A Gleam of Hope for Syria after Munich
This year's Munich Security Conference confirmed that politicians from the "West" and from the "East" struggle to find a common vocabulary to address their worries and their demands. Yet it is time we start speaking the same language. Increased cooperation and communication with Russia will provide a pragmatic solution to the crisis in Syria. Only then shall we gain the space and maneuverability necessary to implement a peaceful program of reconciliation and reconstruction in the region.
The Munich Security Conference is a highly regarded international meeting on the most important crises of the World. In many panel discussions leading experts and decision-makers gave their statements on the most important problems faced by the global community today. Most cited in the Media was the statement of Dmitry Medvedev the Prime Minister of Russia. He said "One could go so far to say that we have slid back to a new cold war."
Well we shouldn't go that far. However, there is a real danger at the moment that we are sliding into a new Cold war. The only option to avoid this regress is to stay in constant contact, maintain strong channels of communication and to make sure that we really understand each other.
It often seems like politicians from the "West" and from the "East" cannot find a common vocabulary to address their worries and their demands. We need to work on the vocabulary! Sergey Lavrov the Foreign Minister of Russia later said in Munich "We shouldn't demonize al-Assad, we shouldn't demonize anyone in Syria except the terrorists." Speaking from the western point of view, al-Assad is a demon. But it is clear that Russia wants to make the point that they see him as the legitimate leader of Syria and we have to accept this for the moment while we endeavor to battle against Daesh. Russia is trying to strengthen al-Assads position against the West. If for the moment we would accept his legitimacy there would be no need for them to strengthen him in this way. By accepting for the moment al-Assad as the legitimate leader, we could combine forces with Russia and really focus on Daesh. After having accomplished the fight against Daesh we could talk about necessary reforms in Syria.
The most important part in the beginning would be to reduce the amount of weapons in Syria. This would prevent future outbursts of violence. It will take some time until we can focus on democratic elections in Syria. With the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt winning the elections we have seen that a democratic election easily can promote extremist into power. After this horrifying long lasting civil war in Syria, the people are vulnerable for electing the wrong people into office.
The first step of nation building should be to make it possible for the people to live a civil life. For many at the moment the only choice to support their families is to join rebels. These men are unstable. They have seen horrors that we cannot even imagine in our worst nightmares. So we need to help them integrate back into their normal lives.
In the meantime we have to have a careful eye on al-Assad. We must make sure the regime's violent and brutal center is hollowed out. Safeguards must be introduced to stop him attacking his citizens again. Attacking civilians isn't in the interest of Russia. They just want al-Assad for the moment to be "in charge" for a little bit longer. A combination of both military and, in the second phase more importantly, civil engagement in the region will allow the "West" to cooperate with the Russia. This will certainly pave the way for much needed nation building in Syria. That is why I would say we can see gleams of hope!
Patrick Hoefl studies Law at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich Germany. He is politically active and has a focus on foreign affairs. He is a Member of the German Council on Foreign Relations.
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