SINCE the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, two international forces – the UN-based international mechanism and major powers involved in the crisis – have been fighting for the dominance over the situation in Syria. The varying strength of these two key forces has determined the trajectory of the Syrian crisis.
When dominated by major powers, the situation in Syria transformed from a political crisis to an all-out civil and proxy war. In order to deal with the difficult circumstance, at the end of 2015, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2254 to establish a way forward to resolve the crisis. Later, the civil war in Syria turned into a war on terror.
By the end of 2017, the Syrian issue, which used to draw attention only on the battlefield, increasingly appeared on the international negotiating table. For the moment, some light has been shed on the issue. However, given the fact that a number of international mechanisms are involved and political games among major powers have been increasingly fierce in the region, the Syrian peace process is facing uncertainties. The future development of the nation is closely dependent on the governing capacity of the international community.
In the early years after the crisis erupted, the function of the UN was limited. Between 2012 and 2015, only two rounds of peace talks took place. Yet since 2016, due to the long-lasting deadlock, all relevant parties began to resort to assistance via the UN mechanism. The pace of the Geneva peace talks thus rapidly accelerated. The year 2017 saw five rounds of talks, with all parties involved making achievements in small steps. So far, the negotiating mechanism for the crisis has stabilized.
In November, the US-Russia-Jordan Memorandum of Principles was signed for a cease-fire and de-escalation of the conflict in southwest Syria. During a sideline event of the APEC meeting in November, US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin also signed a joint statement on solving the Syrian conflict and appealed to all parties to participate in the Geneva-led political process. Major powers coordinating their standpoints through international mechanisms have created the right conditions to promote the Geneva peace talks.
Nevertheless, the struggle over the position of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continues. The entire crisis began when the country’s opposition forces protested against the Assad government. When the curtain of the civil war gradually fell, the Assad regime was still standing on the center of the Syrian political stage. Although Washington and Turkey both want to force Assad to step down, they do not have the determination and resources to directly overthrow the current administration.
What’s more, Turkey is deeming Syrian Kurdish forces as a major political threat. The US, on the other hand, regards the Syrian Democratic Forces, represented by Kurdish fighters, as an anti-terrorist ally. Russia is also keeping close political contact with the Kurds. In the future, Turkey may negotiate with Russia and even purchase military supplies from Moscow to force the US to adjust its policy toward the Kurds. In order to persuade Russia to give up its support of the Kurds, Ankara may compromise with Moscow over Turkey’s stance on the Assad government.
In light of this, postwar reconstruction will not only help break the current deadlock in political negotiations, but also serve as the foundation for lasting peace in Syria. Russia and Turkey are not capable enough of promoting large-scale reconstruction in Syria. The US, in the meantime, applies harsh political conditions on its economic aid. For instance, it refuses to provide assistance to the country when Assad is still in office. This unyielding attitude has increased the complexity of political reconciliation.
China, on the other hand, has been proactively promoting a political solution for the Syrian crisis. It has been maintaining good and stable interactions with all parties involved. Beijing can both participate in the UN-led humanitarian assistance toward the country and also help reconstruct Syria through its Belt and Road initiative.
[The author is an associate professor of the School of International Studies, Sichuan University. Chen Pan and Li Weici from Sichuan Normal University contributed to the article. [email protected]]