NATO’s former supreme allied commander James Stavridis has become the latest high-profile backer of dividing Syria into several parts although the strategy hardly enjoys support in the war-torn country and could well lead to Islamic extremists overrunning the greater part of the Arab Republic.
“Like Humpty Dumpty in the children’s nursery rhyme, the odds of putting Syria back together again into a functioning entity appear very low. It is time to consider a partition,” he suggested in an opinion piece for Foreign Policy. Syria could then be divided into three regions governed by Alawites, moderate Sunnis and the Kurds.
The retired four-star US Navy admiral, who currently serves as the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, offered three cases that could serve as a model for Syria. All of them hardly tempting.
“Obviously, the approach for a partition could range from a full break-up of the country (much as Yugoslavia broke up after the death of Marshal Josip Tito); to a very federated system like Bosnia after the Dayton Accords; to a weak but somewhat federated model like Iraq,” he detailed.
These are by no means good options. Take Iraq for instance. The country has not seen peace since the 2003 US invasion. In the years that followed Baghdad has largely unsuccessfully tried to tackle an insurgency that has the potential to break up the country.
Stavridis himself admitted that partitioning is an extremely dangerous scenario to explore. Firstly, it would set what he referred to as a “bad precedent” that would encourage disenfranchised minorities all over the world and potentially lead to “chaotic scenarios.”
Partitions are “also difficult to negotiate, requiring detailed knowledge of the human terrain in a failed state and carving out complex compromises that often leave no one satisfied and can plant the seeds of conflicts yet to come,” he added.
In addition, granting greater autonomy or independence to ethnic minorities could cause major tensions in neighboring countries. Ankara is already carrying out a military campaign against Kurdish militants at home, in Iraq and Syria. One could only guess what steps Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his allies would take if the Syrian Kurds form a state of their own.
Partitions are also “difficult to implement, because most of the parties are unhappy with some aspect of the final deal. Finally, partitions are cumbersome under international law, which generally sides with sovereign states and seeks to support existing unified territory,” he added.
In essence, there appears to be no need to consider dividing Syria, taking into account that the UN-backed ceasefire is largely holding and peace talks are slated to start on Monday. Moreover, Syria’s fate could only be determined by its people and should not follow a plan introduced from outside.
Furthermore, in Syria’s case partition could lead to greater violence and misery in a country that has already lost 250,000 lives. “Unfortunately, an immediate partition would effectively cede much of Syria to Sunni extremists,” Stavridis observed.