A selection of experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.


Koert DebeufVisiting research fellow at the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict at the University of Oxford

There is no political solution for Syria because Russia and Iran don’t want one. Their strategies are very different from the West’s. Iran clearly wants to create a sphere of influence from Tehran via Baghdad and Damascus to Beirut. In Syria, a mainly Sunni Muslim country, any political solution will lead to the end of the power structure of President Bashar al-Assad and thus the end of the influence of predominantly Shia Iran.

For #Russia, the war in #Syria is about much more than Assad.
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For Russia, the war in Syria is about much more than Assad. The goal of Russian President Vladimir Putin is to destabilize and weaken the West. He wants to end the EU’s and NATO’s attractiveness to countries he considers part of the Russian sphere of influence. Russia is not targeting the self-proclaimed Islamic State but Syrian opposition forces. He is pretty happy with the massive refugee influx in Europe as this is destabilizing the union.

Much more worrying is that Russia is trying to drag Turkey into the conflict. Russia is supporting the Syrian Kurds, who are on their way to gaining territory all along the Syrian-Turkish border, a redline for Turkey. Russia has entered Turkey’s airspace to trigger a reaction, just like it did in Georgia in 2008. Putin knows that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a liability for the EU and NATO. If Erdoğan reacts, will NATO join him? Probably not. Just as Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region divided Europe, so Turkey will divide and weaken NATO.

The world is at an extreme critical point. More than ever, it’s time for leadership.


Marc PieriniVisiting scholar at Carnegie Europe

As of February 2016, it would be risky to give a positive answer to this question, even though in the medium and long term there is no other solution to the conflict than a political one.

The complexity of the war in Syria lies fundamentally in the unwillingness of the ruling family—the Assad-Makhlouf clan—to consider any kind of power-sharing arrangement, be it political or economic. Pluralism and democracy are not in their genes, they believe only in ruling by the sword.

On top of this Syrian specificity is the Russian intervention of September 2015. Meant first to rescue the crumbling army of an allied Arab regime, Moscow’s action was also designed to establish a lasting Russian stronghold in the Middle East and to notify Washington that U.S. dominance in world affairs was over. The Russian intervention had significant side effects as well: it froze Turkey’s policy on Syria and sent a signal to Tehran that the Iranians were not alone in controlling the Syrian civil war.

#Russia's campaign in #Syria is being conducted Chechnya-style.
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Russia’s campaign to stabilize the western part of Syria and reconquer the neighboring Aleppo province is being conducted Chechnya-style: raze everything and ask questions later. This is triggering a new, massive exodus of civilians and in turn aggravating the refugee crisis in Europe. In such a context, the latest round of UN-led peace talks in Geneva appears a mere facade.

The current escalation in hostilities serves the objectives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Russia, and Iran. Agreeing on Syria’s political transition is therefore still a distant prospect.


Gianni RiottaMember of the Council on Foreign Relations

Not yet. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s raids in Syria were aimed at consolidating the regime in Damascus and asserting the Kremlin’s status while America was caucusing for its next presidential candidates. Russia now has two solid bases in the Mediterranean and can swagger around. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad bet on blood, Game of Thrones–style, and after more than 250,000 dead and half the country displaced, he is cashing in on his rewards.

Moscow and Damascus are the only two active players in the #Syria conflict.
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The siege of Aleppo is a shame, and Europe will receive even more refugees as a result, while Moscow and Damascus are the only two active players in the conflict. The so-called peace negotiations that ran aground on February 3 only confirm how hapless the UN is (verbose and pompous, you may argue, but hapless nevertheless).

Russian writer and journalist Vasily Grossman wrote of the “ruthless truth of war” when he covered the Battle of Stalingrad during World War II. This is what is going on in Syria, the ruthless truth of war. All the rest—analysis, diplomacy, good intentions—is at best naïveté, at worst bold lies.


Shimon SteinSenior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University

Of course a political solution can be found to the #Syria crisis.
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Of course a political solution can be found to the Syrian crisis. But for that to happen, as in many other crises in the region and beyond, the circumstances that will help launch a political process have to ripen. In this respect, Syria is still far away from the point at which all the parties involved locally, regionally, and globally are willing to strike a compromise, which means giving up their ultimate objectives to pave the way for a credible political process.

The suspension of UN-led peace negotiations in Geneva on February 3 and the current military offensive in and around the central city of Aleppo are but the latest demonstrations that none of the parties feels it has secured its strategic interests through military means. As a result, the time is not ripe to launch a political process in which the actors concerned will be able to reap the fruits of their military strength. What is more, the ensuing humanitarian catastrophe doesn’t seem to be a factor at all in the calculations of the parties involved in the war.


Stephen SzaboExecutive director of the Transatlantic Academy

The only political solution will come from a military one. Syria has ceased to exist in a recognizable form and is the Middle Eastern version of Humpty Dumpty, incapable of being pieced back together again. Partition or, at best, radical decentralization is the only stable outcome, and the political lines of any solution will be drawn along the military lines of demarcation.

#Syria is the Middle Eastern version of Humpty Dumpty.
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Russia’s bombardments of Aleppo and other cities have made it abundantly clear that Moscow has no intention of working toward a negotiated settlement along the lines acceptable to the other players. The massive outflow of refugees toward Turkey and then to Europe is unacceptable to the Western powers. The United States and its allies must take immediate action to create safe havens and provide security and economic assistance to those living in the Kurdish and other areas still free from the Syrian and Russian militaries.

This is hardly a clean or ideal solution, but the West learned in Kosovo that at some point, military action and partition are preferable to continued regional destabilization.