What next for Syria after failed talks? ARCHIVE- 19-2-14
It has long been mooted that a potential resolution to the Syrian conflict could come in the form of something akin to the Ta’if Accord, the agreement that ended the Lebanese Civil War. To think about the possible ‘Taification’ of the Syrian peace process as a solution is one thing, but to attempt to actualise it is another.
For a start, how does one think about the implementation of a peace accord in the current Syrian conflict, when the balance of power on the ground is still very much being decided? Well this particular point needn’t be the death knell to a settlement, as internal forces in Lebanon in the mid-late 80’s were in a stalemate, ruling over cantons in the country like fiefdoms, not unlike the picture of Syria today.
What is absent from the picture is a hegemonic force attempting to direct events to their benefit. Ta’if was only workable because the Assad regime set themselves up as the only game in town, and Ta’if was implemented to Syria’s benefit as a result, evidenced by the post-war control of the Lebanese polity.
With no such power in Syria today, what possible options are there? Well for a start the lack of hegemonic power has a major pro and con. The pro: the conflict (and its resolution) rests more readily in the hands of the Syrian people. The con: no force exists to oversee any peace accord, to separate the combatants, expel foreign fighters or guard institutions during transition.
So where does that leave Syria in the wake of the failed Geneva talks? Is the possibility of a Syrian Ta’if Accord off the table? In terms of an implementable document to end fighting, sadly that appears to be the case, as sponsors of Geneva, are pondering its failure.
As such, perhaps a new framework needs to be considered. My thought process was kicked into gear when listening to Al Jazeera’s ‘Inside Syria’ a few days ago when Professor Richard E Rubenstein discussed possible options for breaking the diplomatic deadlock in the Syrian case. He said:
“One very strong precedent is Northern Ireland. I talked to George Mitchell, who did the Northern Ireland meditation, and he agreed; solving the Northern Ireland problem was getting the great powers, getting the British and getting the Southern Irish to withdraw sufficiently to allow the parties themselves to deal with the issues that mostly seriously divided them.”
I think that considering the differences highlighted above between the Lebanese and Syrian civil wars, it may not be useful to think of a Ta’if style solution. There are too many actors influencing the game in Syria, cancelling one another out.
The example of Northern Ireland (NI) by Prof Rubenstein is interesting. While he didn’t mention it specifically, the reference to Irish/British withdrawal is clearly referencing the Anglo/Irish Agreement (AIA) of 1985.
Briefly, the AIA was an agreement between Dublin and London on key principles of the Northern Ireland issue, formalising co-operation between the two governments on the affairs of the region. What this meant in practice was that the Irish government was given consultative rights over NI alongside the UK through an Intergovernmental Conference, which would become less important once NI started to govern itself.
While the AIA did not lead directly to peace in NI, it was significantly contributed to the peace settlement of 1998 by establishing the British/Irish governmental relationship. In effect, the two sides were on the same page, which would help broker the Good Friday Agreement.
Of course, the theory of applying an AIA-style agreement to Syria is problematic as there are more external parties to the conflict and their goals and ideologies are far more varied than in the Northern Ireland case (linked to the geo-political importance of the region when compared to NI).
However, what is clear to me is that the external funding, ideological and diplomatic support of different groups within the Syrian theatre of war means that an end to this conflict will not come about without regional and international actors coming to some sort of broad consensus. Without the external facilitators coming to some sort of agreement, the intra-Syrian conflict will most likely continue unabated.
So could a Syrian version of the AIA help? Is this the type of accord that should be sought considering that international/regional actors are jockeying for position in Syria? Questions to ponder…