Syria’s No-Solution Solution

BERLIN – The Russian-American plan to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons – now embodied in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2118 – may open a more constructive approach to ending the country’s civil war, because the Security Council is also demanding that the long-planned Geneva II conference on Syria convene as soon as possible. Rightly so: elimination of Syria’s chemical-weapons stockpiles and a political process to end the war must occur simultaneously.

As a practical matter, efforts to verify, secure, and eventually destroy Syria’s huge supply of chemical weapons cannot be implemented without at least a lasting ceasefire. But synchronizing the two processes is necessary for other reasons, too.

Aside from the human suffering caused by Syria’s ongoing war, we should be aware of the potentially dire regional consequences. Some people now warn of a “Lebanonization” of Syria – partition of the country into rival fiefdoms and quasi-independent regions. But Syria’s fragmentation is not the only plausible scenario.

Indeed, the Lebanon metaphor is too benign. Unlike Lebanon during its 15-year civil war, no regional power today would be able to contain Syria’s war within its borders. As a result, it is much more likely that Syria’s disintegration would call the entire post-World War I (or post-Ottoman) Middle Eastern state system – also called the “Sykes-Picot” system – into question.