Editorial: Geneva II in Peril

Pictures of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad are viewed along a wall. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images) Pictures of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad are viewed along a wall. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Pictures of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad are viewed along a wall. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

When Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and US secretary of state John Kerry agreed on the launch of a new round of talks on the Syrian conflict last May, Western diplomats and observers of the Syrian civil war welcomed it as crucial to negotiating an end to the conflict. However, many others, including Syrians, are not confident about Geneva II’s success. Ahmed Jarba, the chairman of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), Syria’s main opposition group, has recently expressed little optimism in relation to the conference’s outcome. The increasing silence about the matter and the repeat postponements are feeding rumours that the talks might already belong to history.

Even if Geneva II does happen, a number of factors might well end up proving the sceptics right. Perhaps the primary obstacle to a negotiated settlement is Bashar Al-Assad and his close circle. The SNC has repeatedly expressed absolute resistance to a peace agreement that involves Assad remaining in power. The same stands for a safe exit for the Syrian president, his family and important figures of his regime.

For his part, Assad is unlikely to be willing to make many concessions, if any. The West is increasingly hesitant to support the rebels militarily. The diplomatic maneuvering in Western capitals has been clearly insufficient. In contrast, government forces have received military and material aid from Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and elsewhere, and used this support to great effect in the war. Given the West’s cold feet and recent developments on the battle front, the opposition is most definitely losing impetus. Assad has no reason to make any concessions at any conference now, because he knows his army has the upper hand.

Henry Kissinger once said, “The guerilla wins if he does not lose. The conventional army loses if it does not win.” In Syria, the opposite seems to be true. Considering the conflict’s radicalization and destructive effects, the government may never really win, but it does have the militarily advantage and it is broadly unified behind Assad. The opposition, on the other hand, may not yet have lost, but the infighting between the myriad of independent groups under its umbrella make it impossible for SNC leaders to coordinate rebel efforts.

A further obstacle to the summit’s success is the changing nature of the war. The conflict in Syria is increasingly dominated by religious tensions; it is also becoming more factionalized every day, which decreases the likelihood of a political conference making a serious impact on the parties involved. A peace agreed at the conference is a much less viable option if the warring parties are fighting for survival as a group. The Kurds, for example, may only be satisfied with solid guarantees of formal autonomy.

Ultimately, victory is what the success or failure of the conference comes down to—or, at least, what the various factions consider to be a victory, as no one can now back down and admit defeat. When considering what every party to the Syrian conflict hopes to win from the war, it is easy to see why Ahmed Jarba finds it hard to be optimistic.

Subscribe to the discussion