The civil war in Syria between the forces of President Bashar al Assad and opposition rebel groups has been ongoing since the past two and a half years. The deadlock within Syria has been reinforced by the impasse within the international community on the resolution of the issue. The US and its partners in West Asia and Europe have been supporting the rebels at different levels ranging from financial to lethal as well as non-lethal arms aid. On the other hand, countries like Russia, Iran and its allies in the region like the Hezbollah group of Lebanon have been consistently supporting the Assad regime.


Meanwhile, the death toll in Syria has been mounting on an almost daily basis reaching well over 100,000, and tragic instances of chemical weapons usage were confirmed in August 2013, amidst allegations pointing to Assad’s forces. Efforts by Western governments led by the US to pursue punitive limited strikes targeting the Syrian regime’s vital capabilities were made impossible by the threat of vetoes by Russia and China in the UN Security Council. Therefore, the US prepared for a unilateral intervention in early September 2013, circumventing the UN even though domestic opposition in both the US and Western Europe came as an obstacle.


However, the international community was taken by surprise with the events which took place after the G-20 summit which was held at St. Petersburg in September, 2013. In a rapid succession of events, the US agreed to Russia’s proposal for Syria’s chemical disarmament in return for withdrawing the American plan for limited strikes. The US was quick to grab the opportunity to save face, as the Obama administration was reluctantly drawn into the intervention decision to as to honour the “red lines” it had drawn much earlier. Syria instantly accepted to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and agreed to destroy all its chemical weapons under the supervision of international monitors within a timeframe of one year.


Since such a critical decision was made by Syria almost instantaneously, it means that this scenario was very much anticipated by Russia and Syria, and that response strategies were drawn up by them in advance. The deal came out to be in effect, tilted in favour of Assad, even though it presents a pretense of compromise. Russia has made sure that the deal did not require Assad to relinquish power. Russia had also ensured that any US plan for cruise missile strikes would be discouraged by the placement of GPS jammers in Syria, and the US was reportedly aware of this. In addition, any further military action led by Western forces in case of non-adherence to the deal was agreed to be routed through the UN Security Council where Russia and China stands to veto it.


Though Syria has promised and is implementing the destruction plan of its chemical weapons with substantial progress as of now, it is doubtful as to whether the mission can meet its deadline. The civil war situation in Syria and any probable geopolitical disturbances will certainly impede the progress of this already overambitious plan, and makes the process essentially prone to delay. It is undoubtedly an uphill task to ensure the necessary security for the international operation, including the monitors so that they can verify the phased destruction of the chemical weapons and related facilities.


Valuable time will be gained by Assad to continue his fight against the Syrian rebels using this deal. Assad’s troops are already advancing and reclaiming rebel-held areas. The rebels have been increasingly exhibiting strong factionalist tendency, which is bound to further fragment and weaken their strength. The West is currently expressing its wariness in resuming aid to the rebels, as some of the arms have been found to have ended up in the hands of extremists. Moreover, recent findings from the UN team probing the chemical attacks in Syria also point to the killings of soldiers using the chemical weapons, which reinforce Assad’s claims that the rebels have possession of these weapons. The chemical disarmament mission will therefore be incomplete and lopsided until these are also confiscated and destroyed.


As a result, Assad will certainly seek to draw national and international legitimacy from his support to the chemical disarmament, the new evidences of chemical attacks by rebels, his “war against terrorism”, as well as the recent breaking of the ice between the US and Iran, for further expanding his hold over the situation in Syria. In this respect, the section of the international community led by the US will find it increasingly difficult in the coming days to justify their support for the rebel forces. In short, the turn of events in the region has given Assad a chance to hold on to power, gain legitimacy and turn the Syrian civil war in his favour.


Though India has been cautious not to take any sides in the civil war, its opposition to terrorism and military intervention has been in-line with that of the Assad regime. India’s interests in Syrian civil war, which has an enormous potential of spillover, are mostly with regards to its implications on the West Asian regional stability. This is because this stability is directly linked to the safety of its diaspora in the region, as well as energy security and the flow of remittances from the region. As the probable outcome of the civil war increasingly appears to favour the Syrian regime and hence the likely return of stability, India will have to take a clearer stand which should be aligned with that of the BRICS. 


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.