At least that is what Marc Lynch imagines Syria could become now that the Chinese and Russian UN vetoes have all but eliminated the peaceful transition option. While the resolution explicitly ruled out military intervention (due to fears of another Libya-esque regime change operation) the Russian and China vetoes, according to Lynch, are likely to paved the way for a protracted civil war. Of course, the evolution of the Syrian situation from protests to armed civil war should have been obvious months ago; Assad’s overtures to negotiations and reform and, more recently, Syria’s “cooperation” with the Arab League mission should have made it clear that the Syria president had no intention to truly consider peaceful change. Now that Russia and China have made it clear that not even symbolic support for the Syria opposition will pass through the UNSC, Lynch is correct in surmising that a violent civil war is the most likely outcome.
The important question now becomes how long would the Syrian government be able to stand up to an armed uprising – or, perhaps, how long an armed uprising would be able to survive facing the Syrian army? On the one hand, reports of Gulf support for the Free Syrian Army means that the armed opposition is not alone in facing the Syrian regime. Moreover, General Mustafa al-Sheikh, the most senior military defector, has claimed that disorganization, poor mobilization and readiness, and continued defections means that the military support for Assad will crumble within the next month. On the other hand, the Free Syrian Army is greatly weakened by ongoing divisions within the political opposition and the lack of a geographical base in Syria from which to work. As Josh Landis notes, the Syrian army certainly has some weaknesses – Landis points specifically to the effects of the sanctions – but it is unlikely that the opposition forces would be able to immediately defeat the military or to separate the Alawite-dominated institution from the government.
In other words, a violent, bloody, and drawn-out conflict is far more likely than an immediate end. Yezid Sayigh of the Carnegie Endowment aptly summed up the situation well when he wrote:
That the government’s days are numbered can no longer be in serious doubt, but just how many it has left remains an open question. The regime cannot win, but it certainly can resist and prolong the conflict.
The Chinese and Russian vetoes may have reduced the relevance of the United Nations (as Lynch argues) but considering the myriad complications, various interests and past events, the failure of the UNSC to condemn the Syrian government ultimately changes little in what has long-been a tragic situation. Rather, it is simply another step in the slow descent into civil war.
Photo from Voices from Russia