CNAS Press Note: Cessation of Hostilities in Syria
Washington, September 12 – With the deal reached between the United States and Russia to reestablish the cessation of hostilities in Syria set to take effect, Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Middle East Security Program Director Ilan Goldenberg and CNAS Bacevich Fellow Nicholas Heras have written a new Press Note, “Cessation of Hostilities in Syria.”
The full Press Note is below:
The deal reached between the United States and Russia to reestablish the cessation of hostilities in Syria is scheduled to go into effect later today, pending the approval of the Syrian armed opposition movement. This current deal is an attempt to resuscitate the February cessation of hostilities that is believed to have significantly reduced violence in western Syria before it effectively collapsed in March. The deal also seeks to build a “Joint Implementation Center,” an operations room to coordinate future U.S. and Russian military efforts against ISIS and the militant Salafist organization Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), which is the rebranding of the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra.
The theory behind this deal is that a renewed cessation of hostilities will protect the civilian population in opposition-controlled areas, which will save lives and provide the socio-political space for non-extremist Syrian rebel groups to take charge of the situation in their areas and marginalize extremists. Prompted by the United States, these rebel groups would begin the process of clearly disassociating from JFS, which could over time weaken the group, creating acceptable, non-extremist local governance structures in opposition-controlled areas. One challenge is that JFS has become more "mainstream" since it formally disassociated from al-Qaeda. Because it is an integral part of armed opposition campaigns in northern Syria, it will not be easily shunned by other elements within the Syrian armed opposition.
The most significant weakness of the new deal is that there is no mechanism to punish the Assad regime and Russia if they conduct attacks against civilians, continue to refuse humanitarian assistance access to besieged opposition communities, or return to the systematic targeting of U.S.-supported and acceptable armed opposition groups. If the regime and its allies break the cessation of hostilities, the United States will need to act more aggressively to empower acceptable elements of the Syrian opposition and develop credible threats of limited military force to deter Assad regime and Russian bombing of civilians in areas controlled by acceptable American supported opposition groups.