdar Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister and long time UN diplomat known as a strong-willed broker, became the UN-Arab League special envoy for Syria in August 2012. He replaced Kofi Annan, the UN's former secretary general. Annan said most of the blame for the stalemate falls on the Syrian government for its continued refusal to implement his peace plan. But he also chastised the UN Security Council for continuing to feud while the war rages on unperturbed in Syria.
The latest developments are that al-Assad has finally agreed to hand over weapons of mass destruction, leaving the US- led west not to have any reason for attacking Syria. Instead, there are upcoming peace talks to pave way for a transitional government and even the opposition wing has agreed to attend. This could see an end to the crisis in the envisaged future.

In spite of al-Assad being accused of violating human rights and being a dictator, support from his cabinet and Russia and Iran has seen him stand the test of time and survive world wide condemnation. America and its allies backing the controversial opposition failed to launch an attack on Syria despite all the capabilities at its disposal as leverage owing to unpopular support of the impending war in Congress and direct opposition from Russia, China and Iran, whose trade relations with Syria have been the deciding factor.

REFERENCES, 20 November 2013, Syrian civil war: key facts important players, 26 December 2013, Press TV, 10 Reasons why diplomatic solution is unlikely in Syria, 10 September 2013, Syria explained, 12 December 2013, Syria profile, 2013, Syrian civil war explained: the fight for the Middle East, Manfreda, P, 2013, Top ten reasons for the uprising in Syria, Manfreda, P…...

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