Pandora’s Box in Syria
During 2019, the original Syrian conflict entered its closing phases, except for the battlefields of Idlib and in the north east. As a result, conflict dynamics have become somewhat easier to read, as the regime and its key allies have shifted towards a triumphalist ‘post-war’ narrative and corresponding governance styles, deal-making and decision making. These developments can be witnessed in three interlinked spheres: security, civil, and political economic practices. Together, they largely form the Assad regime’s political economy, which – although poorly understood due to limited access – is crucial to understand to assess the negative externalities likely to result from its wartime survival.
The current security, civil and political economic practices of the Syrian regime are not informed by any serious consideration of international law, diplomatic pressure from countries other than its close allies, or human rights norms. Instead, survival, securitisation and coercive operating styles dominate. Hard power remains the regime’s key currency. As a result, soft power – whether it be diplomatic, financial or economic – is largely ineffective in influencing the regime’s calculations, incentives or intensity preferences.
This paper analyses six negative externalities that are likely to result from the re-entrenchment of the Syrian regime:
1) risk of conflict relapse due to economic pressures;
2) the politics of refugees;
3) risks and instrumentalisation of terrorism;
4) regional instability;
5) humanitarian culpability; and
6) deterioration of the international legal order. These externalities are interconnected and emerge from the political economy of the regime – the accumulation of its security, civil and political economic practices.
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Samar Batrawi (Research fellow Clingendael Conflict Research Unit)