As a regular feature, inspired by your questions about the Syria conflict, we’ve rounded up answers from some of the top minds in our network. If you’d like to submit a question for us to tackle send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Question: What should be the next step for Syria?
Volker Perthes: There should be a quick withdrawal of the current regime.
For Volker Perthes of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, the ideal transition entails “a quick withdrawal of the head of the current regime (Bashar al-Assad) and his closest associates and a clean takeover by the opposition coalition. For everybody in Syria, including people from minority confessions or ethnic communities, a quick end to the civil war and a political settlement which includes an agreement on democratic elections, rule of law and citizenship is no doubt the best-case outcome.”
This would require “a heavy-handed political intervention from Russia… the only external party that still may have decisive influence on Assad and his associates.”
Just as Russia must be convinced that some of its interests could be salvaged after a transition, so must Assad’s co-religionists, the Alawite sect, who see their fate as inextricably tied to the embattled president.
“Many Alawites in the army and security services are fighting less out of conviction than of fear that if the regime loses they may be slaughtered… which is vindicated by some of the propaganda of the extremist forces on the rebel side,” he says. The opposition must cooperate with many Alawites “who have so far backed the regime” and ensure they are able to participate in a transitional government.
“The Alawite community would have to be convinced that they would be better off with a negotiated stake in a future political system than in trying to fight it out to the end or go down together with Assad and his family.”
A recalculation by the regime and its most fervent backers would require more victories on the ground by the rebels, who have secured a number of key military garrisons in the north and east of the country in recent weeks.
“A few more successes might convince the closest associates of Assad that it’s time to reach a deal that saves the Alawite community, the state and the lives of people still active on the side of the current government in Damascus. Bashar al-Assad would certainly not accept to withdraw unless he and his closest associates feel that their military, political and economic situation is becoming more and more untenable.”
Aram Nerguizian: The opposition must make concessions.
The proposal for direct discussions with the Damascus regime by opposition chief Moaz al-Khatib in late January was the “right play,” says Aram Nerguizian of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“Worst-case scenario, the regime is bluffing and he will prove it and gain credibility. On the other hand, it might be opportunity to do what warring factions in any civil war ultimately do, which is talk. It is not a completely black and white picture where the regime doesn’t talk to the opposition and vice versa. You can with one hand try to stab your opponent and on the other try to find some opening for a negotiated settlement.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem announced from Moscow on Monday that the government was ready for dialogue with the opposition, “including those carrying arms. It’s an unprecedented offer that Nerguizian sees as a starting point.
These initiatives will only bear fruit if the US and Russia “make clear to both sides that they are putting their political capital on the line” and want to see serious negotiations and concessions. The Assad regime is deeply distrustful of the United States, but at the same time they have internalized the reality that the only way to have a lasting political settlement is with the tacit or implicit support of the U.S. – a rubber stamp.”
Barah Mikail: We need a deal between Washington and Moscow.
Barah Mikail of Madrid think tank FRIDE says a deal between Washington and staunch Moscow is key to breaking the current stalemate at the United Nations Security Council.
Russia, a key ally of the Assad regime, is fearful of cutting it loose and losing its last naval outpost on the Mediterranean. If veto-wielding Russia can be convinced to agree to a “coercive” resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, spurring a political transition,“the Syrian regime wouldn’t be strong enough to resist,” he says.