Moreover, Kurdish independence could encourage demands for autonomy in the Sunni-majority provinces bordering Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia — a third region where Syria’s civil war is blurring international borders. Social, tribal and economic ties between the provinces of Deir al-Zour in Syria and Anbar in Iraq are strong and have strengthened further as control by the Syrian and Iraqi governments has loosened.
It is astonishing how many regional observers seem to expect, hope or fear that such developments will somehow lead, almost automatically, to a “new Sykes-Picot” — that is, to the establishment of a new regional order in the Middle East created by today’s great powers. (A Google search for “new Sykes Picot” in Arabic brings 52,600 hits.)
Such expectations are patently unrealistic. Europeans and Americans have learned — and China, Russia, and others have learned from Western experience — that external powers cannot successfully engineer political arrangements or regional order in the Middle East.
Rather than pondering or devising new borders, regional and external powers need to focus their efforts on holding Syria together. The planned Geneva II conference is a necessary first step.
There are many reasons to be pessimistic about the willingness of Syria’s warring parties to engage in serious negotiations. No one — not Russia, the US, Iran, Saudi Arabia or other external patrons of either the regime or the opposition — can guarantee that Geneva II will succeed. However, all of them could improve conditions for negotiations by sending the same message to their respective Syrian clients, namely that they henceforth exclude a military victory by one side over the other.
Thus, Russia and Iran will have to tell Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that they will not support his effort to seek a military victory. Saudi Arabia, the US, Turkey and others will have to tell the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces that it will not win on the battlefield; the Salafists must hear this message from Saudi Arabia, too. Turkey and Qatar, for their part, will have to pass the same message to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The message to all of these groups should be consistent: We will continue to support you politically, financially and in negotiations with the Syrian regime, but we will no longer support a military solution.
This would be a strong incentive for the meeting in Geneva to go ahead. Warring parties start to take negotiations seriously only if and when they know that any alternatives are out of the question.
Volker Perthes is chairman and director of Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, in Berlin.
Copyright: Project Syndicate