Partitioning Syria is not the answer
The first round of Syria peace talks in 2012 resulted in an agreement that any political settlement of the conflict must end with a transitional governing body with full executive powers.
A second round of talks in 2014 failed to produce results, largely because Syrian President Bashar Assad’s representatives refused to discuss such a government.
A third round of talks, known as Geneva III, is under way with representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition forces participating.
Before Geneva III, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said his government rejected the UN envoy’s call for presidential elections within 18 months. “Bashar [Assad] is a red line and is the property of the Syrian people,” Muallem said at a March 12th news conference in Damascus.
UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura insisted political transition must be on the Geneva III agenda, calling it “the mother of all issues”. If the talks do not succeed, he said, the only alternative is to return to war.
US Secretary of State John Kerry indicated that if a genuine shift to a transitional government does not take place in the next few months, he would consider an alternative in which Syria would be partitioned into multiple states. “It may be too late to keep it as a whole Syria if we wait much longer,” he told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 23rd.
The Geneva III negotiations are likely to fail like the previous two rounds, at which point the United States and other international powers would consider partitioning Syria along ethno-religious lines as a solution to the brutal war.
A partitioning project is not the best way to attain peace in Syria and would disregard the interconnectedness that is prevalent among Syria’s various communities. The resolution to the conflict should deal with the root problems of the conflict.
The concept of partitioning Syria into enclaves is unrealistic; no group in Syria would agree to such divisions — with the exception of the separatist-oriented portion of the Syrian Kurdish population — and neither would countries in the region.
A partition of Syria would likely create three states within the current Syrian borders: a Sunni Arab state in the centre and south, a state for the Kurds in the north-east and an Alawite state on the coastal west.
Any division of Syria would result in destabilisation of regional security, potentially sparking regional conflicts, particularly between Turkey and the Kurds. Ankara would do whatever it takes to prevent the establishment of Kurdish sovereignty along its southern border.
The areas controlled by the Islamic State (ISIS) would present major challenges and, if it is to be defeated, who would take over its territory?
On a human level, partitioning would affect millions of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries and would prevent many of them from returning to their homes.
Partitioning may present short-term humanitarian benefits by temporarily stopping the bloodshed; however, it is not sustainable and could lead to unforeseen consequences. The potential breakaway regions would be weak, economically fragile and hard to manage.
International pressure on the Assad regime is critical to reach a compromise and enable peace talks to succeed. With pressure on the regime, a comprehensive, inclusive solution for Syria could be the way to attain peace and sustainability — a solution that promotes Syrian territorial unity and civil identity, which in turn would mobilise the population to counter terrorism and stimulate tolerance. International and regional powers would benefit from upholding a unified Syria.