As the crisis in Syria enters its fourth year, the ongoing civil war continues to baffle world leaders. Despite efforts by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and other major international actors such as Russia and China, a resolution to the conflict between Sunni rebel forces and the Shi’a regime of President Bashar al-Assad remains elusive. The news from the region worsened this week as there were a series of developments that would appear to make a resolution even more unlikely.
Last year the Syrian regime agreed to hand over its chemical weapons stockpile as part of a deal brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The move was designed to prevent a U.S. military response in the region as President Barack Obama had declared that the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria would constitute crossing a “red line” and would demand a response. According to this deal, Syria was supposed to have surrendered its entire stockpile by February 5th.
This week an international monitoring group called the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons stated that only 11 percent of the Syrian stockpile had been removed from the country by that date. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry responded to the report by indicating that the slow pace of Syria’s surrender of the weapons left open the possibility of U.S. military action. Russia and China still remain opposed to military intervention in the conflict and a restatement of that threat could destabilize the situation further. The tension between the U.S. and Russia on this issue is one reason why the crisis in Syria continues to baffle world leaders.
Another discouraging development for Syria is the potential collapse of peace talks between rebel forces and the Assad regime. There was some hope for a breakthrough when negotiators representing the rebels released a potential “roadmap” for the future of Syria that did not specifically demand the removal of President Assad. The “roadmap” simply does not refer to him at all. This coincides with a proposal first made in 2012 that called for a transitional government but made no mention of what will be done with Assad himself.
This small concession on the part of the rebels did not stabilize the fragile negotiations underway in Geneva however. The UN official presiding over the talks acknowledged that they are in fact “going nowhere.” President Obama added his own assessment stating that the talks were “far from achieving” a resolution to the crisis and that in the meantime it was the people of Syria that continued to suffer.
This suffering was apparent in the Syrian city of Homs which remains a focal point of fighting between rebel forces and the Assad regime. The city is nominally under the control of rebel forces and has been under siege by the Syrian army for the past 18 months. A recent ceasefire allowed for the brief evacuation of approximately 1,000 civilians and the distribution of much needed relief supplies. International observers note that the situation within the city remains dire however.
The civil war in Syria has been ongoing now for the past four years and at various points there has been optimism that a negotiated resolution would be possible. The news from this past week however shows how the crisis in Syria continues to baffle world leaders with no simple solution in sight.
By Christopher V. Spencer