A Radical Win-Win Solution for Syria

Syrian soldier wearing biohazard gear
Syrian soldier wearing biohazard gear

The perspectives of Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S President Barack Obama on Syria are so different, you have to wonder if they are living on the same planet.

Both leaders call for a diplomatic solution, with Putin supporting Assad and Obama calling for a managed transition away from Assad. Both leaders are using air assets to bomb "terrorists" although Obama is going after the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) and Putin is targeting anti-Assad rebels. Both are supplying their proxies with training, arms, and supplies - as are Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Neither leader is pursuing a policy that will bring an end to the conflict or help Syrians who are caught in the middle. Their train-and-equip strategies often make murderers out of otherwise decent people. And no nation can protect innocent civilians from 60,000 feet. So how about a radical win-win solution? You can read my full article in LobeLog, but here are the basic three pieces of the answer.

  1. Use Article 5 of the UN Charter to suspend Syria's membership in the organization.
  2. Breathe new life into the UN's Trusteeship Council and temporarily place Syria's territory under the trusteeship of a to-be-determined nation.
  3. Commit each member state to contributing some forces to help stop IS, stabilize Syria, and provide the territory with peacekeepers and police while in transition. This will work if the majority of the international community participates.

The Syrian conflict is a very complex multi-party conflict. If there's another way to provide the diplomatic space needed for a political solution, I have not identified it. Some colleagues have already reminded me that the UN has never solved a high-stakes geostrategic conflict. And utilizing an obscure multilateral mechanism that will involve a highly unusual revocation of sovereignty is close to impossible. However, the UN's universal membership and legitimacy can provide an umbrella under which the Assad regime and non-IS Syrian rebels, the Iranians and Saudis, and the United States and Russia find the means to halt IS's barbarous advances and allow Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, and others to live alongside each other without a strongman imposed peace.

Collectively, the international community has the capacity to contribute enough forces to send a clear, resounding message that the use of violence, to gain or maintain power, will not be tolerated. Not including Russian, Chinese or Iranian forces, the militaries of countries listed as "Free" in the 2015 Freedom in the World report have around 10.2 million troops.

The United Nations works best when nations are united. To date, divided national priorities have not allowed the 70-year-old institution to play a significant role to end war in Syria. Promoting a new Trusteeship System to address this problem could be a way to bring nations together to focus on the limits of sovereignty and the responsibility to protect civilian populations.

My full article in LobeLog explains why each of the parties could see this as a desirable route to follow.

For the 7.5 million Syrian children who have been brutalized by this war, for the estimated 9 million Syrians who have fled their homes since 2011, and for the hundreds of millions in Europe and around the world who are wrestling with a growing refugee crisis, isn't it time for a radical win-win solution for Syria?