The SETA Foundation at Washington D.C. presents
Syria: What’s Next?
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Steven Heydemann, Senior Adviser for Middle East Initiatives at USIP
Randa Slim, Adjunct Research Fellow, New America Foundation
Aram Nerguizian, Visiting Fellow, Burke Chair in Strategy, CSIS
Erol Cebeci, Executive Director, The SETA Foundation at Washington D.C.
Moderator: Kadir Ustun, Research Director, The SETA Foundation at Washington D.C.
by Colleen Henry
Mr. Kadir Ustun introduced the topic by framing the question of the future of Syria within the recent veto of the UN resolution. Specifically, Mr. Ustun asked the panel what we might expect from the “Friends of Syria” meeting scheduled to take place in Tunisia on February 24, 2012.
Dr. Steven Heydemann spoke about US foreign policy toward Syria. He elaborated on three main difficulties for the current administration in determining the next course of action—the limits of using diplomatic and economic pressure, the lack of any tangible or viable alternatives to the current policy, and the growing militarization of Syrian opposition groups. Though the US insists that direct intervention is a dangerous and unlikely option, Dr. Heydemann explained that the American aim should not just be regime transition, but also the emergence of a stable (and hopefully democratic) Syria. In this light, Dr. Heydemann highlighted the need to help the Syrian resistance build up its operational capacity and the need to manage the flow of weapons into the country. Without a strategy for “managing the already occurring militarization,” the US risks facing uncoordinated and uncontrolled armed opposition groups in Syria.
Dr. Randa Slim elaborated on the composition of and separations within the Syrian opposition. She explained that Assad still enjoys a certain degree of support in the country because there is no credible alternative. Dr. Slim also described the Syrian National Council’s (SNC) inability to unify other opposition groups such as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the Muslim Brotherhood, the Christian business community, and other minority sects. In addition, she noted the largely sectarian character of the Free Syrian Army and its own internal divisions. Fundamentally, Dr. Slim stated, there is a critical need to unite the Syrian opposition under one umbrella in light of the increasing militarization of the conflict. She suggested that the “Friends of Syria” conference could provide such a platform for initiating a “network of networks” aimed at creating a civilian-controlled network of armed opposition factions.
Mr. Aram Nerguizian gave an account of the costs associated with military intervention in Syria. He stated that Syria’s defense capabilities will give the Assad government a bigger edge in the conflict than those of Gaddafi in Libya. Mr. Nerguizian spoke of Syria’s sophisticated air defense networks and its biological and chemical warfare capabilities, as well as Syria’s anti-ship defenses. He also spoke of the difficulties in actually encouraging meaningful and high-level defections within Syria’s military ranks. Should Syria develop into a proxy competition scenario, this would amount to “another Iraq,” causing larger-scale instability in Lebanon, and further exacerbate sectarian divisions. He concluded that a military action in Syria would require a serious military commitment and taking out Syria’s military capabilities would be a complicated task. Moreover, it would most likely result in heavy civilian casualties.
Mr. Erol Cebeci gave insight into the role of Turkey in the Syria conflict. At the beginning of the conflict, Turkey advised Assad to initiate reforms that would lead to a democratic transition. But after August of 2011, when the Assad regime began to use force against its opposition, Turkey announced that it would take the side of the Syrian people over the government. Mr. Cebeci explained how after Turkey’s engagement strategy failed; it applied its own set of sanctions on Syria alongside the Arab League sanctions. Turkey also supported the Arab League and UN proposals. Now, with the failure of these proposals, Mr. Cebeci stated that Turkey is ready to support a purely humanitarian mission to Syria that subsequently has a lesser chance of being blocked by Russia and China. In addition, Mr. Cebeci emphasized the importance of maintaining pressure on the Assad regime. Turkey will not take unilateral military action unless its security is directly threatened by the situation in Syria. Mr. Cebeci underlined the damaging effects that a Syrian civil war could have on Turkey and the broader region. He emphasized that Turkey has taken the strongest stance toward Syria throughout the uprising.
Steven Heydemann, Ph.D., serves as Senior Adviser for Middle East Initiatives at USIP. Heydemann is a political scientist who specializes in the comparative politics and the political economy of the Middle East, with a particular focus on Syria. His interests include authoritarian governance, economic development, social policy, political and economic reform and civil society. From 2003 to 2007, Heydemann directed the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. From 1997 to 2001, he was an associate professor in the department of political science at Columbia University. Earlier, from 1990-1997, he directed the Social Science Research Council’s Program on International Peace and Security and Program on the Near and Middle East. Among his many publications are: "Social Pacts and the Persistence of Authoritarianism in the Middle East," in Debating Arab Authoritarianism: Dynamics and Durability in Non-Democratic Regimes. Ed. Oliver Schlumberger (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007); "Upgrading Authoritarianism in the Arab World," (Saban Center, Brookings Institution, November 2007); Networks of Privilege in the Middle East: The Politics of Economic Reform Revisited, edited volume (Palgrave Press, 2004); War, Institutions and Social Change in the Middle East, edited volume (University of California Press, 2000), and Authoritarianism in Syria: Institutions and Social Conflict, 1946-1970 (Cornell University Press, 1999).
Randa Slim is an adjunct research fellow at the New America Foundation and a scholar at the Middle East Institute. A former vice president of the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue, Slim has been a senior program advisor at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a guest scholar at the United States Institute of Peace, Middle East program director at Resolve Inc, and a program officer at the Kettering Foundation. A long-term practitioner of Track II dialogue and peace-building processes in the Middle East and Central Asia, she co-founded in 2007 the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy, a group of academics and civil society activists from 8 Arab countries. She is a member of the advisory committee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund's Peacebuilding program and a member of the board of the Project on Middle East Democracy. The author of several studies, book chapters and articles on conflict management, post-conflict peacebuiliding, and Middle East politics, she is currently completing a book manuscript about Hezbollah. Mrs. Slim earned her BS and MA degrees at the American University of Beirut and completed her PhD at the University of North Carolina.
Aram Nerguizian is a visiting fellow with the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at CSIS, where he conducts research on the Middle East and North Africa. He specializes in security, politics, and military development in the Middle East, focusing on specialized themes such as the Lebanese military, U.S. and Iranian strategic competition in the Levant, and challenges to civil-military relations and force development in post-conflict and divided societies. Nerguizian received a B.A. in political science from Concordia University in Montreal and a master’s in international affairs from George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. He has also received security assistance training from the Defense Institute of Security Assistance Management. Nerguizian has authored or coauthored a number of Burke Chair books and reports at CSIS. His reports include Instability in Syria: Assessing the Risks of Military Intervention; U.S.-Iranian Strategic Competition: The Proxy Cold War in the Levant, Egypt & Jordan; The Arab-Israeli Military Balance: Conventional Realities & Asymmetric Challenges; The Gulf Military Balance in 2010: An Overview; and The Lebanese Armed Forces: Challenges and Opportunities in Post-Syria Lebanon. His books include The North African Military Balance: Force Developments in the Maghreb and Israel and Syria: The Military Balance and the Prospects of War.
Erol Cebeci is the Executive Director of the SETA Foundation at Washington DC. He completed his undergraduate studies at Istanbul University and received an M.S. degree from Penn State University, both in Business Administration. He later attended a Ph.D. program first in Managerial Economics then in Ecological Economics at Rensselaer Institute of Technology (RPI). He taught several undergraduate courses on Economics and Public Finance as an Adjunct Professor at RPI. He established and run private companies in business consulting and international trade. He has served two terms as a member of Turkish Parliament. He also served as a member of NATO Parliamentary Assembly, first member and then as the Chairman of the Turkish Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. While in politics, he has mainly worked on human rights issues, security and defense issues, foreign policy, and European politics.
Kadir Ustun is the Research Director of the SETA Foundation at Washington DC. He received his M.A. degree in History from Bilkent University. He is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in Middle East Studies at Columbia University. Mr. Ustun has taught numerous undergraduate classes on history, politics, culture, and art in the Islamic World as well as Western political thought at Columbia University and George Mason University. He is currently the Assistant Editor of Insight Turkey, an academic journal published by SETA Foundation. His research interests include civil-military relations, social and military modernization in the Middle East, US-Turkey relations, and Turkish foreign policy. He has contributed to various SETA reports and his writings have appeared in Insight Turkey, insideIran.org, and Al Jazeera English.