Writing for the U.S. Army's Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute (PKSOI) "Flash Points" blog, Nathan Freier explains why policymakers and planners should keep the Syrian crisis in mind as they make decisions about rebalancing U.S. military forces.
Indeed, Syria provides a frightening archetype for future conflicts that have the potential to go viral and could under the most grave circumstances call for U.S. intervention. Consider these facts. Syria sits in the middle of an enormously important region that for decades has been at the center of U.S. security strategy. It is ruled by an authoritarian minority regime. The ruling elite and its legitimacy are increasingly undermined by a capable but fractious majority opposition. Syrian forces boast substantial military capabilities, including relatively modern ground and air combat capabilities, air defenses, ballistic missiles, and chemical weapons. With increasing defections from the Syrian military, centralized control of these capabilities would undoubtedly collapse, leaving Syria (and its neighbors) vulnerable to the predations of a number of exceedingly well-armed factions; not to mention opening the prospect for proliferation of the most dangerous among these capabilities to hostile third parties. Some form of horizontal conflict escalation is not only possible but probable.
Freier does not call for intervention. But he wonders whether force structure planners in the Pentagon are taking such scenarios seriously. If not, much-reduced U.S. ground forces may pay the price when policymakers throw them at a wicked problem for which they are not sized or prepared.