Creating new perspectives since 2009

Explained: Why do Syria peace talks keep failing?

The Syrian war may have gone down the route of a typical civil war early in the conflict, when a prolonged standoff was unsustainable

October 5, 2016 at 11:45 am

With yet another failed peace talk on Syria, the question on everyone’s mind is why do they keep failing?
Existing research on civil wars may provide some answers.

Experts have suggested that external intervention has the adverse effect of prolonging a conflict beyond its natural life span.

Outside influence has the potential to bring civil wars to an end but it also risks pushing conflicts into a stalemate.

One study that was based on every United Nations peace making effort since 1945 found that, Peace-Making succeeded in resolving two-thirds of conflicts where only two sides were involved. However, where there were multiple sides to a conflict, the success rate dropped considerably to only a quarter.

Civil wars typically follow a common pattern: they either end in outright victory, if that isn’t assured, the lack of resource to sustain the fighting may force sides to negotiate a resolution; some even fizzle out due to the absence of grassroot support.

Syria, however, defies these basic rules of civil war.

The Syrian war may have gone down the route of a typical civil war early in the conflict, when a prolonged standoff was unsustainable.

A swift resolution could have been possible, especially if Assad was willing to share power and a third party was committed to maintaining peace and security.

Instead, the conflict has ballooned.

Experts in the field also stress that foreign sponsors not only make resolution of a conflict more difficult but their actions also reinforce a stalemate.

The reality is that misguided interventions of the two sides have contributed in prolonging the cycle of violence.

Their assistance made fighters on the ground resilient to losses and to the detriment of millions fleeing the country, their support allowed fighters to become independent of local support, which is usually a decisive factor in civil wars.

Fighting units have overcome their dependency on the local population through foreign assistance.

The consequence of this has been that instead of being seen as an asset, the local population is seen as a liability, which has resulted in greater civilian casualties.

The stalemate is made worse by uncertainty about post-war Syria: as bad as things are at the moment, everyone is able to imagine a much worse scenario if one side was to gain total victory.

The fear of post-victory reprisal is very genuine. This prospect drives opponents to fight harder than they may otherwise do even if one’s own victory is not assured.

Syria is a good example of yet another misguided foreign intervention making situations worse.

Both Russia and America have to find a way to make war unsustainable and peace a better prospect for those sustaining violence on the ground. Otherwise, uniting to only defeat Daesh will not create lasting peace in Syria.