Syria's civil war is being fought on multiple fronts by an array of combatants whose alliances, capabilities, and in some cases motives have been in flux. This Backgrounder profiles more than a dozen of the main warring sides.
"The duty to prevent and halt genocide and mass atrocities lies first and foremost with the State, but the international community has a role that cannot be blocked by the invocation of sovereignty."
The United Nations said that in 2005 about its "responsibility to protect." It's the concept that "if a State is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take collective action to protect populations."
And here is what UN officials said this week when describing what is happening in Syria: "A complete meltdown of humanity in Aleppo."
Experts discuss the role faith-based organizations have taken during the refugee crisis and the challenges of aiding and resettling refugees in the United States and abroad.
Partitioning Syria under a weak federal structure with a massive Western force to enforce a power-sharing agreement is the only real option the United States and its allies has for solving the Syrian conflict, writes CFR’s Ray Takeyh.
What CFR.org Editors are reading the week of October 24–28, 2016.
The assumptions held by those advocating military action in Syria are weak, writes CFR’s Steven A. Cook. Military punitive measures are not likely to make Russia, Iran, the Syrian regime, or militant forces back down from their current stances, either on the battlefield or in negotiations.
While increased U.S. military action in Syria may be favored by numerous policymakers, the Obama administration remains unwilling to sanction further intervention. Gayle Tzemach Lemmon writes that “The Obama White House has long argued that it was elected to end wars in the Middle East, not to escalate them…” but meanwhile, Aleppo remains “full of carnage and bunker-busting munitions with rockets falling on children and no hope of escape for anyone.”
Many experts and policymakers had predicted the humanitarian catastrophe that is underway in Aleppo, but no one is willing to intervene. “There is nothing either timely or decisive about the world’s approach to Syria, which has become the theater in which global and regional actors pursue their own goals,” writes Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.
Writing in the Washington Post, Philip Gordon warns that Russia will pay a price for its unconditional support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
Even if Assad is prepared to abide by the truce, rebel groups may not be, writes CFR president Richard N. Haass
And the politicians and pundits calling for one in Syria ought to remember how toothless and ineffective the U.S. air patrols were -- for 12 long years -- in Iraq.
In recent weeks, ISIS has suffered territorial losses on multiple fronts, including in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. The organization may look nearer to defeat than at any time in the past two years, but there is still a great deal of fighting to be done before the group is destroyed, or more likely beaten back to an underground terrorist organization as it was in 2009.
The battle for Aleppo has taken a staggering civilian toll and it is likely to escalate because both regime and opposition forces see the city as crucial to a political endgame, says expert Lina Khatib.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon addresses the politicized nature of humanitarian aid in Syria. She writes, “The quest for leverage, not respect for civilian life, is driving things on the ground.”
As U.S.-backed rebels fight to liberate Raqqa and Mosul, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon questions next steps for these cities. “Will these disparate forces stay together to form a federation of at least relative order that allows people to go to work and send their children to school?,” asks Lemmon. “Who will do the governing? Under what authority? And what comes next if that doesn’t happen?”
The only surprise is that opposition to Syrian policy has not surfaced earlier, writes CFR President Richard N. Haass.
Philip Gordon, along with James Dobbins and Jeffrey Martini of RAND, discusses how Syria could decentralize power in order to reduce violence and save lives while the parties work toward a more comprehensive long-term transition.
As fighting rages on in Syria, world leaders in Vienna on Tuesday pledged to turn the limited “cessation of hostilities” into a nationwide ceasefire heralding progress toward full peace and a political end to the war. Yet the question remains, as it has for years: If diplomacy fails, then what?
The war came to him. What will it take for it to reach the rest of us?
Marten outlines how U.S. policymakers can deter Russian aggression with robust support for NATO, while reassuring Russia of NATO’s defensive intentions.
Segal offers recommendations for cooperation on issues such as encryption, data localization, and cybersecurity.
Knopf argues that the only remaining path for South Sudan is for an international transitional administration to run the country for a finite period.
The definitive account of the secret war in Laos, which forever changed the CIA from a relatively small spying agency into an organization with vast paramilitary powers. More
CFR President Haass argues for an updated global operating system to address challenges from terrorism to climate change. More
Alden provides an enlightening history of the last four decades of U.S. trade policies and a blueprint for how to keep the United States competitive in a globalized economy. More
Learn more about CFR’s mission and its work over the past year in the 2016 Annual Report. The Annual Report spotlights new initiatives, high-profile events, and authoritative scholarship from CFR experts, and includes a message from CFR President Richard N. Haass.
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