In terms of the Syrian crisis it is already clear that certain issues will keep playing a decisive role in the upcoming developments, or that they could constitute outcomes of the conflict. These issues could be divided into internal and external.
As far as the external issues are concerned, it has become obvious that the al-Assad regime has by its side the undisputable powers of Russia and China. It is noteworthy that these two countries have recently announced that they will not be accepting any western intervention in Syria, thus responding to Obama who said that the use of chemical weapons by the regime would be a “red line” for the US and a reson for the use of military force. In this light, opponents of the Syrian regime remain the western states with leading country the US, while Turkey plays a central regional role against the Assad regime – both as a meeting centre of regional and international actors for the management of the crisis and the organisation of the Syrian opposition/resistance, as well as a refugee hosting centre and a (indirect) supporter of the Syrian rebels. Important role in supporting the rebels are also playing Arab countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, while it has been reported that N. Iraq trains and reinforces Syrian Kurds for the armed resistance within Syria. Moreover, Turkey and the US have been discussing along with other western allies the establishment of a partial no-fly zone over Syria for the protection of non-combatants. In the context of the external dynamics of the Syrian crisis, it important to mention Iran which is one of the very few allies of the Syrian regime and one of the reasons why the US (and Israel, among others) want Assad replaced.
Domestically, a very dynamic situtation has been developed in Syria not only because of the indirect involvement of external forces but also because of the country’s religious and ethnic complexity – there are, for example, Kurdish, Sunni, Alawi, and Druze communities. Therefore, one would expect for the conflict in question to end up, in one way or another, in Syria’s dismemberment – whether that means its federalization, or the secession of some of its districts/regions. After all, many are those who argue that “new” Syria could consist not only of two (one of which, Kurdish) but of five confederate states/regions, according to its ethno-religous synthesis. Yet, it has also been made clear that the Assad regime will not go down (at least not easily and soon) without either the massive support of the rebels by third actors, or an external military intervention – or both. The reality and geopolitical complexity of the Syrian crisis render whaterver developments of high importance, and the possible defeat of the regime an overturning point for the regional geopolitics and balance of power.
In this regard, the Syrian crisis can have “collateral damages” for many actors; to be sure, the possibilities for negative consequences affect some actors more than others – one important reason for this is the geographical proximity. Starting from the international level, the first “collateral damages” of the overthrow of the Syrian regime – provided that it would be replaced with a more pro-western one – would be the Russian and Chinese regional interests, while something like that would also constitute a (communicative) hit to the these countries’ policies, thus providing another victory to the West and its interests. Further, on a regional level, there would be a certain hit to the Iran-Hezbollah-Hamaz triangle, since Syria has been an important and close ally. Iran in particular would be in a very difficult position in the midst of the crisis over its nuclear program as it would stay without allies at a time when its relations with Turkey have also took a turn for the worse. Finally, perhaps one of the most important regional geopolitical implications of the Syrian crisis would be the now very plausible creation of a Syrian Kurdistan. That would have chain consequences which would fist and foremost affect Turkey, and maybe later Iran, too. A Syrian Kurdistan would be a safe haven for the Kurdish guerillas of PKK, from where they could carry out attacks against Turkish targets. It is also important that in such a scenario the Syrian Kurdistan would be the second Kurdistan in a row, after N. Iraq. This fact, in conjuction with PKK’s recent intensified action, would lead to turbulence within Turkey with the Kurdish minority claiming more eagerly and decisively its rights. The outcome of such a development would very much depend on the government’s reaction, while wrong management could easily lead to the worsening of the situtation as well as to the influence of Iran’s Kurdish minority.
Note: This article was first published in Modern Diplomacy, in Greek. Zenonas Tziarras is a PhD Candidate in International Politics at the University of Warwick and a Junior Research Scholar at Strategy International.