First, Dr. Arai cautions us against treating the war in Syria as a conflict between pro-Assad and anti-Assad camps. Rather, he explains, there are a multiplicity of actors at the international, regional, and local level – each with their own unique objectives and interests in Syria's future. A more nuanced understanding of these actors and their visions for a post-war Syria, he argues, is critical to establishing a sustainable peace.
Second, much of the debate on what to do about the Syrian conflict has revolved around two equally unpalatable options: 1) military intervention (whether covert or explicit) and 2) leaving Syrians to “figure it out” on their own terms. Dr. Arai argues that a third way is possible, and spells out what a non-military conclusion to the war in Syria might look like. He suggests that diplomats and Syrians combine and redirect their efforts toward establishing a state of “functional coexistence” in Syria. The proposed strategy would mirror those adopted by East and West Germany or Taiwan and Mainland China, and provide a pathway toward normalized relations further down the road. Speaking on the model, he writes:
Functional coexistence refers to an adversarial relationship that falls short of direct military confrontation, yet paves the way toward a sustained, evolving process of pragmatic interactions between conflict parties that neither trust nor recognize each other. Key questions that frame a search for functional coexistence include how to legitimize a functional social space for iterative, reciprocal interaction – but not necessarily each other as a rightful partner – as a way of enabling a long-term transition from war to peace.
Getting to the point where functional existence is a viable possibility is no easy task, and will require the concerted efforts of multiple actors at every level of the international arena. With the UN Security Council in a permanent state of gridlock, Dr. Arai recommends that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) lead negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations and the Arab League. Syrian civil society actors would buttress peacebuilding efforts at the international level by pressuring their leaders to approach the negotiating table and coordinating reconciliation programs at the local level.
It will take real political will to surmount these obstacles – and the longer the war drags on, the harder it will be to build a lasting peace in Syria.
Click here for the full article by Dr. Tatsushi Arai.
Photo source: Creative Commons/Flickr/IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation/Turkey