Strength in Weakness: The Syrian Army’s Accidental Resilience -Carnegie


An excellent article on the durability of the Syrian military. It provides a detailed analysis of the way the military was used as part of the regime’s patronage network and the many ways corruption was used to reward loyal officers. It also describes how the military has been able to outsource military operations to militias, which has taken pressure off the regular army officer corps (a key pillar of regime support) while also providing a more effective fighting force. ingenious ways in Here are some of the highlights:

“The army’s ability to hold territory vital to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is the result of an unexpected paradox: the factors that had eviscerated its fighting ability in peacetime have become its main strength during the war. In particular, the army’s networks of patronage and nepotism, which predate the war, have morphed into a parallel chain of command that strengthens the regime. By withdrawing the army from select front lines, the regime has managed to bolster its social, political, and local community base after outsourcing its infantry needs to ad hoc militias. The parallel chain of command has enabled the regime to adapt its strategy to reflect the conflict’s quickly changing dynamics, secure its authority over loyalist paramilitary forces, and entrench itself in key territories.”
“Following the 2011 uprising, the Syrian army’s lack of professionalism actually facilitated the regime’s ability to overrule and bypass segments of the officer corps that objected to the army’s crackdown on the opposition. The defection of up to 3,000 mostly Sunni officers during 2011 had little adverse impact on the army’s cohesion and operational capability,8 since the formal structures they previously staffed were not critical to performance. Patronage networks thus emerged as the regime’s de facto, informal chain of command once the crisis became militarized in 2012. The regime could relay orders through an agile system of trusted figures linked closely by familial and sectarian ties, as well as shared business and financial interests.”