To end Syria civil war, West must guarantee minorities' safety with peacekeeping force
Minorities in Syria support the Assad regime because they fear the alternative. To erode Bashar al-Assad's base of support, Western leaders should offer meaningful security reassurances to Syria's minorities, including the promise of an international peacekeeping force.
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As a result, Christians and Alawites fear that in a post-Assad political order they will be objects of bloody revenge and political marginalization. Herein lies one of the main reasons for the prolonged and bloody character of Syria’s Arab Spring.Skip to next paragraph
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To pull away Assad’s support base will therefore demand more tangible reassurances to the minorities in Syria. These are to be granted by the Syrian opposition to be sure, but they must be backed by Western powers. The US and Europe should offer the minorities a robust security guarantee in the form of an international peacekeeping force.
The current Western course of unconditionally supporting the rebels and hoping they will respect the rules of democracy will not alleviate the minorities’ fears. Instead it may push them into a corner where they will use any means necessary, including perhaps chemical weapons, in order to survive.
An effort to guarantee the safety of Syria’s minorities might even be supported by Iran, which along with Russia is the Assad regime’s main external backer. After all, Iran would presumably prefer to have the Alawites protected and participating in Syrian politics than to have a Sunni sectarian regime backed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. If Iran can be persuaded to back a peace agreement, it can pressure Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, which is currently fighting for the Syrian government, to do the same.
In practice, it will be no easy sail to guarantee the safety of minorities in Syria. Obstacles include the expected collapse of state institutions, the militarization and radicalization of the Syrian opposition, and the meddling role of regional powers and neighbors. Lebanon’s bloody civil war in the 1970s-80s and the violence following withdrawal of the multinational force there provide a chilling reminder of the failures of international peacekeeping. Yet lessons from Bosnia and Kosovo show that peacekeeping forces can also be effective.
The question is: Do international leaders, particularly those in the West, have the stomach for another such mission in the Middle East? Let’s hope so. For the sake of peace in Syria and regional stability, leaders need to find the courage and the political agreement to implement this peacekeeping mission.
Thorsten Janus is associate professor of economics at the University of Wyoming. He focuses on conflict and governance in developing countries. Helle Malmvig is senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies. Her expertise is in international politics and security in the Middle East and North Africa.