Cover: Getting to Negotiations in Syria

Getting to Negotiations in Syria

The Shadow of the Future in the Syrian Civil War

Published Jul 14, 2014

by Paul D. Miller

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الوصول إلى المفاوضات في سوريا

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It appears that there is almost no prospect for a negotiated solution to the civil war in Syria in the near term. This is because the Syrian factions believe — perhaps rightly — that they have more to gain by carrying on the fight than by negotiating toward peace.

At root, for combatants to choose negotiations, a key factor is their beliefs about the future: Will fighting continue to be costly? Will it ever yield better results? Will the other side be willing to talk? Will talks yield greater benefits than fighting? These are estimations about future possibilities. Thus, the "shadow of the future" plays a significant role in bringing combatants to the negotiating table. Because combatants are not the only players that affect their fate — outsiders also influence the future — this is the area in which the international community can most effectively play a role. International actors have a range of options that can decisively influence Syria's belligerents' expectations about the future. If the Syrian factions believed that all sides will abide by an eventual peace agreement that protects their interests and that an impartial third party will guarantee the peace and provide resources for reconstruction, they would be much more likely to agree to negotiations, make reasonable demands, and agree to a peace agreement's terms. The international community's best option, then, is to promise a peacekeeping and reconstruction intervention that will start after the combatants have agreed to peace.

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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