The Syrian civil war has now lasted six years and has proved to be varied and complicated, with the participants and their respective aims increasing and changing year by year. It has in fact evolved into a regional conflict complex, with Syria at the centre of a complicated array of actors, internal and external, state and non-state, with competing aims and goals.
Syria is beset by multiple insurgencies involving non-state actors, some bounded by the ethnic identity of the peoples involved and their battles for survival as distinct cultures with a historical identity, others by their resistance to the Assad regime, and others by their adherence to a militant Islamic identity. The distinction between insurgency and terrorism should be made clear: insurgents hold territory, exploit resources and govern, badly or no, and are able to engage government forces in strength; on the other hand, terrorism, of the sub-state type it should be added, does not require territory to be held and groups are limited in what they can actually do. It is also the case that insurgents oft utilise terrorist tactics. The clearest example is ISIS, whom are insurgents as they hold and administer territory, yet employ terrorism as a tactic as they will also carry out bombings in Syria and abroad.
State actors, including the Assad regime, whose overreaction to protests set the country on the path to civil war, also have varied, and competing aims and goals. These include neighbouring countries directly affected by the conflict, regional actors and powers with their own political agendas, and the major international powers. These all have their own reasons for involvement, with only the battle against ISIS as common ground, but have all had a direct impact on the course of the conflict.
Understanding the Syrian conflict as multiple insurgencies with varied and competing external support enables us to understand the role of conflict resolution and transformation in proposing solutions to the conflict and the conditions under which a sustainable peace can be gradually achieved. We do not know what a post-conflict Syria will look like, but we can, and should, approach the question of how we can get there in order to enable villages, towns, cities and regions to be rebuilt, refugees to return, and communities to thrive. The solutions are multi-level, working from local and regional bi-lateral and multi-lateral agreements, to the state-level conferences such as those held in Vienna, Geneva, and Askana. A complicated conflict situation requires an approach that exploits every opportunity for local, regional, and national conflict transformation and peacekeeping support for areas that negotiate a peace deal, whether this is bi-lateral or multi-lateral. The onus should also be placed on the regional and international actors to set aside interests that fuel the conflict and adopt approaches that promote peaceful solutions.
Dr Carl Turner,