Special Committee on Syria – Background Guide

Topic I: Establishing conditions, standards, and guidelines for multi-party negotiations to end the conflict

I. Introduction to the Topic

     A. GENERAL BACKGROUND

After more than two years of diplomatic maneuvering, the number of, associations between, and political stances of various Syrian entities claiming a say in the outcome of the Syrian crisis have been in constant flux. Though media attention has presented the situation as a two party conflict between the government of President Bashar Al-Assad and the National Coalition of Syrian Forces of the Revolution and Opposition (Syrian National Coalition, SNC), many others exist. The participation of these parties in multi-party negotiations may be critical in guaranteeing successful negotiations. Additionally, the stated preconditions of various Syrian factions, and the perceived political-military environment of the war, have not produced circumstances appealing enough for negotiations to take place thus far.

     B. HISTORY OF THE TOPIC IN THE ARAB WORLD

With only a few exceptions, both rebel factions and the Assad government have precluded the possibility of direct negotiations by demanding that substantial preconditions be met by their opponents. Most of these preconditions have required unilateral action by the opposing side that would be detrimental to their perceived strength, and thus are non-starters. The United Nations (UN) and the League of Arab States (LAS) have attempted to remedy this stalemate by providing a nonpartisan interlocutor, the Joint Arab League-United Nations Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, and his predecessor Kofi Annan. UN and LAS efforts have focused on drafting a mutually appealing proposal to be submitted by the Joint Envoy to concerned parties. Attempts thus far have failed in large part because of the rigidity of concerned parties’ preconditions and the convictions of each that their side will ultimately prevail on the battlefield.

The Syrian Government claims that its adversaries are all terrorist elements, and thus refuses to negotiate with the opposition based on this premise (Black), preferring instead to pursue the complete ‘cleansing’ of Syria from the “terrorist” insurgents (“Aleppo Shelled as Assad Vows to ‘cleanse’ Syria”). In contrast, the rebels insist upon the complete removal from power of President Assad – and, recently, the Shi’a community in its entirety – rather than compromise and reconciliation with his government (Mourtada).

     C. FINDING A SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE

Creating the necessary conditions for negotiations will deal largely with two key themes of Syrian political leveraging: international diplomacy, and each side’s current military position of strength.

In international diplomacy, the statements of foreign governments – such as the U.S., Iran, Saudi Arabia, the EU, and Turkey – can and have incentivized Syrian parties to warm up to the idea of negotiating. The indirect nature of these statements detracts from their potential impact, but represents the kinds of demands and favors that can various sides can expect from one another in a direct-negotiations context. For example, supportive statements may encourage parties to enter negotiations from a position of strength or as a way of maintaining support from allies. At a summit of the G8 in June, Russian President Vladimir Putin defended the Syrian Government against accusations of some countries, including the U.S., that the Syrian Government was using chemical weapons. Putin also reaffirmed Russia’s stance that the Assad government is the ‘legitimate representative of the Syrian people’ while defending Russian-Syrian arms sales, stating, “We are supplying weapons under legal contracts to the legal government…of President Assad” (Osborn). Similarly, American reluctance to directly arm the rebels has transformed the possibility into an incentive; on June 7th, the General Salim Idriss said that “If we don’t receive ammunition and weapons to change the position on the ground […] we will not go to Geneva.”

Gen. Idriss’ remarks also reflect the importance of parties’ positions of military strength prior to negotiations. This was emphasized by the Syrian Government’s victory, heavily aided by Hizbullah’s paramilitary forces, over rebel forces in the border town of Qusair (Syrian Regime Claims ‘full Control’ of Qusair Region”). Following this victory, rebels alluded to the Syrian Government’s improved military stance – mainly supported by foreign military reinforcements – when declining to attend the planned Geneva II conference; in contrast, the Syrian Government released a self-favoring offer that, if accepted by other parties, would enable Assad’s representatives to participate in negotiations (Davis).

II. Questions to Consider in Your Research

  • What contact have my countries’ diplomats and top officials had with opposition and government representatives?
  • Does my country have any stated objectives in Syria?
  • How will my country’s national interests be promoted or threatened by getting a significant portion of Syrian parties to the negotiating table?
  • What is the status of Syrian embassies and consulates in my country?

III. Questions A Resolution Might Address

  • What conditions would motivate both sides to negotiate?
  • How would negotiations be set up and in what format would they take place?
  • What incentives can the League offer to both the Syrian Government and the opposition?

IV. Resources to Review

  • A June 2012 in-depth analysis of the Syrian Opposition: http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Syrias_Political_Opposition.pdf
  • Syrian Government Forces Advance through Qusair: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/middleeast/la-fg-syria-homs-violence-20130630,0,1695687.story
  • Syrian Groups’ Statements on Possibility of Negotiations: http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/26/world/meast/syria-civil-war
  • Moaz Al-Khatib on the Precondition of the Departure of Assad: http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21578721-opposition-divided-ever-disarray

V. Citations

  • Black, Ian. “Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad Says ‘terrorism’ Must Stop If He Is to Accept Peace Plan.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 29 Mar. 2012. Web. 01 July 2013.
  • “Aleppo Shelled as Assad Vows to ‘cleanse’ Syria.” AFP.com. Agence France-Presse, 8 Aug. 2012. Web. 09 July 2013.
  • Mourtada, Hania, and Anne Barnard. “Dozens of Shiites Reported Killed in Raid by Syria Rebels.” NYTimes.com. New York Times, 12 June 2013. Web. 1 July 2013.
  • Osborn, Andrew, and Maria Golovnina. “Russia’s Putin Torpedoes G8 Efforts to Oust Assad.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 18 Mar. 2013. Web. 01 July 2013.
  • Gordon, Michael R. “Syrian Opposition to Sit Out Any Talks Unless Arms Are Sent, General Says.” NYTimes.com. New York Times, 8 June 2013. Web. 1 July 2013.
  • “Syrian Regime Claims ‘full Control’ of Qusair Region.” FRANCE 24. France 24, 5 June 2013. Web. 01 July 2013.
  • Davis, Carlo. “Syrian National Coalition Won’t Participate In Geneva Peace Talks.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 30 May 2013. Web. 01 July 2013.

Topic II: Addressing the growing refugee crisis in bordering Arab states with special regard for the administration of humanitarian aid, the protection of women and children, as well as implications for host countries

I. Introduction to the Topic

     A. GENERAL BACKGROUND

The outbreak of civil war in Syria has created one of the world’s most significant refugee crises. UNHCR estimates the number of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries at 1,761,866 (1,570,690 officially registered), with Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey hosting the majority of the refugees (“Regional Overview”).

Primarily, host countries receive funds directly from foreign governments, as well as through international aid organizations such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) (“Revised SYRIA REGIONAL RESPONSE PLAN Funding Status as of 5 July 2013”).

     B. HISTORY OF THE TOPIC IN THE ARAB WORLD

As the 2011 protests in Syria descended into violence and the conflict intensified, the flow of refugees increased accordingly. At the beginning of the crisis in November of 2011, the New York Times reported that “more than 19,000 Syrians have fled to Turkey since a brutal crackdown on antigovernment protests hit northern Syria in June” (Stack). In just a few days in 2012, following a group of high-level killings, the European Union (EU) estimated that “anywhere from 18,000 to 40,000 refugees crossed … into Lebanon” (“Timeline”). In June 2012, UNHCR put the total Syrian refugee count at almost 100,000 (“UNHCR and Partners Seek US $193 Million to Help Syrian Refugees”). Over the past year, that number has grown by over 1700%, and the estimate for the total number of Syrian refugees at the end of 2013 is 3.45 million.

In relation to the populations of the host countries, the sudden influx of so many refugees has obvious political repercussions. One of the main concerns for Lebanon is that any direct exposure to the conflict in Syria, such as Syrian refugees fleeing to Lebanon, will raise already-simmering domestic tensions, as demonstrated by recent events in Sidon (Karam & Surk). In Turkey, the influx of refugees is correlated with arms smuggling, a more conducive environment for extremist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, and increased opposition to the policies of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan among Turkish border communities (Spencer). In Iraq, 94 percent of the 147,000 Syrian refugees have ended up in the Kurdistan Region; of this 94 percent, “the overwhelming majority are of Kurdish origin” (“Syria Regional Response Plan: January to December 2013,” page 255).

     C. FINDING A SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE

A key component to proper refugee management is registration. UNHCR’s stated objective is to register refugees within 30 days from the date they request an appointment. One way workers have managed to speed up registration is by allowing individuals in poor health to be registered by their family. Nevertheless, even simply administrative tasks like refugee registration remain a massive challenge on such a scale.

On a larger scale, host governments have been working closely with international refugee works organizations to avoid duplication of efforts. Some of the agreed-upon overarching principles were: “[1] protection (registration, child protection, SGBV, psycho-social support), [2] new arrivals and continuous support to vulnerable refugees, [3] emergency preparedness, and [4] assistance to non-camp refugees and host communities” (“Syria Regional Response Plan: January to December 2013,” page 8). The international community has pledged millions to this cause; however, more short-term aid, and long-term aid, will be needed barring an unlikely rapid end to the conflict.

II. Questions to Consider in Your Research

  • Which parts, if any, of the SSAAD has your state implemented?
  • A. Does my country host refugees from any country or conflict, and has my country’s Syrian refugee population changed since 2011?
  • B. Does my country have the material and/or financial resources to assist Syrian refugees, whether in my country or another?
  • C. Has my country already contributed to Syrian refugee assistance efforts?
  • D. What are the potential political benefits and risks of the Syrian refugee crisis to my country

III. Questions A Resolution Might Address

  • How effectively has refugee assistance (funds or otherwise) been used so far?
  • Have specific host countries utilized aid differently and/or more efficiently?
  • What concern areas (education, utilities, nutrition, etc) need the most assistance, and how much do they already receive?
  • How can immediate refugee needs be met, like food, bedding, and medicine?
  • How can the League plan for refugees in the long-run?

IV. Resources to Review

  • EU Syrian Refugee Events Timeline, http://syrianrefugees.eu/?page_id=163
  • UNHCR Regional Overview of Syrian Refugees, http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php
  • UNHCR Funding Report (July 2013) (PDF download), http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/download.php?id=2337
  • UNHCR: Syria Regional Response Plan (June 2013) (PDF download), http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/download.php?id=2148

V. Citations

  • “Regional Overview.” UNHCR Syria Regional Refugee Response. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, n.d. Web. 1 July 2013. http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php.
  • “Revised SYRIA REGIONAL RESPONSE PLAN Funding Status as of 5 July 2013.” UNHCR Data. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 5 July 2013. Web. http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/download.php?id=2336.
  • Stack, Liam. “For Refugees From Syria, a Visit With No Expiration Date.” The New York Times: Middle East. New York Times, n.d. Web. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/15/world/middleeast/refugees-from-syria-settle-in-for-long-wait-in-turkey.html?pagewanted=all&_r=2&.
  • “Timeline.” Syrian Refugees. European Union, n.d. Web. http://syrianrefugees.eu/?page_id=163.
  • “UNHCR and Partners Seek US $193 Million to Help Syrian Refugees.” UNHCR News. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, n.d. Web. <http://www.unhcr.org/4fec4a5f6.html>.
  • Karam, Zeina, and Barbara Surk. “The Big Story.” The Big Story. Associated Press, n.d. Web. http://bigstory.ap.org/article/lebanon-clashes-rage-overnight-12-soldiers-dead.
  • Spencer, Richard. “‘Kill the Syrians’: Turkish Mobs Search out Civil War Refugees after Devastating Car Bomb.” Telegraph.co.uk. The Telegraph, 12 May 2013. Web. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/turkey/10052495/Kill-the-Syrians-Turkish-mobs-search-out-civil-war-refugees-after-devastating-car-bomb.html.
  • Pfeffer, Anshel. “With Syrian Unrest Crossing the Border, Turkey Fears Being Pulled into the War.” Haaretz.com. Haaretz, 11 June 2013. Web. <http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/with-syrian-unrest-crossing-the-border-turkey-fears-being-pulled-into-the-war.premium-1.529092>.
  • “Syria Regional Response Plan: January to December 2013.” UNHCR Data. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, n.d. Web. http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/download.php?id=2337. page 255

Topic III: Assessing regional defense and security associated with the conflict such as arms trafficking, chemical weapons, sectarianism, outside intervention, and border control

I. Introduction to the Topic

     A. GENERAL BACKGROUND

The Syrian civil war has generated fears of spillover violence and creating a wider regional conflict since its inception. The region’s tapestry of religious and ethnic groups transcends existing national borders. This concern has been exacerbated by the country’s long and very porous borders with Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Each of these countries have seen limited armed conflict, provide relatively unrestricted access for arms trafficking, and are unable to limit the movement of both combatants and refugees.

The conflict has divided into two overarching sides, that of the Assad government backed by the Syrian military, and “the opposition,” a conglomeration of various anti-government groups from a wide range of political, religious and social backgrounds. Syrian government forces receive support from Iran and Hezbollah in apparent solidarity with the Alawi-dominated Assad government – Alawites follow the Twelver school of Shi’a Islam. Russia also supports Assad in an attempt to maintain a geopolitical foothold in the region. The various rebels, largely Sunni groups, receive support from regional Sunni regimes such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey as well as increasing amounts of aid funneled from Western Europe and the United States. Motives on each side are diverse, but clear sectarian and geo-strategic divides are a strong element.

     B. HISTORY OF THE TOPIC IN THE ARAB WORLD

As stated, the conflict has been marked by a sectarian divide, with the Alawis, Christians, Druze and other Shi’a minority groups supporting the Assad government and Sunnis making up the majority of opposition forces (Riedel). The entrance of Hezbollah into the conflict in June of 2013, assisting the Assad regime’s conquest of the town of Qusayr, marked the first official and active kinetic involvement of an outside force in the conflict and further stoked sectarian divides both within Syria and within neighboring states (“Hezbollah Urged to Pull out of Syria”).

Russia and Iran are the primary financial and military backers of the Assad government, where Russia is fulfilling preexisting contracts to furnish advanced military systems and Iran is providing material support to Hezbollah as well as training and equipping pro-regime militias (Charbonneau). The major international supporters of the opposition groups have been Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which are providing arms, munitions, and monetary support to the various groups with which they maintain relations (“Qatar Bankrolls Syrian Revolt with Cash and Arms”). The United States is poised to increase its support of opposition groups through the shipment of arms and military aid after the alleged use of chemical weapons by the regime against the opposition in March of 2013 (Pearson; “Who Is Supplying Weapons to the Warring Sides in Syria?”).

     C. FINDING A SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE

Syria’s membership to the League of Arab States was suspended in September of 2011 after the escalation of conflict between the then-protesters and the Syrian government. The vacant seat was allowed to be filled in March 2013 by a delegate of the Syrian opposition forces (Droubi). The League has also implemented sanctions against the Syrian government and deployed an observer mission to the conflict in the winter of 2011. On March 28, 2013 the United Nations passed the Arms Trade Treaty with the purpose of limiting conventional arms sales to states participating in human rights abuses (Lagon). But this has had little impact on the conflict due to neither Iran nor Syria signing the treaty, and none of the current states providing arms ratifying the treaty of their own accord.

The past year has seen the deployment of international troops and specialized anti-missile defensive assets into the region in order to deescalate tensions along Syria’s border regions and deter further aggression by combatants in expanding the theatre of conflict. NATO forces have deployed Patriot air defense systems along Turkey’s southern border in response to multiple cross-border firing incidents which left several casualties (“Will Patriot Missiles Prevent Spillover of Syria Conflict?”). The United States has also deployed multiple Patriot batteries along with troops in Jordan in order to assist with border security and provide technical support and training for the Jordanian military (Cohen).

II. Questions to Consider in Your Research

  • What is your state’s position on supporting either side of the conflict?
  • How is the conflict affecting your state: border security, political stability, refugee support, economic stability?
  • What are your state’s policy positions on arms trafficking, chemical weapons and intervention?
  • Is your state a signatory to international arms agreements, and if so, to which agreements is it bound?

III. Questions A Resolution Might Answer

  • How can the Arab League prevent spillover violence while maintaining member states’ sovereignty?
  • What standards should the Arab League use for determining if or when a member state should provide military assistance to groups involved in the conflict?
  • Can or should states and organizations outside of the Arab League intervene in the conflict?
  • What forms of constraints should the League implement in order to maintain regional order?

IV. Resources to Review

  • Map of the Dispute in Syria, New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/03/13/world/middleeast/a-snapshot-of-the-dispute-in-syria.html?ref=middleeast
  • An Arms Pipeline to the Syrian Rebels, New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/03/25/world/middleeast/an-arms-pipeline-to-the-syrian-rebels.html?ref=middleeast
  • “The Syrian Crisis and Chemical Weapons,” Defence Forum India: http://defenceforumindia.com/syrian-crisis-chemical-weapons-451

V. Citations

  • “Hezbollah Urged to Pull out of Syria.” Aljazeera.com. Al Jazeera English, 20 June 2013. Web. <http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/06/2013620114759159899.html>.
  • Charbonneau, Louis. “Exclusive: Iran Steps up Weapons Lifeline to Syria’s Assad – Envoys.” Uk.Reuters.com. Reuters, 14 Mar. 2013. Web. <http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/03/14/uk-syria-crisis-iran-idUKBRE92D11W20130314>.
  • “Qatar Bankrolls Syrian Revolt with Cash and Arms.” Ft.com. Financial Times, n.d. Web. <http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/86e3f28e-be3a-11e2-bb35-00144feab7de.html>.
  • Pearson, Michael, Elise Labott, Joe Sterling, Sara Sidner, Jessica Yellin, Deirdre Walsh, and Catherine E. Shoichet. “U.S.: Intelligence Points to Small-scale Use of Sarin in Syria.” CNN.com. Cable News Network, 25 Apr. 2013. Web. <http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/25/world/meast/syria-civil-war>.
  • “Who Is Supplying Weapons to the Warring Sides in Syria?” BBC News. BBC, 14 June 2013. Web. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22906965>.
  • Droubi, Hala, and Rick Gladstone. “Syrian Opposition Joins Meeting of Arab League.” The New York Times: Middle East. New York Times, 26 Mar. 2013. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/27/world/middleeast/syrian-opposition-group-takes-seat-at-arab-league.html?_r=1&>.
  • Lagon, Mark P. “What Will Be the Effect of the UN Arms Trade Treaty on the Syrian Conflict?” Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, 30 Apr. 2013. Web. http://www.cfr.org/syria/effect-un-arms-trade-treaty-syrian-conflict/p30593.
  • “Will Patriot Missiles Prevent Spillover of Syria Conflict?” Middle-East-Online.com. Middle East Online, 5 Jan. 2013. Web. 2013. http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=56279.
  • Cohen, Tom, and Jim Acosta. “U.S. Increasing Military Forces in Jordan.” CNN.com. Cable News Network, 21 Jan. 2013. Web. http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/21/politics/us-jordan-troops.

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