A Post-Conflict Scenario

By Richard Sokolsky

Richard Sokolsky is a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former director of the Department of State's Office of Defense Relations and Security Assistance.

Well into its sixth year, it is easy to conclude that there is no end in sight to the devastating Syrian civil war. Warring parties still have plenty of fight, indirect talks among Syrian political factions have made no visible progress, and regional players have shown little willingness to compromise.  President Bashar al-Assad cannot win Syria, but the Russian intervention means that he cannot be forcibly removed from power. Some military progress against ISIS has been made, but the group looks unlikely to be defeated anytime soon. With the United States playing a relatively weak diplomatic hand, progress towards a comprehensive political settlement seems problematic.

Nonetheless, the two-month old U.S.-Russian brokered cessation of hostilities – though highly fragile, incomplete, and uneven – has proven a more durable arrangement than many originally expected. In addition to providing a desperately needed humanitarian respite, it creates an opening to contemplate what a post-conflict Syrian settlement might look like. Ironically, the success of Russia’s military intervention, although it thwarted the goal of removing Assad, could conceivably provide an opening to expand the temporary cessation of hostilities into a more structured semi-permanent ceasefire arrangement – one that might require greater outside involvement to enforce.

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