A must read on Syria: New ECFR Julien Barnes-Dacey briefing
Julien Barnes-Dacey at ECFR gets it absolutely right on Syria and the way forward: And especially the need for Europe to step in stronger and end this war through diplomacy, urgency and pressure.
If you read one quick brief on where things are at now and what should be done – morally and strategically – read this. Key grafs:
“It’s worth remembering that the conflict has faced similar moments before. It was barely eight months ago that some observers, including a large number of Western diplomats, were heralding impending regime collapse as the rebel Army of Conquest advanced through Idlib and Latakia, and the Southern Front strengthened itself in Daraa. Analysis then rested on an unlikely acceptance of defeat by Assad’s external backers and the current talk of impending Assad victory assumes an equally unlikely static position by the opposition’s backers.
“…A longer conflict will mean more destruction and more killing, and the ever-present possibility of escalation to an even wider conflict. And while some may hope that putting pressure on Russian forces opens a political solution, everything suggests that the Russians and their partners will be quite willing to in turn up the ante of their own, just as Moscow used the Turkish downing of one its fighter jets to claim even greater control of the skies over northern Syria. This pattern of escalation and counter-escalation may in the longer term finally yield a political deal but at that point both sides will be negotiating over an utter wasteland.
“All of which leaves you with the reality that although the political process is now on the ropes, these talks still ultimately remain the most likely means of escaping the futile logic that has driven the conflict for five years now. In the end, the moral dilemma is this: there is no politically acceptable military approach that offers a viable path towards securing the protection and humanitarian access the Syrian people desperately need without risking a wider war. By contrast pushing political talks with Russia, despite its key role backing Assad with military strikes, many of which appear to be hitting civilians, represents the best way of delivering some openings, if not on the high-level political front then at least in terms of localised cease fires and humanitarian access. Although any agreements would be likely to initially favour the regime they will still deliver needed respite to the local population – and it should not be forgotten that de-escalation does not necessarily play to the regime’s strength given the substantial internal pressures contained by ongoing mobilisation.
“And this is where Europe, which has remained silent and ineffective despite occupying a quarter of the ISSG seats and bearing the burden of spillover from the conflict, urgently needs to step up its own game. It would of course be easier and more satisfying to condemn the Russian position in moralistic terms, and walk away from talks while the regional powers escalate the fight. Ultimately though this will only condemn the Syrian people to even more misery. Instead the US and Europe need to work both sides of the conflict more intensely than ever before, regional allies and Russian and Iranian adversaries alike, in a bid to urgently resuscitate the political track.”