Here is a basic rundown of the September 2016 ceasefire deal in the Syrian conflict, courtesy of Al Jazeera:
“A nationwide ceasefire by Assad’s forces and the US-backed opposition is set to begin across Syria at sundown on Monday.
That sets off a seven-day period that will allow for humanitarian aid and civilian traffic into Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, which has faced a recent onslaught.
Fighting forces are to also pull back from the Castello Road, a key thoroughfare and access route into Aleppo, and create a “demilitarised zone” around it.
Also on Monday, the US and Russia will begin preparations for the creation of a Joint Implementation Centre that will involve information sharing needed to define areas controlled by the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham group (formerly known as al-Nusra Front) and opposition groups in areas “of active hostilities”.
The centre is expected to be established a week later, and is to launch a broader effort towards delineating other territories in control of various groups.
As part of the arrangement, Russia is expected to keep Syrian air force planes from bombing areas controlled by the opposition. The US has committed to help weaken Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria that has intermingled with the US-backed opposition in several places.
A resumption of political dialogue between the government and opposition under UN mediation, which was halted amid an upsurge in fighting in April, will be sought over the longer term.”
No one expects the current ceasefire in Syria to last very long or provide a long-term solution to the conflict. However this article suggests that ceasefires agreements like the present one are still important:
“One of the best predictors of a peace agreement’s success is simply whether the parties had prior agreements, even if those earlier cease-fires failed. Not even a war’s duration or its intensity can so reliably predict a peace deal’s outcome. Neither does the poverty or ethnic diversity of the combatants.”
Ceasefires, even if they don’t last can create what the article refers to as “virtuous cycles”, wherein the parties build a degree of trust by making reciprocal concessions. If transgressions are also punished, they also learn that cheating on agreements is counter-productive. Together, these two dynamics shape the preferences of the parties making a lasting settlement more likely.
Of course, if handled poorly, the opposite lessons may be learned. If defection is widespread and inconsistently punished, then the parties learn that cooperation does not pay and cheating may actually pay-off. This result can be thought of as a “vicious cycle”.
Two points come to my while reading this article. First, the logic is very consistent with rational choice/game theory. The parties are rational actors responding to the contingencies in their environment and playing iterated games is extremely important. Second, There may be some issues with causality here. Perhaps settlements are not more likely because there are more ceasefire agreements, but instead ceasefire agreements are more likely because the conflict is winding down. If this argument is true, then it is the wider conditions in the conflict that are driving events, including the number of ceasefires and whether or not they create virtuous cycles or viscous cycles.
This article takes a position sympathetic to the Kurdish YPD in Rojava. As it states, the Kurds are once again being squeezed between the great powers. It also provides a good albeit brief overview of the events leading up to the recent Turkish offensive in Syria.
“The borders of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” are shrinking fast. The group’s strongholds in Iraq and Syria are collapsing one by one. The U.S.-led war has reached a point where questions are being raised about what comes next.
So far, the answer seems likely to be: more war.”
This article probably oversimplifies things in the sense that it suggests that these wars are discrete events. Rather, the conflicts being played out in Syria are the product of long submerged tensions that were unleashed first by the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and then the Arab Spring. Once the state system began to collapse in 2010, they were bound to come to the fore. The article is effective though, in the way it identifies the various schisms and how they have been effected by recent events.
This article is interesting for two reasons. First, rather than looking at the US’ role in the Middle East policy as a discrete series of policies, it frames them together as part of a 20 year war. The second is the conclusion it reaches about how that war is going:
“…a sober assessment of the last 20 years suggests that the United States lost the broader war. The country wasn’t occupied and there was no surrender. But Americans have paid an exorbitant price for the two-decade campaign in strategic, economic, and moral terms. When terrorists strike a great power, the destructive potential lies not in the act itself but in the great power’s response to the act. In 1914, Serbian terrorists killed Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. Austria-Hungary used the attack as a pretext for war against Serbia, triggering a cataclysmic conflict, World War I, in which four empires collapsed—the Russian, German, Ottoman, and Austria-Hungarian. Similarly, in the Twenty Years’ War, America’s response has had far greater consequences than al-Qaeda’s attacks.”
“The findings were stark: Not many Arabs sympathize with the Islamic State. The percent agreeing with the Islamic State’s goals range from 0.4 percent in Jordan to 6.4 percent in the Palestinian territories. The percent agreeing with the Islamic State’s use of violence range from 0.4 percent in Morocco to 5.4 percent in the Palestinian territories. The percent agreeing that the Islamic State’s tactics are compatible with Islam range from 1.0 percent in Jordan to 8.9 percent n the Palestinian territories.”
This article suggests that Turkey’s Syria policy is changing, driven by two factors. The first is Iran and Russia’s commitment to supporting Assad, which makes Turkey’s policy of regime change unrealistic. The second is the Assad regime’s opposition to an independent Kurdish entity on the border with Turkey, something which gives the two common ground. The change in Turkey’s Syria policy would also be part of a larger regional adjustment, which includes improving relations with Israel. It is an interesting argument, but it is still in the realm of speculation.
“….a complete reversal of Turkish policy is hard to imagine, and neither side has given any public signal of having revised its views. Turkish officials continue to demand Assad’s resignation, while the Syrian president recently slammed “Erdogan’s fascist regime” and vowed to make Aleppo “the graveyard in which, by the grace of God, the hopes and dreams of this butcher will be buried.”
Of course, even if contact has in fact be re-established via Algeria, that does not mean that Ankara and Damascus are any closer politically. Conflict diplomacy is full of secret back channels, track-two talks, and other under-the-table maneuvers, but most never actually lead anywhere.
Perhaps the new Turkish attitude was best summed up by an anonymous senior official from Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in remarks to Tulay Karadeniz of Reuters: “Assad is, at the end of the day, a killer. He is torturing his own people. We’re not going to change our stance on that,” the official said. “But he does not support Kurdish autonomy. We may not like each other, but on that we’re backing the same policy.”