By Caleb R. Newton
The internal war in Syria between President Bashar al-Assad and various insurgent groups has taken an astounding turn in the latter part of 2015 as reports have emerged of a Russian military buildup at sites including Latakia. The United States initially took a strong stand against the Russian military presence, with US Secretary of State John Kerry repeatedly calling Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and indicating that the Russian military presence would only escalate the conflict.
On Wednesday, September 16, 2015, however, Kerry indicated that the idea had come out for a US-Russia dialogue over the military presence in Syria, potentially leading to a cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State’s (IS’s) operations since Russia has claimed fighting IS as the reason for the military buildup. Still, regarding Syria the United States position is “that there is no military solution to the overall conflict, which can only be resolved by a political transition away from Assad,” as was related in a September 15, 2015, Media Note from the US State Department. The US maintains that Assad is responsible for the instability leading to the IS presence in Syria.
The question to address regarding all of the above complications to the Syrian war is two pronged, one, “What is going on to involve the major world powers in a Middle Eastern conflict?” and two, “Should the US and other nations be involved in Syria?” An important consideration for the second question is whether or not intervention can be effective. Firstly, with the negotiations surrounding Iran for the past several years and the continued political meddling of the United States around the world, the US still feels as though it is dominating the world politically. Additionally, political might is somewhat easier to obtain for the United States where it is lacking. Therefore, a significant reason for US involvement in Syria by asserting the precedence of a political solution is for the United States to use Syria to assert its own power. The US dominates in politics, not war, and Russia wants to counter that political prowess with military force in Syria, answering why the world is in Syria in the first place.
The second prong of the opening question remains, though, “Should the United States and the West intervene?” My answer is that there should be some international intervention through coercive diplomacy in Syria, although not necessarily by solely the United States. As a logical foundation for this answer, consider the “Responsibility to Protect” - the notion that states should protect people around the world who are being subjected to treatment deemed improper.
The idea of international meddling and the subjection of states and their peoples to other normative legal concerns is initially troubling. However, considering the world as being made up of simply people, like in Liberal International Relations theory, leads to the conclusion that perhaps one should actually support the Responsibility to Protect, and therefore intervention in Syria, based on the same conclusion that would lead one to help a stranger in need on the roadside. If a force is available, use it and it may work, like reaching out the hand to one who has fallen in the personal analogy. Also consider that as a whole, the idea of legal objectivity is questionable. I support the idea of Political Legalism that states the Law is fundamentally based on politics, which is itself based on personal relations and people, as I mentioned for the world at large above. In other words, personal considerations such as for a hypothetical stranger have an important place in international legal consideration.
In conclusion, with the prospect of a dialogue between the United States and Russia over possible cooperation in Syria, hopes for resolution to the conflict should grow since the intervention may work. Coercive diplomacy is an effective method at compulsion as noted by experts in the context of the debate over Western negotiations with Iran. Additionally, the method of dialogue may get the United States involved much more in Syria, since through political negotiations with Russia the US can indirectly establish a military presence in Syria by holding political leverage over the Russian forces. I would look for a growth in US activity in Syria should the suggested US-Russia talks go forward.
[The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dissecting Society]