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Research Questions

  1. What are the main factors that contribute directly to the spread of violence from civil war and insurgency?
  2. How do these factors affect neighboring states?
  3. How can a spillover of violence be prevented?

All roads lead to Damascus and then back out again, but in different directions. The financial and military aid flowing into Syria from patrons and neighbors is intended to determine the outcome of the conflict between a loose confederation of rebel factions and the regime in Damascus. Instead, this outside support has the potential to perpetuate the existing civil war and to ignite larger regional hostilities between Sunni and Shia areas that could reshape the political geography of the Middle East. This report examines the main factors that are likely to contribute to or impede the spread of violence from civil war and insurgency in Syria, and then examines how they apply to Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan.

Key Findings

Certain Factors Contribute Directly to the Spread of Violence

  • External military support, large numbers of refugees, and the fragility of neighboring states are factors that contribute directly to the spread of violence from civil war and insurgency.
  • Additional factors are ethnic ties, access to open media, perceived uncertainty and government overreaction by neighbors, timing and effectiveness of intervention, and government and insurgent capabilities.

Neighboring States Will Be Affected Differently

  • Turkey has been and will continue to be significantly affected by the ongoing civil war in Syria. The enormous number of Syrian refugees alone will impose many financial and governance challenges. However, the prospects for the spillover of significant armed conflict are limited.
  • Lebanon's particularly high risk of conflict spillover stems from its crippled government, division among its internal security forces, and continued external/Iranian support to Hizbollah. As the Syrian opposition continues to battle supporters of Assad both in Syria and in Lebanon, the propensity for conflict to spill over will remain high and drag Lebanon closer into a full-blown regional conflict.
  • Iraq's political and religious rifts are segregating people across the same sectarian lines that now define the main political agendas of combatants in Syria. Both Sunnis and Shia in Iraq are waiting to see how events might unfold in Syria. Both of these groups perceive the end state of the Syrian conflict as one that could play a major role in shaping Iraq's political future.
  • The Syrian conflict is wearing on the delicate political, economic, and social fabric of Jordan. The growing refugee population along the border puts excessive pressure on already scarce water supplies and on civilian and security infrastructure. But the radicalization of Syrian youth in Jordanian refugee camps and the spread of extremist ideas are the primary causes for concern.

Recommendations

  • To impede the spillover of violence now occurring in Lebanon and Iraq and to reverse the likelihood of it spreading into Turkey and Jordan, it will be necessary to address the underlying causes of the spillover in the region.
  • Outside parties should negotiate with and persuade the Arab Gulf states, Iran, and Russia to curtail their military assistance to the rebels and the regime.
  • A cease-fire should be negotiated or imposed to allow the time and space needed to set up safe zones and protected, safe-passage corridors so refugees can return and humanitarian aid can be provided. These measures are likely to require the presence of some type of international stabilization force.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Review of the Literature Concerning Conflict Spillover

  • Chapter Three

    Spillover of the Syrian Conflict into Turkey

  • Chapter Four

    Spillover of the Syrian Conflict into Lebanon

  • Chapter Five

    Spillover of the Syrian Conflict into Iraq

  • Chapter Six

    Spillover of the Syrian Conflict into Jordan

  • Chapter Seven

    Conclusions and Recommendations

This research was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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