Solving Syria: A path to peace?

Neither violence, sanctions, nor the habitual UN course of action will bring about a viable solution in Syria.

expressing anger
The parties inside and outside of Syria need to talk to bring peace in the country [EPA]

Grenzach-Wyhlen, Germany – We all feel desperate watching the horrible killing, feeling the suffering of the bereaved people in Syria. But what can we do?

Could it be that the UN, and governments in general, have a tendency to make the same mistake, again and again, of putting the cart before the horse? 

Here, the pattern they use is generally:

1.  Get rid of the number 1 as the key party responsible, using sanctions; then

2.  Cease-fire, appealing to the parties, or intervening, imposing;

3.  Negotiation among all legitimate parties; and from that

4.  A political solution as a compromise between the positions.

It looks so logical – logical, yes, but maybe not very wise. Number 1, as identified by his own, by outsiders, and by the media in a Western Number 1-oriented culture, no doubt matters. But being that important, Number 1, Bashar al-Assad, may also hold some keys to the solutions. He may later step down or be ousted, but first, listen to his words.

And why have a cease-fire with no acceptable solution in sight? Would that not be capitulation, even to outsiders? It may be useful for a break in the fighting, rest for the fighters, time to redeploy and to rearm, but neither necessary nor sufficient for a solution.

Then comes negotiation, with a major party eliminated, and a de facto monitored capitulation? Whose agenda will be favoured by that?

A political solution? Indeed yes, but under these three pre-conditions, the outcome is given in advance.

Different order

Now, let us consider that list in the opposite order. We start with a solution, then negotiation about details, if successful, even compelling, an armistice may emerge. And then, maybe, Number 1 steps down, having done his part of the job.

But how can anybody find a solution when the killing is rampant? Well, the motivation is high. Establish a cease-fire and the motivation dwindles, as we saw in Sri Lanka. Tourism has picked up again, but the search for solutions has gone back down to zero, and the cease-fire was used by both for the purposes mentioned above.

And how can there be a solution when key actors have their arms full of arms? Who said they should do it? They have deputies, and the country is full of people who have given thoughts to the problems – not just to who is bad and who is good – and who are not only victory-oriented but also solution-oriented.

The search could be for solutions, not for the solution. Let 1,000 dialogues blossom in each quarter, each village and enrich the gross national idea product (GNIP). Let there be UN-supported facilitators with knowledge of mediation rather than with guns and binoculars.

To do this, let the parties inside and outside of Syria talk. Let them state their goals, and explain the Syria they would like to see.

First, an image of the goals of some outside parties:

  • Israel: Wants Syria divided in smaller parts, detached from Iran, status quo for Golan Heights, and a new map for the Middle East;
  • USA: Wants what Israel wants, and control over oil and gas pipelines;
  • UK: Wants what USA wants;
  • France: Co-responsible with the UK for post-Ottoman colonisation in the area, wants confirmed France-Syria friendship;
  • Russia: Wants a naval base in the Mediterranean, and an “ally” in the region;
  • China: Wants what Russia wants;
  • The EU: Wants both what Israel-USA wants and what France wants;
  • Iran: Wants Shia power;
  • Iraq: Majority Shia, wants what Iran wants;
  • Lebanon: Wants to know what it wants;
  • Saudi Arabia: Wants Sunni power;
  • Egypt: Wants to emerge as the conflict manager;
  • Qatar: Wants the same as Saudi Arabia and Egypt;
  • Gulf States: Want what USA-UK wants;
  • The Arab League: Wants no repetition of Libya, tries human rights;
  • Turkey: Wants to assert itself relative to the (Israel-USA) successors to the (France-UK-Italy) successors to the Ottoman Empire, and a buffer zone in Syria;
  • The UN: Wants to emerge as the conflict manager.

Over this looms a dark cloud: Syria is in the zone between Israel-USA-NATO and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, both of which are expanding.

Then, an image of the goals of some inside parties:

  • Alawi (15 per cent): want to remain in power, “for the best of all”;
  • Shia in general: want the same;
  • Sunni: want majority rule, their rule, democracy;
  • Jews, Christians, minorities: want security, fearing Sunni rule;
  • Kurds: want high level autonomy, some community with other Kurds.

What solution?

Every single statement here can be challenged and challenged again. But let us, for the sake of this mental experiment assume that this image, with its 16 external and five domestic parties, is more right than wrong. Is the terrible violence outside “terrorism” or inside “state terrorism”? Both, but asking who is more responsible in a powder keg: nitrate, sulphur, carbon, or the blow, or who constructed the powder keg (France) is not helpful. Rather, is there any solution in sight?

Not by violence. Whoever wins will be deeply resented by the rest in a region so deeply divided.

Not by sanctions, regardless of how deep and broad. It is like punishing a person with microbes and the immune system fighting inside for having fever. The weaker the patient, the more contagious the virus.

What comes to mind is a Swiss solution. One Syria, federal, with local autonomy, even down to the village level; with Sunni, Shia and Kurds having relations with their own across the borders; and with international peacekeeping, also for the protection of minorities. And also a non-aligned Syria, which rules out foreign bases and flows of arms, but does not rule out compulsory arbitration for the Golan Heights (and June 1967 borders in general), with Israeli UN membership at stake.

Napoleon invaded to control Switzerland in 1798-1806, but gave up. Will the present Napoleons, Netanyahu and Obama, do the same? The alternatives are two more catastrophes: open war with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar, or callig upon the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine, a la Libya with 7,700 bombs and missiles. The winner is resented; there is no sustainable solution in sight.

Professor Johan Galtung holds a PhD in mathematics from 1956 and a PhD in sociology from 1957. He is widely known as the founder of the academic discipline of peace studies and a holder of the Right Lively Hood Award He is acting rector of the Transcend Peace University and the president of the Galtung-Instiutut for Peace Theory and Peace Practice.