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International Relations: The Syrian conflict

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Executive Summary

The Syrian crisis began on March 15, 2011. Although initially it was peaceful, on the part of demonstrators, the violent and brutal responses of the Assad regime have changed the crisis into an armed civil war. Even though, not everything is heading to the wrong direction, there are more ominous trends that are alarming: the regime is seemingly morphing into a dreadful militia engaged in a desperate fight for survival and opposition that in spite of heroic efforts to contain them is in jeopardy by its own forms of radicalization. All this could foreshadow a prolonged and polarized destructive war. The regime seems to be digging its own grave despite its desperation to survive at all costs.

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The protest movement is getting stronger, but it is yet to reach critical mass. The regime actions jeopardize every opportunity that it has ever possessed. Bashar has squandered credibility, and his regime has lost much of the legitimacy derived from its foreign policy. The international community watches and waits eschewing for now direct involvement. Armed Islamic groups, criminal networks, protestors supported from outside and some protesters acting in defense have all armed themselves with guns. The vast majority of casualties has been the peaceful demonstrators, and the violence has been perpetuated by the security force.
The regime will certainly not change its ways and so it is the opposition burden to address the ongoing brutality and violence that is affecting the Syrian citizens. In addition, the crisis can only be solved through intervention from the International arena.

Introduction

In Syria, violence has taken new forms as both the regime and the opposition have adjusted their tactics. This has resulted to the brutal killings of the Syrian civilians especially women and children (Brown, 2004). It has also led to the violation of human rights though the situation is quite helpless because President Assad prohibited the human rights organizations and humanitarian groups to come and help the situation. Many officers that have deserted the army have also been killed mercilessly and the situation is getting out of hand. This problem can only be solved through intervention by the outside actors, which are the Arab and the international community, for instance the U.S.

History and the Background

Syria is a country located on one of the most religiously, historically and politically volatile areas on the planet (Gerges et al, 1994). At first it was a part of the Elban civilization located in the Middle East. Religion has also played an essential role in Syria’s history, a theme that continues up to today. The uprise of Syrian is a continuous armed conflict between the forces that are loyal to the Baath Party and those who try to overthrow it. (United States, 2002). Primarily, the conflict began on March 15, with various public protests. Demonstrators wanted to end the five decades of the Party rule. Earlier, in April 2011, the Syrian government used regular Army to quell the demonstrations. After many days of military blockades, the demonstrations developed into an armed rebellion (United States, 2002). Forces opposing the government became well organized and highly armed, while uniting into larger groups. Besides, many of them received military aid from some foreign countries. Nevertheless, the opposition failed to choose a single leader. The government described the insurgencies as armed terrorist groups. The US, European Union, Arab league and other countries condemned the use of violence against the demonstrators. These countries have advised against sanctions. The Arab league suspended Syria’s membership due to the government‘s response to the crisis.

Syria’s oppression Regime has always treated the country as its own property. This was evident in 2000, when a son inherited power from the father. The same oppressive, violent methods continued to rob the Syrians, preventing them in participating in the building of their own nation and prohibiting them from living a dignified life (Brown, 2004). Demonstrations that started concurrently in several Syrian cities have posed a serious problem to the regime. As a result, the regime decided to face the peaceful demonstrations with unprecedented brutality. It has resorted using military helicopters to open fire demonstrators as well as using live bullets. All this has happened during media blackouts where human rights organizations as well as independent media and international media have been denied Syria’s entry to witness and document the crisis (United States, 2004).

Syria’s stability is going to reduce international terrorism in that the countries supporting its regime e.g. China and Russia will reduce the support for terrorism against those countries that are targeting Syria. In relation to liberalism, Syria is going to embrace people’s rights; freedom of religion, life, liberty and it’s also going to support ideas such as free and fair elections, civil rights and freedom of press among others (United States, 2004).

Sanctions Enforced by the U.S on Syria

The United States has placed a number of sanctions on Syria. The aim of the sanctions is to prohibit trade and restrict bilateral trade. These sanctions are in policy provisions which include State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation. This subjects Syria to general sanctions which include: restrictions on foreign trade, controls dual use exports, a ban on defense exports and other petty restrictions. Another policy is the Syria Accountability Act (2004). This banned all exports to Syria except medicine or food; prohibited U.S business men to operate in Syria; reduced diplomatic ties; froze foreign transactions in Syria, and banned flight of Syrian aircraft in U.S. another sanction as a result from the USA Patriot Act that the Bush administration implemented bans US overseas subsidiaries and banks to conduct business with the Commercial Bank of Syria. Additionally, Washington officially closed its embassy and withdrew the Ambassador due to assault by Syrian security officers in Damascus. The US government also ordered the expulsion of Syria’s charged affaires from Washington in May, 2012, following the civilian’s brutal killing, majority being women and children, by regime forces (United States, 2004).

Issues to the Problem

Worsening Humanitarian Situation

The humanitarian situation worsens despite the efforts of international community to end the violence. Despite the six point plan which included a cease fire deadline of April set by Kofi Annan, attacks continued with no signs of troop withdrawal. Over 1,000 civilians got killed in April during the first two weeks according to Syrian national Council representatives in Geneva. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reports confirmed the continuing rights abuse from extra judicial executions to the arrest of minors. The impact of the crisis began its toll on the neighboring nations to Syria, with over 24,000 Syrians occupying a refugee camp of Kilis (Quandt, 2004).

President Assad also denied access to monitoring and humanitarian groups. He blocked access to the country to most human rights and humanitarian groups. Information on the state of the humanitarian crisis from within Syria remained limited as a result of a ban for journalists’ entry to Syria as well as blocking access to the internet and social media use.

Regimes Cohesion

Unlike in Egypt and in Tunisia, the army forces have remained loyal to the regime. Therefore, we are yet to see anything comparable with the situations that happened in Libya. Due to socio-historical reasons, the army’s loyalty was never in doubt. This loyalty is due to the regime's security policy (Quandt, 2004). Statements from army deserters confirm that, the majority of those killed were officers and soldiers executed either for refusing to flee clashes with demonstrators or for refusing to open fire on civilians. The regime has therefore created a despotic administration based on the principle of Syrians loyalty but not on their equality before the law.

Uprising Militarization

The peaceful beginning of the uprising movement remains to date. Despite its ideological opposition to the use of violence, the facts on the ground are pushing it towards militarization. The security officers have opted to disobey their superiors since the army force use excessive force on the protestors (United States, 2004). Some of them have deserted the army to go and protect the peaceful demonstrators with the weapons they had brought with them. They have organized themselves to form a force called the Syrian Free Army to carry out operations against security and military targets, occasionally in reply to a regime’s assault or to obviate an imminent attack.

Complicating Factors to Solutions

Divisions within the Opposition

The first major obstacle to a viable solution of the Syrian crisis is the divided nature of the opposition to the Assad regime. The US Secretary publicly recognized this during an interview when they said that there was no chance to speak to the opposition; those willing to help have no place to go. Due to the various ethnic and religious groups, divisions within the opposition are clearly reflected within the wider society. Despite the forming of a military force, the Syrian free army and the opposition factions uniting under the group of the Syrian National Council, the Syrian opposition remains divided.

Resilient Nature of the Regime

This is another obstacle to the implementation of the possible solutions. The Assad family seized through a coup d’état and its members have ruled since then. They belong to the religious sect of the Alawites. The Alawites represent a minority in the country. Other religious groups include various Christian denominations, the Jews among others. The Alawites were able to seize power despite them accounting only for about 10-12% of the total population (Brown, 2004). After the coup, Bashar’s father placed the loyal Alawite officers in important positions within the security forces and the army so as to strengthen his hold on power. Bashar followed a similar strategy when he succeeded his father. He has always given empty promises of reforms and atrocious repressions. This system has allowed the Assad family to reign over Syria for more than four decades, and there are no obvious signs of a change in the future.

US Limited Control

The debt problem and a sluggish economy as well as other factors put the United States in a tricky situation to influence the events in Syria (United States, 2004). In 2011, Obama administration had a few viable options to the problem. George W. Bush had already put sanctions into place, and new ones are still being deliberated on. A military intervention presented several challenges including the fact that the US was involved in three authorized wars at the time in Muslim countries. The Syrian opposition however, expressed their hostility publicly to a direct foreign military intervention. Senior US officials such as Secretary Clinton, US Ambassador to NATO and US Joint Chiefs have emphasized the difficult nature of the Syrian problem compared to Libya as Syria has a more diverse society with more ethnic divisions; it has stronger air defenses and more capable military than Libya’s.

Possible Solutions

The possible solutions to the crisis would be that the regime should implement a package of new reforms and in some cases, new laws. This will enable the country to regain control of the country. Though this seems hypothetically possible, it might not transpire. This is because the regime is bankrupt and it has lost its legitimacy. The only thing that enables the regime to maintain its unity is the oppressive use of its military and security forces.

Another solution would be uprising managing to overthrow the regime. This would only seem possible in the event of seismic internal change or intervention from outside because the current balance of power does not support such an occurrence. Armed forces abandonment of the regime would further enhance the ousting of the regime. Moreover, Arab or international military force intervention or an escalation of outside pressure would make the regime’s position unsustainable.

Another solution would be negotiation between the representatives of the movement and the regime to reach to an agreement. This would see the regime withdrawing its troops, releasing prisoners and stopping the ongoing slaughter to end the civil war. However, this would be possible to attain if the regime reconsiders its stand about negotiations with the opposition. Meanwhile, the revolutionaries on the ground should also accept the possibility of entering into dialogue with the regime.

The best solution to the problem despite the complicating factors would be intervention of actors from outside. This means there has to be transfer of responsibility to the International and the Arab arenas, which practically means intervention by the Arab and the western countries. This would be an honorable intention as it would save the civilians from the brutal killings and the sufferings. A series of measures has to be designed to stop Assad regime as it has perpetuated violence. In case the Syrian allies show their willingness and determination to strike, Assad might choose exile over suicide. The US can provide logistical support, technology for targeting the Syrian antiaircraft batteries, would make the no-fly zone impossible to enforce if not blocked in advance and finally the intelligence capabilities (Brown, 2004). However, the political initiative will have to come from another country which is France. This is because France enjoys prestige from its action in Libya and it has historical ties with the near East.

Conclusion

The Syrian conflict is a struggle for democratic freedom. The most probable outcome of the solution would be more loss of human life. In the perspective of non-intervention, this will insist the rebels to die or live by their own efforts, and since they are more likely to be defeated, then call for international intervention. War would be the last resort and indeed an intervention. The purpose of this intervention would not only be in the name of human rights alone but also to assist the opposition as it overthrows the regime. The U.S reluctance could also contribute to the increase in number of deaths as the situation is getting worse. Therefore, better measures have to be put in place as the crisis is a complicated one.

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