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Next Steps in Syria

Next Steps in Syria

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Ken Sofer analyzes U.S. priorities in Syria and recommends options for U.S. policymakers to address these critical interests.
Ken Sofer analyzes U.S. priorities in Syria and recommends options for U.S. policymakers to address these critical interests.

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Published by: Center for American Progress on Aug 13, 2012
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1Center or American Progress | Next Steps in Syria: A Look at U.S. Priorities and Interests
Next Steps in Syria: A Look at U.S.Priorities and Interests
Ken Sofer August 14, 2012
Introduction
Syrian Presiden Bashar al-Assad and wha remains o his loyal miliary orces are cur-renly engaging in wha some are calling he “moher o all batles,
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a large-scale arillery and ground assaul on Syria’s larges ciy, Aleppo. Te norhwesern ciy o 2.1 millionpeople has quickly become he primary batleground beween sae orces and he rebel-lion agains he Assad regime’s rule in Syria.Te ongoing batle or conrol o Aleppo comes on he heels o a bombing in Damascusha killed hree o Assad’s op securiy aides,
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he deparure o Ko Annan as U.N.special envoy o he counry,
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he deecion o Syrian Prime Miniser Riyad Farid Hijab,
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 and he downing o a Syrian gher je earlier his week.
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Tese recen urns o evens—including he expansion o he conic o regime srong-holds and he eecive end o prospecs or a diplomaic soluion o he conic—mark an imporan new phase o he rebellion. Tis new phase poses he mos serious hreao he Baah Pary’s 42-year rule o Syria, leaving open he possibiliy or more exrememeasures rom an increasingly desperae regime.Te Unied Saes has so ar rerained rom aking an acive role in Syria, despie calls by some or miliary inervenion agains he Assad regime.
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U.S. resrain was he righcall in he early phases o he rebellion, bu he recen escalaion in ghing poses greaerrisks o key U.S. ineress and will likely lead o greaer U.S. involvemen.Tough he overwhelming majoriy o he inernaional communiy and U.S. policy-makers agree ha Assad mus be removed rom power, many policy recommendaionsincorrecly use Assad’s removal as he sole limus es or success. Failing o address heeec o such policies on he range o U.S. ineress in Syria could have disasrous resulsor he Unied Saes and is regional allies.
 
2Center or American Progress | Next Steps in Syria: A Look at U.S. Priorities and Interests
U.S. policymakers should ocus heir atenion on ve major prioriies in Syria: Prevening he spillover o conic ino neighboring counries, including miigainghe eec o reugee ouows Securing Syria’s chemical weapons sockpile and prevening heir use Eliminaing he space or Al Qaeda and oher erroris groups o operae Saeguarding he counry agains collapse ino secarian violence Preparing or an eecive and sable poliical ransiionTis issue brie will analyze each prioriy, why hey mater o U.S. sraegic ineress, andhow each is aeced by he curren siuaion in Syria, and will recommend opions orU.S. policymakers o address hese criical ineress.
Preventing the spillover of conflict into neighboring countries,including mitigating the effect of refugee outflows
For U.S. policymakers, prevening he violence and insabiliy in Syria rom expand-ing o is neighbors, where he Unied Saes has imporan sraegic ineress, will be adicul challenge and one ha is largely ou o heir hands. Bu eors o assis he largereugee populaions in neighboring counries, along wih inelligence and counerer-rorism coordinaion o preven cross-border atacks, can a leas reduce he likelihood o he Syrian crisis becoming a regional crisis.For he mos par, he violence wihin Syria so ar has presened a grave humaniariancrisis bu no a direc hrea o key U.S. sraegic ineress in he Middle Eas. Ta’ssaring o change, as violence begins o aec Syria’s neighbors—urkey, Lebanon, Iraq,and Jordan—wih he poenial or he conic o reach our allies in Israel. Te UniedSaes possesses ew poliical, economic, or miliary ineress in Syria, bu i does possesssuch ineress in every single one o Syria’s neighbors and canno aord he possibiliy o regionwide insabiliy and violence. Widespread violence in a neighboring counry inherenly carries some poenial orspillover, bu he large number o reugees, he semisecarian naure o he conic inSyria, and he poenial or ransnaional erroris atacks make he likelihood o he con-ic drawing in neighboring counries such as urkey, Lebanon, and Jordan signicanly more likely.Te reugee siuaion in Syria is impossible o unie rom he dangers o spillover con-ic in Syria’s neighbors. Te massive inux o reugee populaions—some o whichare in reugee camps, some o which are in homesays—places signican srain on helocal economies o border communiies and has pulled Syria’s neighbors urher ino heconic, binding heir uures o he resoluion o his crisis.
For U.S. policymakers,preventing theviolence andinstability in Syriarom expanding toits neighbors, wherethe United States hasimportant strategicinterests, will be adicult challenge.
 
3Center or American Progress | Next Steps in Syria: A Look at U.S. Priorities and Interests
Te size o he reugee populaions in Syria’s neighbors poses dauning logisical andresource problems. Te U.N. High Commissioner or Reugees repors 135,640 reg-isered Syrian reugees, including 50,227 in urkey, 39,600 in Jordan, and 36,040 inLebanon as o Augus 13.
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Tis number, however, vasly underesimaes he numbero acual reugees in Syria’s neighbors since so many reugees are no regisered wihhe commission. Unocial esimaes place he number o reugees closer o 140,000 in Jordan and 90,000 in Lebanon,
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a dauning ask or any naion o handle. Despie hechallenge o accommodaing so many reugees, Syria’s neighbors have kep heir bordersopen o reugees.More resources are needed o serve he humaniarian needs o hese reugee communi-ies and o preven heir presence rom desabilizing he ragile economies o heir hoscounries. Te Unied Saes should encourage wealhier, acively engaged counriessuch as Qaar and Saudi Arabia o help und he reugee commission’s eors. Te U.N.High Commissioner or Reugees and oher major reugee organizaions should in urnprovide direc cash assisance o Syrian reugees, which limis he nancial srain on hoscommuniies and avoids he requen logisical diculies o delivering ood, bedding,medical supplies, and oher aid producs o reugee communiies. Te leadership rolehe Unied Saes can play in mobilizing aid money rom he Persian Gul and Europeand in pressuring counries o coninue heir humaniarian eors or Syrian reugeesshould no be underesimaed.Te inux o 90,000 predominanly Sunni Syrian reugees has also reignied many o hesecarian divisions in neighboring Lebanon. While he rebellion in Syria is no inher-enly secarian, he reliance o he Assad regime on Alawie suppor creaes percepionso secarian conic. Alawies, he Shia Muslim sec rom which he Assad amily hails,comprise roughly 13 percen o Syria’s oal populaion.
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Sunni Arabs, who comprise 74percen o Syria’s populaion,
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are believed o suppor he ani-Assad rebellion. Oherminoriy groups such as he Druze, Chrisians, and Kurds remain divided in heir sup-por or he regime or he rebellion.Gun batles along hese secarian lines have eruped hroughou Lebanon, paricularly inripoli, which is home o large Sunni and Alawi communiies.
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Te secarian divide inLebanon maches he counry’s long, complex relaionship wih he Assad governmenin Syria. Assad is one o Shiie poliical pary and miliia Hezbollahs mos imporansupporers; he Syrian miliary mainained a 14,000-roop presence in Lebanon or 30 years;
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and Damascus is considered by many o be complici in he assassinaion o ormer Lebanese Prime Miniser Rak Hariri (a Sunni) in 2005.
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I is unclear wha eec, i any, he inux o Syrian reugees will have on Lebanon’sdomesic poliics. One cauionary ale, however, may be he inux o Palesinian reu-gees ollowing he 1948 Arab-Israeli War, which upse he delicae secarian balance o Lebanon and conribued heavily o he counry’s 25-year civil war.
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