Map must be redrawn
to reflect ethno-religous
realities on the ground
The Ottoman Empire, before World War I, included the territory now known as Syria. Click image to enlarge.
AS THE BRUTAL civil war in Syria grinds through its third year with no end in sight, the recent round of diplomacy over chemical weapons has left events on the ground almost where they were Aug. 20 – before the chemical weapons attack.
If anything, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has increased his aggressive attempts to thwart the uprising against his rule.
Attention must now shift to ending the bloodshed.
A proposal, not yet on the agenda in the U.S. but slowly gaining currency in the Middle East, has been dubbed the 40-40-20 solution.
It involves redrawing the boundaries of the modern nation state we know as Syria to more accurately reflect the religious and ethnic realities of the territory. It assumes, with growing justification, that attempts to hold together the warring factions within the current political structure will prove futile, in the long term.
REACHING THIS CONCLUSION requires some thought about the modern history of the country, which has existed in its current form only since 1961. The Assad dynasty began nine years later – in a coup d’état in 1970.
A timeline of the modern history of Syria can be found at the BBC News web site Syria Profile
The BBC News site with the timeline of the modern history of Syria. Click image to enlarge.
Of most importance is that after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the World War I, the territory came under French control, where it remained until World War II.
It was during this period that the modern boundaries of the nation-state were drawn – without regard for the ethnic and religious divisions it contained.
This is at the root of the current civil war.
A plan for partition of the country was briefly mentioned in the column Implementing a Syria solution by Barry Rubin on September 15.
Rubin points our it is not yet clear what endpoints the U.S. seeks in Syria.
“Another neglected question is what the Obama administration wants in Syria: regime change, continuity, or a deal?”
He then outlines three scenarios for a long-term solution, one of which is partition.
“Only if Iran and America favor de facto partition – because they secretly think the war is unwinnable – might they agree to the 40-40-20 division. Perhaps Bashar Assad knows that is the best he can get,” Rubin writes.
The proposed partition would reflect the current ethno-religious composition of the country: 40 percent Alawites, 40 percent Sunnis and 20 percent Kurds.
The political dimensions to such an arrangement are quite favorable.
The column by Barry Rubin in the Jerusalem Post on Monday which mentions the 40-40-20 partition proposal. Click image to enlarge.
The main U.S. ally in the region – Israel – would undoubtedly welcome partition as a way to de-fang its mortal enemy forever. A divided Syria would pose much less of a threat along its northern border than the current regime.
Current Syrian President Assad may see it as the only way to maintain some grasp on power. His principal backer, Iran, now under a more moderate president, might also see it as a case of half-a-loaf-is-better-than-no-bread-at-all.
U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, now strongly backing the rebel forces fighting Assad, could see it at least as a partial victory and a way to gain a foothold in the territory.
THE WILD CARD is Turkey, a staunch U.S. ally, candidate for European Union membership and northern neighbor of Syria.
Turkey would no doubt balk at the prospect of a semi-autonomous Kurdish region on its doorstep. It has for years been fighting its own Kurdish insurrection at home. However, it may see it is preferable to the current unstable situation, where it daily risks being drawn into the conflict and already is involved to the extent that Syrian refugees are straining its resources. (A Syrian helicopter was shot down this week after it allegedly flew into Turkish air space.)
Rubin notes in his column another potential benefit of partition:
“A de facto partition of Syria could establish the serious foundation required for a compromise on the Iranian nuclear weapons issue. I want to make it clear that I do not think this is really going to happen.
But President Obama might.”
It is time for a serious discussion of a long-term solution to the current stalemate.
Partition of the territory now known as Syria into three autonomous regions is one of the most plausible proposals on the table. It should get the debate it deserves.