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What is the Syrian Civil War? 

How did the syrian civil war begin, who are the major combatants in the syrian civil war, have chemical weapons been used in the syrian civil war, what has been the humanitarian impact of the syrian civil war.

Syrian Civil War

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The Syrian Civil War is an ongoing violent conflict in Syria between pro- democratic insurgents and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ’s long-standing dynastic regime. The war has been a source of significant instability in the Middle East since 2011, and the resultant civilian displacement and refugee exodus constitute one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern history. 

From 2006 to 2010 Syria suffered its worst drought in modern history. The combined effects of the drought and preexisting economic disparities under the Assad regime contributed to the first nonviolent pro-reform protests, in 2011, riding the wave of Arab Spring uprisings. Divisions between the country’s Sunni majority and the ruling ʿAlawite elite were also a factor. The regime’s harsh military crackdown escalated tensions, and by September 2011 the peaceful protests had become an armed insurgency. 

There are several parties involved in the Syrian Civil War. President Bashar al-Assad controls the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), which has fought alongside Hezbollah and numerous Shiʿi militias. He has received foreign support from Russia and Iran. Insurgent forces include the Southern Front, the Kurdish -dominant Syrian Democratic Forces, and a coalition of SAA defectors. These groups have been supported by Western powers such as the United States and Germany. Regional support comes from Turkey, Jordan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Islamist militant organizations such as ISIL and Hayʾat Taḥrīr al-Shām also oppose the Assad regime, but they have clashed with mainstream insurgents. 

In 2012 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ’s regime confirmed for the first time its possession of a chemical weapons arsenal. Syria threatened to deploy chemical weapons against foreign aggressors but stressed that it would never use them on civilians. Since 2012, however, numerous multinational investigations have uncovered Syrian chemical weapons attacks that number in “the low dozens” and have targeted Syrian civilians. The deadliest occurred in 2013 in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. The Syrian government strongly denies having used any chemical weapons.

Since its start in 2011, the Syrian Civil War has created the largest refugee population in the world, constituting over a third of the global refugee population. In 2018 the United Nations recorded 6.7 million Syrian refugees, nearly 40 percent of Syria’s population that year. Most fled to Turkey and other regional allies, but hundreds of thousands have found asylum in Germany, the United States, and Canada. Within Syria itself, an estimated 6.5 million civilians have been displaced. Several human rights organizations have called the Syrian Civil War the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century.

In March 2011 Syria’s government, led by Pres. Bashar al-Assad , faced an unprecedented challenge to its authority when pro- democracy protests erupted throughout the country. Protesters demanded an end to the authoritarian practices of the Assad regime, in place since Assad’s father, Ḥafiz al-Assad , became president in 1971. The Syrian government used violence to suppress demonstrations, making extensive use of police, military, and paramilitary forces. Opposition militias began to form in 2011, and by 2012 the conflict had expanded into a full-fledged civil war. In this special feature, Britannica provides a guide to the civil war and explores the historical context of the conflict.

In January 2011, Syrian Pres. Bashar al-Assad was asked in an interview with The Wall Street Journal if he expected the wave of popular protest then sweeping through the Arab world—which had already unseated authoritarian rulers in Tunisia and Egypt —to reach Syria. Assad acknowledged that there had been economic hardships for many Syrians and that progress toward political reform had been slow and halting, but he was confident that Syria would be spared because his administration’s stance of resistance to the United States and Israel aligned with the beliefs of the Syrian people, whereas the leaders who had already fallen had carried out pro-Western foreign policy in defiance of their people’s feelings.

The onset of antiregime protests, coming just a few weeks after the interview, made it clear that Assad’s situation had been much more precarious than he was willing to admit. In reality, a variety of long-standing political and economic problems were pushing the country toward instability. When Assad succeeded his father in 2000, he came to the presidency with a reputation as a modernizer and a reformer. The hopes that were raised by Assad’s presidency went largely unfulfilled, though. In politics, a brief turn toward greater participation was quickly reversed, and Assad revived the authoritarian tactics of his late father’s administration, including pervasive censorship and surveillance and brutal violence against suspected opponents of the regime. Assad also oversaw significant liberalization of Syria’s state-dominated economy, but those changes mostly served to enrich a network of crony capitalists with ties to the regime. On the eve of the uprising, then, Syrian society remained highly repressive, with increasingly conspicuous inequalities in wealth and privilege.

Environmental crisis also played a role in Syria’s uprising. Between 2006 and 2010, Syria experienced the worst drought in the country’s modern history. Hundreds of thousands of farming families were reduced to poverty, causing a mass migration of rural people to urban shantytowns.

Louis IX of France (St. Louis), stained glass window of Louis IX during the Crusades. (Unknown location.)

It was in the impoverished drought-stricken rural province of Darʿā , in southern Syria, that the first major protests occurred in March 2011. A group of children had been arrested and tortured by the authorities for writing antiregime graffiti; incensed local people took to the street to demonstrate for political and economic reforms. Security forces responded harshly, conducting mass arrests and sometimes firing on demonstrators. The violence of the regime’s response added visibility and momentum to the protesters’ cause, and within weeks similar nonviolent protests had begun to appear in cities around the country. Videos of security forces beating and firing at protesters—captured by witnesses on mobile phones—were circulated around the country and smuggled out to foreign media outlets.

From early on, the uprising and the regime’s response had a sectarian dimension. Many of the protesters belonged to the country’s Sunni majority, while the ruling Assad family were members of the country’s ʿAlawite minority. ʿAlawites also dominated the security forces and the irregular militias that carried out some of the worst violence against protesters and suspected opponents of the regime. Sectarian divisions were initially not as rigid as is sometimes supposed, though; the political and economic elite with ties to the regime included members of all of Syria’s confessional groups—not just ʿAlawites—while many middle- and working-class ʿAlawites did not particularly benefit from belonging to the same community as the Assad family and may have shared some of the protesters’ socioeconomic grievances.

As the conflict progressed, however, sectarian divisions hardened. In his public statements, Assad sought to portray the opposition as Sunni Islamic extremists in the mold of al-Qaeda and as participants in foreign conspiracies against Syria. The regime also produced propaganda stoking minorities’ fears that the predominately Sunni opposition would carry out violent reprisals against non-Sunni communities.

As the protests increased in strength and size, the regime responded with heavier force. In some cases this meant encircling cities or neighbourhoods that had become hubs of protest, such as Bāniyās or Homs , with tanks , artillery , and attack helicopters and cutting off utilities and communications. In response, some groups of protesters began to take up arms against the security forces. In June, Syrian troops and tanks moved into the northern town of Jisr al-Shugūr, sending a stream of thousands of refugees fleeing into Turkey.

By the summer of 2011 Syria’s regional neighbours and the global powers had both begun to split into pro- and anti-Assad camps. The United States and the European Union were increasingly critical of Assad as his crackdown continued, and U.S. Pres. Barack Obama and several European heads of state called for him to step down in August 2011. An anti-Assad bloc consisting of Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia formed in the last half of 2011. The United States, the EU, and the Arab League soon introduced sanctions targeting senior members of the Assad regime.

Meanwhile, Syria’s long-standing allies Iran and Russia continued their support. An early indicator of the international divisions and rivalries that would prolong the conflict came in October 2011 when Russia and China cast the first of several vetoes blocking a UN Security Council Resolution that would have condemned Assad’s crackdown.

Causes and Consequences of The Civil War in Syria

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Below are a few resources focusing on the causes and consequences of the ongoing (hopefully soon to be recent) civil war in Syria. (‘War and Conflict’ in relation to development is part of the A Level Sociology Global Development topic).

The causes of the civil war in Syria

This Guardian video does a reasonable job of explaining some of the causes of the Syrian Civil War in five minutes. NB it has its critics – see below!

The trigger event which caused the Civil War in Syria was when 1000s of people took the street in January 2011 to demand political reforms (e.g. elections) inspired by ‘ The Arab Spring ‘ – a wave of violent and non-violent protests which had swept across many North African and Middle Eastern Countries in December – January 2012.

The root of the conflict can be further traced back to the after math of World War I when France and Britain established the boarders of the Middle Eastern Countries, lumping many different ethnic groups and religions into Syria. The ethnic/ religious breakdown of Syria’s population is approximately 12% Alawites (President Assad’s ethnic group),8% Christians, 3% Shiites, and 74% Sunnis.

Who is Fighting Who and Why?

This second video by VOX starts off by pointing out that the war in Syria is a mess, with four main groups involved:

This video focuses more on how the conflict has develop and points to the important fact that Syria has now become a ‘ Proxy War ’ in which other nation states are effectively fighting each other by funding different factions within the conflict, but without being directly involved themselves.

By 2013 money and troops were being funneled to the rebels by Sunni Muslims (e.g. the Saudis) While Iran (Shia Muslims) funneled money and troops to Assad.

Up until this time, Assad was losing ground to both the rebels and ISIS until September 2015 when Russia stepped in by bombing US backed rebels, and to date (December 2016) it seems like Assad is likely to defeat the rebel forces.

To my mind, for the purposes of A level Sociology you can simplify the causes of this conflict thus:

The Consequences of the Civil War in Syria

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The Syrian Civil War essay

The Syrian Civil War has become a very violent and complicated conflict that has consumed the nation of Syria as well as the involvement of its neighboring states. This war began through a nonviolent, peaceful protest in 2011. Since then, the conflict has escalated into what it is today, a complete warfare (Marks, 1). The state’s core struggle is captivated between the forces that are loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and the rebels who oppose his leadership. The main disagreement is over whether Mr. Assad’s government should remain in power. As this debate has progressed, numerous states, rebel assemblies, and terrorist parties have become engaged in the cause. In addition to the various groups and parties, this continuous war has pulled in a number of foreign powers including the United States and Russia. Based on the severity of this conflict and its ability to capture the attention of these greater world powers, I have chosen to assess this event under the lens of a realist’s perspective.

It began with the arrest and torment of 15 Syrian schoolchildren, who were caught writing graffiti that was motivated by the Arab Spring in early March of that year (Marks, 1). This tragic event broke into rallies from citizens all across Syria for the demand and freedom of the children and the demand for more liberty to the people. President Bashar al-Assad and his government responded to these demonstrations through acts of violence, resulting in the death of many civilians. The people of Syria were horrified and astounded by Assad’s actions and commanded for his resignation. With little to no power, the people of Syria could not force him to step down, and with Assad and his government refusing to resign, the creation of a Civil War was inevitable. Fighting broke out across the entire country of Syria, with the rebels on one side and Assad and his followers on the other.

Assad and his government are considered the minority group, but they have strong support from the military and security services, allowing them to easily turn towards violence (Fisher, 1). The fighting only worsened when numerous external factors came into play, specifically the United States and Russia. The networking of these foreign interventions continues to perpetuate the war, with each side having a different agenda.

Realist Analysis: The realist school of thought ultimately revolves around the concept of power. The Greek Philosopher Thucydides interoperates this theory best by explaining how a state is much like human nature in the sense that it is greedy for power (Thucydides, Melian Dialogue). Realists like Thucydides, believe that states are rational, individual, actors who prefer more power to less and view international politics as a ceaseless and unlimited struggle for power. Realists see this power as the most valuable commodity, and, according to Thomas Hobbes, the only way to assure and preserve relative power is through military or weapons (Hobbes, Leviathan). Hobbes and many other realists believe that the only reason that war occurs is based on the fact that there will always be a never-ending struggle for power.

The Syrian Civil War is a continuing conflict over who has the most power and who will be able to maintain it. With both the US and Russia intervening with different agendas, the ultimate goal between the two actors is the acquisition of relative power. The US intervened in Syria’s Civil War after Assad’s second attack and usage of chemical weapons on his own civilians (Manfreda, 1). Chemical weapons have been banned by international conventions for many years (the Geneva Convention), and after Assad’s second attack on his own people, the US stepped in to hold him accountable.

Not only does this show the power of the US military, but it shows how the US holds a greater responsibility internationally. One may argue that these acts of international engagement express the ideals of a realist. Because we live in a world of anarchy, larger and more resource-abundant states, such as the US, display their power and global presence by dictating the internal affairs of smaller states, like Syria. The US intervened in Syria in order to remind the world how powerful of a state the US is and how the state of Syria needs to be held accountable when it breaks international law. However, the US had other motivations for entering into a conflict with Syria.

The US has insisted that Assad’s regime step down to ensure the decline of Iran’s power. The outcome of these motives would provide the US with an upper hand on the region, and a larger influence globally. With Syria being the only Arab state allied closely to Iran’s affairs, the US finds it crucial to use preventative action and cut ties between the two powers. Iran is a potential developing hegemon of the Middle East (Gerschwer, 1), with this looming threat, a realist would enforce the US to act and ensure global dominance. Before, the US’s foreign policy has requested there to be a stability of power between Iran and Iraq, and both of those states have allowed the US to back them through military spending and the selling of weapons.

Now that Iraq is no longer a regional influence, Iran has had the opportunity to become the regional superpower. So, in order to keep Iran from continuing its effects on more Middle Eastern states or even beyond the Middle East, the US stresses for the hindrance of the military of Iran and Russia in order to stop the state from affecting other states and non-state actors (Lammon & Eishen, 1). This is important for the US because Iran is dependent on Syria to gain support from the Hezbollah; thus, if Syria’s government changes, it will impact Iran and its power to provoke Israel, Europe, and the US with its disposed delegation. Meaning, if Assad steps down, a new regime in Syria may not back the Hezbollah, which would then affect Iran’s power (Gerschwer, 2). But, when looking at a realist point of view, the US needs to be aware of the effects of destabilization in Syria.

If Assad and his regime end up backing down, who will take his role as a leader? This matters for a realist because the interests of the US may or may not be better served with a new regime. That is why this war is very crucial to the US. Along with the US, Russia is also very involved in the Syrian Civil War. Russia, being an ally to Syria, wants to maintain its influence as a great power without the intervention of the US. Russia has sold many weapons to Assad and his government and has also continued to offer Syria diplomatic protection through the United Nations. Since Syria is one of Russia’s few allies, Russia has been able to uphold a military base on their land. This is essential to Russia because it is one of the only military bases that is not located in their state (Max, 2).

This is important because it gives Russia power in the Middle East. The reason for Russia wanting power through Syria in the Middle East is because of its geostrategic influence. Syria is close to Iran which matters to Russia because if Syria’s current regime falls, then the US will have a chance to help Syria gain a democratic institution. If this happens, Iran will be isolated which is the main concern for Russia, and if that occurs, then Russia will have no influence in the Middle East, and the US will be seen as the main power state for that region (Gershwer, 3). Russia considers the US as a superpower, even though this concept does not hold validity when it comes to the international system (Gershwer, 4).

However, Russia continues its conflict with the US over the interest of this title. In a realist perspective, Russia is competing for this power because of the state’s perception of the zero-sum rule. Meaning, if one actor has more power, the other actor has less. Russia wants to preserve its power and influence over Syria in order to secure more power over the US. That is why it is crucial to Russia that Syria remains its ally in order to prevent the US from influencing the Middle East. Counter Argument: While I believe realism to be the main cause and determinant of this continuing war, some may argue that this Civil War can also be viewed with a neorealist perspective. Neorealist individuals, such as Waltz, would look at this Civil War as a war for survival and security, not just power alone. Power is still important to the means of survival; however, security is the reasoning behind it, which is different than what realists believe. Neorealism also argues that state security can be influenced through the helping of a states’ allies.

This, through the lens of a neorealist, impacts the Syrian Civil War because it brings the attention to international anarchy in the sense that the US and Russia only intervened based on their need for relative security. A neorealist could argue that the US became involved in Syria’s conflict in order to make sure that Russia has no control over Syria’s security problems or political and economic stability (Gershwer, 2). Which then, in turn, relates to the US and its states’ security due to Russia being allied with Syria. If Russia can maintain and hold influence over Syria, then Syria, with its influence on Iran, can have the ability to hold threats on the US with the backing of Russia. This is also relevant to Russia and its security if the US were able to help Syria become a democratic institution, leaving Iran isolated, and Russia with no influence in the Middle East.

This would lead to Russia’s security being at risk with no allies in the Middle East, and the US holding major influence in the region. However, these states in the Middle East are considered small when compared to Russia and the US. The risk of them attacking the US or Russia is very unlikely. Also, when looking at the neorealist perspective on the security dilemma, it does not hold influence over the US and Russia because those two states provide Syria with military weapons. Therefore, if Syria wanted to have an arms race with either country, it would not hold a great enough threat to either countries’ security. That is why the neorealist perspective does not hold validity over the realist perspective. Survival and security are not the main reasons why these two great states became involved, but rather the need to maintain their power internationally. Conclusion: The never-ending struggle for power in the Syrian Civil War is comprised of two major world powers.

The US, who backs the Syrian rebel groups and Russia, which supports the Assad regime. The realist school of thought explains how the US demands an end to Assad’s regime in order to diminish the potential power of Iran. If the US is able to carefully change Syria’s regime, Iran will no longer be able to cause problems in the Middle East or the rest of the world. Russia is also the main actor in this war as the state is an important ally to Syria. This allows Russia to have an influence in the Middle East with the hope of maintaining its power and undermining the US. Through realist notions, the Syrian Civil War can be seen as self-interested with different state actors determined for power in the Middle East.

Works Cited

Fisher, Max. Straightforward Answers to Basic Questions About Syria’s War.The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Jan. 2018, Internet resource. Gerschwer, Scott. The Realist Looks at Syria.Academia.edu – Share Research, Hobbes, Thomas, and J C. A. Gaskin. Leviathan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Internet resource. Lammon, Adam, and Jacob Eishen. A Realist Approach to Syria.The National Interest, The Center for the National Interest, 9 July 2018, Internet resource. Manfreda, Primoz. What Is the US Role in Syria Now?Thoughtco., Dotdash, 3 Dec. 2017, Internet resource. Marks, Julie. Why Is There a Civil War in Syria?History.com, A&E Television Networks, 14 Sept. 2018, Internet resource. Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War. Translated by Rex Warner. London: Penguin, 1954. Voinea, Emanuela. Realism Today.E-International Relations, 1 Mar. 2013, Internet resource.

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causes of the syrian civil war essay

Home Essay Samples World Middle East Syria

Causes Of The Syrian Civil War

The conflict in Syria is well-known, but a deeply complicated subject. What first started as mass protests demanding abdication of their authoritarian leader Bashar Al-Assad, resulted in a civil war. The difficulty in comprehending the Syrian civil war lies in the fragmentation of the different opposition groups. Furthermore, the instability of the country resulting from the civil war opened up a gap Islamic State (IS, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL) knew how to fill in. The presence of IS convolutes the conflict even more. This conflict in Syria has now developed itself from a civil war between the government and opposition groups to a conflict with major international interests. With Russia, China, Iran, Hezbollah and Iraq supporting the Assad regime and the United States (U.S.), France, the United Kingdom (U.K.), Qatar, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Turkey supporting the rebels, once again we find ourselves in a U.S.- Russia division.In political science, many studies focus themselves on the onset of civil wars and why they occur. This essay will attempt to examine the different causes of civil war provided by the existent literature. And furthermore answer the research question: “What are the causes of the Syrian Civil War?” through applying the different theoretical approaches.

This essay is furthermore divided into two sections: first, a global analysis of different theories regarding civil war onset will be made. In the second part, these theories will be applied to the Syrian Civil War. Causes of Civil WarDescribing Civil War Contrary to what is often assumed, there is no clear definition of a civil war. A lot of debates about how a civil war should be defined revolve around the casualties of the conflict (Baev 2007). The generally accepted interpretation is given by the Correlates of War (COW) which describes civil war as following: “Any armed conflict that involves a) military action internal to the metropole, b) the active participation of the national government, and c) effective resistance by both sides and d) a total of at least 1,000 battle-deaths during each year of the war” (Sarkees, 2010, p.5). Collier & Hoeffler (2004) however, extend this interpretation by emphasizing the difference between a massacre and a civil war. According to them, the casualties need to be at least five percent on both the government and opposition side in order the conflict to be a civil war. In a renewed typology, the term ‘intra-state war’ is introduced. These intra-state wars encompass civil war and inter-communal conflict. The distinction between those two involves the presence or absence of the government as an actor of the conflict (Sarkees, Wayman, & Singer, 2003). This typology furthermore divides civil war into 1) wars regarding local issues “and 2) wars where they seek control of the central government.

Causes of Civil War Many different causes are presented in the literature. In this essay, four overarching causes will be discussed: economic causes, ethnic linkage, counterinsurgency and the political regime. Economic causesFive main analysis stand out regarding economy and causes of civil war. Two of them do believe in the importance of ethnicity in the outbreak of civil war, but however, believe that economy is the propulsive force behind this. Collier and Hoeffler (2004) created an econometric model to evaluate when a civil war will occur. They highlight the importance of greed and grievance feeding the civil war, but they don’t believe it is the trigger as such. The fact that rebellion takes place is due to certain – mostly financial – circumstances, which gives them the opportunity to rebel in the first place (Collier and Hoeffler, 2004). Three important sources provide rebels of financial aid: natural resources, diasporas and financial aid from opposed governments. Another factor contributing to the onset of rebellion is income because the probability of rebellion increases when income is low. Newman (1991) on the other hand, finds that not financial circumstances but rather modernization of society as a whole causes civil war. He concludes that certain social groups tend to be mobilized when economic modernization takes place. A third analysis focusses on rational choice behaviour. Grossman (1995) attempts to explain civil war by focusing on the actions taken by rebel leaders and the ruler to persuade citizens. The actions that they take are influenced by rational choices the citizens will take. Grossman (1995) claims that these actions and the outbreak of rebellion are influenced by the Pareto-efficiency. The Pareto-efficiency is considered the ultimate efficiency point between supply and demand. When there is as much supply as there is demand, no one is discriminated.

So based on the Pareto-efficiency, when people are discriminated in a financial or economic way caused by the state, the risk of civil war increases. As previously discussed, Collier & Hoeffler (2004) also emphasize the importance of natural resource trade, aside from the financial part of rebellion. In addition to their research Humphreys (2005) indicates that not only greed and grievances created by natural resources generates a civil war, but found other mechanisms that contribute to this process as well. He points out that interests of other countries regarding natural resources contribute to a civil war. It has to be understood this is not a cause but rather can cause an escalation of the conflict through third parties’ intervention. He furthermore refers to dependency. States which are dependent on natural resources are considered weaker, which implies that civil war is more likely to occur (see below) (Humphreys 2005). The idea of dependency goes even further than only generating a weak state. Countries that are more dependent on trade of natural resources have in general, lower level of internal trade. Some scholars believe that high levels of internal trade produce higher social cohesion. This phenomenon indicates that dependency on natural resources does not only create a weak state but also creates social fragmentation (Humphreys 2005). Considering the macro-levels of an economy, scholars have proven that countries with less economic development and are thus considered ‘poorer’, are more prone to go to war (Holtermann 2012). This is due to economic opportunities on the one hand, and political-military opportunities on the other. Holtermann (2012) describes these economic opportunities as a somewhat rational choice based on income. Since people living in poorer countries gain less income in general, they will also be satisfied with lower income when rebelling. This makes rebellion more likely. The political-military opportunities arise when the penetration of the state in some areas are low, which is profitable for mobilization. In these respective areas, the rebels can influence the inhabitants because the state never did through providing several services for example.

Ethnic causesWhen ethnicity causes a civil war, it is considered an “ethnic civil war”. In literature, many different explanations why ethnic groups rebel are given. Grievances, opportunities, exclusion, loss of political power and competition are considered the most explanatory triggers (Denny and Walter 2014; Cederman; Lars-Erik, Wimmer, and Min 2010; Fearon and Laitin 2003; Cederman and Vogt 2017; Collier and Hoeffler 2004). As discussed in the previous section, Collier and Hoeffler (2004), showed that certain opportunities must be present before rebellion can occur. The ethnic causes, they believe, are grievances towards the state. This is thus considered a motive to engage in violence but is according to Collier and Hoeffles (2004) nevertheless enough to start a civil war. Cederman, Wimmer, and Min (2010) mainly discuss the importance of exclusion and losing political power – nowadays or historically. They point out that ethnic groups who are excluded from the political and decision-making process, are more likely to start rebellion and violence. Furthermore, not only discrimination in the political process but also exclusion and dissatisfaction, in general, create grievances which trigger rebellion (Denny and Walter 2014). It should however, be emphasized that ethnic conflict is not a straightforward concept but is considered different in particular regions and countries (Brubaker and Laitin, 1998). Brubaker & Laitin (1998) attempt to explain ethnic and nationalist violence through comparing research that already has been done. In addition to what is already discussed in this section, they have found three intra-ethnic processes which influence ethnic violence – which does not necessarily mean civil war. Calculated incitement, provocation or intensification of violence, sanctions posed within a certain group or ethnic outbidding are all considered processes that contribute to ethnic violence (Brubaker and Laitin 1998). Fearon (as cited in Brubaker & Laitin, 1998) furthermore stresses the importance of leadership in a country. He states that if for example a new state is established and dominated by an ethnic group, ethnic violence is more prone when there is at least one other powerful minority group present as well. A last, and ‘realism’ approach to ethnic civil war is given by Posen (1993). He explains the importance of the security dilemma in ethnic conflict. When a regime collapses, anarchy emerges. This situation of anarchy could create a security dilemma by different groups and as a result, create ethnic competition.

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This competition furthermore could lead to violence when the other groups’ security is threatened. He nevertheless emphasizes that the security dilemma is often resolved with just defensive mechanisms, and thus does not result in violence (Posen 1993).Counterinsurgency“Counterinsurgency refers to military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychologicaland civic actions applied by the government or an occupying force to defeat orrepress an insurgency or uprising” (Mucha, 2013, p.151). Mucha (2013) examined the effect of counterinsurgency on the onset of civil war. In his research, he has found that four interdependent factors influence and trigger civil war. First, he describes that neglecting needs of a population generates the grievances discussed above. Random operations that are done by the police create an even greater gap between population and the government because it fails to secure its citizens. If then, a government decides to change its ‘security operation’ to a military one, people will be more prone to stand up for their rights. Furthermore, it is very often the case that the military gets more freedom to handle the insurgencies. If this is the case, anger towards the government from both population – who see that the government is unable to fulfill their basic needs – and the opposition group only grows. All these factors combined, fuelled the (counter-)insurgency and ultimately the civil war in two cases: Syria and Peru (Mucha, 2013).The political regime There is a lot of ambiguity in the literature regarding the political regime and its influence on civil war. Fearon and Laitin (2003) for example indicate that civil war is not more likely in an autocracy and neither in democracies. They, including some other scholars, believe that the political regime as such does not influence the outbreak of civil war. They point out, however, that the transition of a political regime plays the most important role (Fearon and Laitin, 2003; Hegre et al., 2001). Political regimes which are not a democracy, nor an autocracy are found to be unstable. This instability creates the opportunities for opposition groups to rebel. They furthermore state this argument with the fact that autocratic regimes often have the means to suppress these rebellions, which makes civil war less likely. Ohlson (2008) has established the ‘Triple-R Triangle’ theory. In his theory, he estimates that three ‘R’s are the underlying causes of civil war: Reasons, Resources, and Resolve. He splits the reasons into background conditions on the one hand and proximate conditions on the other. Regarding the influence of the political regime on civil war onset, these background conditions are considered important. Ohlson (2008) states that the influence of colonialism, and thus earlier subjection to a powerful external state is a first factor which creates greed and grievances.

As discussed in the first part, greed and grievances seem to be the most explanatory factor concerning civil war onset (Collier and Hoeffler 2004). A second background and structural condition creating these grievances consider the weak state. Weak states, especially in the international system, are unequal and unstable. These grievances on their hand are often linked to group identity, patrimonial rule, and corruption (Ohlson 2008). This ‘weak state’ approach is also applicable to the theories of Fearon and Laitin (2003) and Hegre et al. (2001). The instability of the weak state, whether in transition to both autocracy or democracy or just an unstable state creates the Resources as described by Ohlson (2008). These resources are capabilities and thus opportunities necessary to start fighting and can be military or organizational. A possible opportunity could thus be political instability. What caused the Syrian Civil War?With the uprising of the Arab Spring in 2011, mass protests occurred in different countries in the Middle-East and North Africa. In countries including Egypt, Libya and Yemen citizens gathered together demanding more democracy. Access to open media contributes to conflict spill over (Young et al., 2014). This is no different in Syria. When four young school boys witnessed the mass protests in the Middle-East on social media, they painted “your turn next, doctor (Assad)” on the wall of their high school (Junger and Quested, 2017). They got arrested, held in captivity and were brutally abused by the police. This event encouraged the Syrian people to organize peaceful demonstrations against the actions of their autocratic president Bashar Al-Assad. The Syrian Civil War eventually started when Assad brutally cracked down these protests by using violence (Olanrewaju and Joshua, 2015). On the contrary to what the regime expected, these demonstrations did not stop after the violence occurred but it only encouraged larger parts of Syria to join the protests. In the summer of 2012, the actions of the government created armed resistance and resulted in a full-blown war (Olanrewaju and Joshua, 2015).

When considering the above-mentioned theories regarding civil war onset, the counterinsurgency theory seems to be the most explanatory one. However, once again civil war is not an easy phenomenon and is mostly not caused by only one factor. If we take the economic causes into account in the analysis of the Syrian conflict, only little evidence can be found. Haddad (2011) found some tendencies in the economy of Syria, right before the civil war occurred. He found that in 2010, the Syrian economy was relatively stable. But however, the sustainability of the economic growth is still ambiguous. Regarding the poverty and income rates in Syria, no data is available. The poor country theory, therefore, cannot be confirmed. The theory of Newman (1991) could give an explanation when a certain interpretation is made. The Western lifestyle of Bashar Al-Assad in his youth encouraged him to modernize Syrian society. He therefore introduced the Internet in Syria (Grohe 2015). Even though only 22.5 percent of Syrian population had access to the Internet and it was mostly controlled by the government, the social media did contribute to the onset of the war (Grohe 2015). A third economic theory took natural resources into account (Humphreys 2005). When looking at oil production in Syria it has gradually decreased over the years, which of course results in a decrease in oil revenues (Haddad 2011). Nevertheless, actions have been taken by the Syrian government to improve this situation. This will probably make Syria more dependent on from foreign countries in the future but has not generated large-scale differences in the country. This furthermore implies that the natural resources theory is not applicable to Syria. Ethnically speaking, Syria is adequately homogenous (Olanrewaju and Joshua 2015). But even though 80 percent of the Syrian population is Arab, the differences in religion are worth mentioning. When 74 percent of the population in Syria is Sunni, the government is predominantly Alawite, a Shiite offshoot (11 percent) (Olanrewaju & Joshua, 2015; “World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples – Syria,” 2011). However the outbreak of the Syrian civil war cannot directly be linked to these differences, it is possible that the majority of the Syrian people feel neglected by the government.

As mentioned above, this could of course create grievances against the Syrian government because they do not feel presented in the political processes (Cederman; Lars-Erik, Wimmer, and Min 2010). The ‘security dilemma theory’ of Posen (1993) furthermore, gives no explanation regarding the Syrian civil war. This is due to the fact that there was no anarchy when the civil war started. On the contrary, they started fighting their autocratic president. As previously discussed, the counterinsurgency theory by Mucha (2013) already explains why the war in Syria occurred. Mucha (2013) proved with his analysis that indeed, counterinsurgency fuelled the civil war in Syria. The operations done by the police, by arresting these schoolboys, created a gap between the government and the population (Mucha 2013). The fact that Assad traded this ‘security operation’ in a military one against its citizens, encouraged them to create an armed rebellion and fight back. It is however important to investigate the characteristics of the political regime to see whether or not this could also have had an influence on the civil war. Calculations of both the Freedom House and Polity IV indicate that Syria is an autocratic regime, and already was before the civil war occurred (The Freedom House 2010; Polity IV 2014). When examining the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, the theories of Fearon & Laitin (2003) and Hegre et al. (2001) are possibly outdated. They state that the actual political regime has no influence on the onset of civil war. With the Arab Spring uprisings since 2011 however, this theory can be refuted. The fact that these civil wars with mass protests occurred, is only due to the fact that they lived in an autocratic regime. This implies that the political regime does influence civil war and that not only countries in transition are vulnerable to it.

They furthermore explained how civil war occurrence is less likely in autocratic regimes, because they have the means to suppress these uprisings (Fearon and Laitin 2003; Hegre et al. 2001). Nevertheless, the exact opposite appears to be true when examining the war in Syria since the suppressing resulted in civil war. On the contrary, the theory of the weak state provided by Ohlson (2008) gives us more insight on the importance of the state structure. A weak state is considered to generate instability, inequality and division amongst its citizens. This is furthermore often linked with patrimonial rule and corruption which develops certain social identities and very often exclusion as a result (Ohlson 2008). The Syrian government together with its army is indeed patrimonial and corrupted (Heydemann 2013). As mentioned above, the government is particular Alawite, which is a Shiite offshoot, while 74 percent is Sunni (Minority Rights Group International 2011). Combined with the patrimonial rule, this could cause enormous grievances amongst the population, which furthermore instigates a weak state. It is very plausible that these generated social identities contributed to the enmity towards Assad and his government, and thus encouraged the population even more to armed rebellion (Cederman; Lars-Erik, Wimmer, and Min 2010; Ohlson 2008). In addition it is important to emphasize that while the Civil War was proceeding, the state and its infrastructure weakened even more. This resulted in a gap, which Islamic State (formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL) knew how to fill in (Olanrewaju and Joshua 2015). The interference of Islamic State in Syria only worsened the conflict both nationally and internationally. ConclusionMany scholars have attempted to understand the causes of civil war, especially after the breakdown of the Soviet Union.

These theories, however, should maybe be reconsidered since the Arab Spring occurred in 2011. With this essay, I have investigated how the contemporary literature regarding the onset of civil war, is applicable to the Syrian Civil war that started in 2012. It is however always the case that one single variable or trigger cannot fully explain why a (civil) war occurs. The theory that is considered to be most applicable is the one of Mucha (2013). He explains why counterinsurgency fuels the civil war in Syria. Looking at the events happening at the beginning of the civil war, with several repressive actions of the government, this is the most explanatory trigger recently given in literature. The civil war occurred when Assad and his government tried to suppress peaceful demonstrations using violence against its citizens. This essay, however, tried to take a deeper insight into underlying factors and triggers causing this conflict. Aside from the counterinsurgency theory, two important causes can explain the outbreak of the civil war in Syria. First, the modernization theory of Newman (1991) explains to us how the modernization of society can influence the onset of civil war. The fact that Assad introduced the Internet to society, in order to modernize it, resulted in young school boys being inspired by the Arab Spring. And thus painting an anti-government sentence on the wall. This is considered the first event that triggered the Civil War. Second, the fact that a religious minority governs the country could create greed and grievances towards the state (Cederman; Lars-Erik, Wimmer, and Min 2010). The patrimonial state and corruption generated by the government, along with the fact that it is a religious minority, does not only exclude parts of the population from the decision-making process but does also create a weak state. Both of these outcomes influence the likelihood of civil war (Cederman; Lars-Erik, Wimmer, and Min 2010; Ohlson 2008; Fearon and Laitin 2003; Collier and Hoeffler 2004). It is necessary for further scholars to investigate the causes of the Arab Spring and Syrian Conflict in great depth, since the dominant literature already existing is not fully compatible with these happenings.

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Roots Of Conflict In Syria Politics Essay

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Arab Spring

Roots of conflicts in syria, domestic and regional causes:, 1. political repression, 2. discredited ideology, 3. uneven economy, 5. population growth, 6. new media.

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7. Corruption

8. state violence, 9. minority rule, 10. tunisia effect, international community interests:, international relations theories – analysis of syrian conflict, syrian crisis-realist view, syrian crisis-constructivist view, cite this work.

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