Sunday, February 03, 2013

Syria's Future Foreign Policy: Some Ramblings

This is my first attempt at articulating a new approach to Syrian foreign policy with some basic considerations. There is far more to cover and dive into, but this short piece will help highlight some of the key points that a future administration in Damascus will need to grapple with. More to come.

There are a lot of voices out there speculating that Israel would like to turn Syria into another Lebanon. Today I read a piece in the Sunday Times claiming that Israel was planning a buffer zone within Syrian territory, similar to the one they had in Lebanon. Then there is the recent attack on some mysterious facility and possibly a convoy heading to Lebanon which has been attributed to Israel's airforce. The situation right now is so volatile that I can't discount anything, however unthinkable, at the moment with regards to Syria. The country is already fraying at the edges, and however much people discount it, there is always the possibility of a future partitioning of the country. The Alawites could try to create a state on the coast and leave the rump of Syria landlocked, with a semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the North-East already coming into existence and possibly including the city of Homs. These are all important foreign policy considerations that must be dealt with urgently. Some of these considerations will touch upon topics that were previously considered taboo by Syrians, but at this desparate stage we must be prepared to consider all possibilities for the good of the people in this country. That is, after all, the sole concern of politics.

A Syrian "Zero-Problems" Foreign Policy

Whether Syria's future government is a coalition of some sort or a new regime, Islamist or secular, there are political realities which must be dealt with by all. The rules of politics are universal whether you believe that the Koran is the sole source of legislation or the people. God will not rain manna down on the Syrian people and neither will the international community. It is therefore imperative that Syrian's find a way of helping themselves. Key to this is maintaining some semblance of stability both domestically and with Syria's neighbours. All of Syria's neighbours, and by this I specifically mean Israel. The country is simply not in a position to start a jingoistic war of liberation for the "Golan Heights". In fact post-Assad Syria will not be in a position to dictate anything, and we will have to get used to the fact that for a very long period of time we will have to accept many difficult things. Economic and political realities cannot be overcome with enthusiasm, and will need a pragmatic and calm Syrian government that will focus on the key issues and maintain a frank and open dialogue with whoever still remains in the country - Islamist or secular.

"Let the Weapons Rust"

Whether it is a breakaway Kurdish state, or an Alawite/Christian coastal statelet, Damascus must be pragmatic and calm. On no account should a new war for preserving Syria's "territorial integrity" be started. Rather bridges should be built so that future generations can cross them. Those who are ideologically inclined would do well to note that Syria's present borders were not drawn by Syrians in the first place, and so further bloodshed is not the answer to addressing the grievances of those who think they cannot be a part of Syria. As a prominent opposition figure, Father Paolo, once said, if Assad wants to stockpile his weapons in Alawite areas, then let the weapons rust.

On the Question of the Kurds

The same applies with the Kurdish region, and jingoistic efforts to "re-assert" central government control over these areas will only aggravate relations and maintain tension. A softly-softly approach has to be maintained, along with open communications with Turkey on this matter. In fact there is much to be said about Syria becoming a crucial and helpful arbiter between the Turks, the Iraqis and the Kurds on the question of a Kurdish state. It is a matter of great fortune that Turkey has itself been using such an approach on this matter so this would hardly be controversial. Over time, an ally could be found in the Kurds and the Turks based on a mutual respect and increased commercial ties. If Turkey's present foreign policy continues along this lines, then the job would be made considerably easier if we approach both sides with the olive branch and a spirit of reconciliation.

On the Question of Israel

The elephant in the room is Israel. The oppression of the Palestinians is an ongoing concern, however, it is time to acknowledge that state driven adoption of the Palestinian cause has been an utter failure. The signs from the Assad regime already pointed towards a quiet resolution of the issue of the Golan Heights and there had already been talk of a "Peace Autostrade" before the revolution. The next administration in Damascus should maintain this quiet detente whilst continuing a policy that supports an end to the oppression of the Palestinians and a just solution. At the moment the military option against Israel involves keeping Assad in power because he is useful to Iran and Hezbullah. This creates a contradiction that freedom requires oppression, and this contradiction cannot exist without force because it is not based on consent. A free Syria will serve the cause of the Palestinians far better by championing human rights internationally as well as domestically. The removal of tension and the fear of war will also allow more confident and bolder activism to come to the fore. Ultimately grass-roots initiatives will serve the Palestinians far better in the long run than Iranian made stealth bombers and satellites. This is a culture change and not something that a foreign policy has influence over, but by basing its strategy upon this assumption the first steps can be taken and a chance for healing and growth can be purchased.

There will, of course, be the issue of the Gulf states wishing to influence the course of events domestically. Here Syria's future government can learn much from Assad's foreign policy. Whilst we do not have natural resources, the country's natural fault lines are as much a strength as a weakness. Good relations must be maintained with Iran in spite of its support for Assad, as well as Turkey. The Gulf states will wish to embroil Syria in their forthcoming war with Iran, and Syria must avoid such entanglements without alienating both sides. Here, the same kind of zero-problems approach could help and Syria can find useful allies in both Turkey and even Egypt, whose foreign policy so far seems to be treading a careful line between Iran and the Gulf states. Syria, after all, needs Gulf money, not need Gulf politics.

To conclude there will be a lot more to be said about each of these points and I hope to write further blog posts which will expand on these. I am also aware that I have not even considered the role that Europe, the United States and Russia can play though I am aware of how crucial each of these are to the future of the country. Still, the longest journey's begin with one step.


Anonymous said...

the plan may be to fragment the country along ethnic and sectarian lines similarto iraq

Wizard of .il said...

There is of course the option of peace with Israel.
A solution similar to the one reached between Israel and Jordan, whereby Israel recognizes Syria's rights to the Golan heights while "leasing" them indefinitely would be acceptable to Israel, thus addressing both Syria's wounded pride and Israel's strategic needs.
If Syria were to relinquish its attempts to strike at Israel via proxies, such as Hizballah, it could open the door to peace. And Israel could help with the rebuilding of Syria.
But for this to happen, Syrians would have to let go of their bad feelings towards Israelis...