The bloody stalemate in Syria and Global Inaction


For almost two years now there has been terrible violence in Syria between the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and Syrians protesting the oppression that has characterized their lives for far too long. While the rebels have made progress and the international community has made increasing efforts to support the opposition, the hype around this revolution has died down. Newspapers’ front pages are no longer home each day to a horrific picture of the bloodshed in Syria. News outlets still cover the developments in this Arab nation, but the unfortunate phenomena of inaction and inattention seem to be occurring. Is there a reason for this international step back from the conflict?

A young Syrian refugee at a protest against the oppressive regime of Bashar al-Assad. (Flickr Creative Commons/FreedomHouse2)
A young Syrian refugee at a protest against the oppressive regime of Bashar al-Assad. (Flickr Creative Commons/FreedomHouse2)

The Syrian national uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011 and reached heights of bloodshed in the ensuing months. By October 2011 the opposition front had organized as the Syrian National Council (later to join with other groups to become the Syrian National Coalition) and the Free Syrian Army, as tens of thousands of people were killed in clashes and crackdowns by Assad’s forces. Meanwhile, international action was slow and far from resolute. Russia and China repeatedly blocked United Nations Security Council resolutions condemning Assad’s brutality, and American and European sanctions on Syria did not have significant effect. With a positive turn in November 2011 the Arab League itself voted to suspend Syria and imposed its own sanctions. By May 2012 the UNSC condemned the Syrian government, and various countries expelled Syrian diplomats and closed embassies in Damascus. By the end of 2012 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the resignation of President Assad, and the U.S., Britain, France, Turkey, and others have recognized the Syrian opposition’s National Coalition. But despite these diplomatic developments of late, the violence continues, and the most recent UN estimate holds that the death toll has reached 60,000 people.

Many look at Syria as the next Arab country that will see an oppressive ruler overthrown by a people’s uprising – following Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. Yet international attention, and in particular the attention of the United States, has not seemed to focus on Syria as much as it had on other Arab nations in revolutionary transition. It does not seem likely that there will soon be any direct military or even diplomatic intervention in Syria.

The situation in Syria is more opaque than had been the case in other Arab Spring countries, which may help to explain this tentative inaction or even inattention from the international community. While Assad’s bloody suppression of protestors began the violence, the since relatively well-organized Free Syrian Army has engaged in terrible violence of its own. Both sides have become associated with brutality, and many Syrians, while resentful of the Assad regime, are skeptical of being directly involved with the rebel forces. Moreover, the longer the conflict drags on, the more uncertain the outcome seems to become. At present, the country is submerged in a bloody stalemate. A potential positive development has recently occurred as the Syrian rebels have drafted a transitional justice plan to attempt to punish the core of the Assad regime while moving to a new stable government. Nevertheless, many Syrians, as well as the U.S., Britain, and others, are extremely skeptical of the outcome of a new opposition-controlled regime and fear Syria will disintegrate into a chaotic failed state as different warlords continue to seek revenge on each other. It is logical that such fears have incurred the tentative inaction of many countries. But it is also precisely the threat of such an outcome that should perhaps propel the world to once again turn its attention to Syria.

Danielle Bella Ellison ’15 is in Davenport College. She is a Globalist Notebook Beat Blogger on events and politics in the Middle East. Contact her at