Now that Aleppo has fallen, many analysts would argue that the civil war in Syria will end. Yet I am not alone in arguing that the fighting will not end even if the war will be declared over. Fundamentally, the Assad regime or his Iranian and Russian allies will not become much less of a threat to the security of civilians in the rebel areas.
This is for several reasons. Chief amongst them is that Assad will want to completely break any notion that he can be opposed in the future, so he has to make an example of all civilian populations which have supported the uprising against him. And what is more, after the long and bitter war, the victorious elements will still have plenty of scores to settle with their enemies. And now they will have the opportunity to settle those scores with impunity.
Two most powerful actors
On top of that, the two most powerful actors in this conflict, Assad and President Putin of Russia, both have strategic reasons to want to keep the pressure on civilians. Assad hopes to push out of the country as many of the rebel populations so that he can consolidate his hold on Syria. And Putin also wants the migrant flow to continue, especially towards Europe.
The migration crisis so far has put European Unity under serious strain, and Putin will want to keep that pressure up. The European Union is more vulnerable than it has ever been in its entire existence, and for Putin now is the time to press home the advantage and hopefully destroy the entire edifice, giving Russia the geopolitical upper and on the continent.
It is thus for both these reasons, humanitarian concern and self-preservation, that the West must make sure none of this comes to pass. The abuse of the Syrian people in Syria must stop. And in order to stop it, the first step is for us to guarantee their security in Safe Zones within the borders of their countries.Azeem Ibrahim
It is thus for both these reasons, humanitarian concern and self-preservation, that the West must make sure none of this comes to pass. The abuse of the Syrian people in Syria must stop. And in order to stop it, the first step is for us to guarantee their security in Safe Zones within the borders of their countries.
This will require us to make greater commitments than we have been happy to do so far, but I would argue the alternatives are simply unacceptable. If Assad is let loose on his country without any resistence, we know full well where things will go: this is a man who ordered the use of chemical weapons and cluster munitions against his own people, and who has bombed hospitals, schools and humanitarian aid convoys. This is the same man, and the same regime, that before the conflict ran an extensive network of prisons where ordinary Syrians would routinely be “re-educated” through torture whenever they had any political opinion that diverged from the political line of the government. It is all too easy to imagine how this man and this regime would go about re-educating their rebelious population after such a long and brutal civil war.
And if that were to happen, most Syrians would simply have to seek refuge in other countries. Could we then blame them for wanting to come to Europe? Yet can Europe continue to absorb them in the current environment, where we are celebrating that only 46 percent of Austrians have voted for a neo-Nazi who promised to “secure the borders”? Where French politicians can scarcely out-do each other in anti-Muslim proclamations and dog-whistle racism for fear that if they do not the fascist Marine Le Pen will take the presidency next year? Where even Angela Merkel, seemingly the only sane adult still left in the room, has felt compelled to call for a ban on the burqa.
The how of implementing such Safe Zones has already been discussed extensively. We have a number of options that could be pursued. The main thing standing in the way is political will. The West does not have the stomach to do this because they think their electorates will not suffer any more military intervention in the Middle East. But will they be happier with the consequences if we do not intervene to establish these Safe Zones?
Azeem Ibrahim is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Policy and Adj Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He completed his PhD from the University of Cambridge and served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a World Fellow at Yale. Over the years he has met and advised numerous world leaders on policy development and was ranked as a Top 100 Global Thinker by the European Social Think Tank in 2010 and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He tweets @AzeemIbrahim.