Small Wars Journal

Why Has The Syrian Civil War Lasted So Long?

Why Has The Syrian Civil War Lasted So Long? By Théodore McLauchlin – Washington Post

The war in Syria may be drawing nearer to a close. Syrian regime forces have advanced through rebel territory, most recently taking Quneitra province in the southwest. President Bashar al-Assad’s regime appears, according to much commentary, to be heading toward victory. The war is seven years old. Hundreds of thousands are dead, millions displaced. How has this bloody war lasted so long? How has Assad survived several moments, especially early on, in which his rule appeared doomed? And what does this mean for other civil conflicts?

My research, in a recent paper, suggests a grim answer. One key to the war’s length and Assad’s survival is that the regime has long pursued a sectarian strategy, putting key posts in the hands of certain members of a small religious minority. This strategy has worked. It has helped the regime maintain a loyal core that has kept it in power at critical moments and lengthened the war. It has trumped efforts by nonsectarian opposition groups to transcend Syria’s identity divisions. And the Syrian war reflects a broader, global pattern.

To be sure, there are several reasons for the war’s duration. Probably the most important is international involvement. Outside players like Russia, Iran, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the Western coalition have provided cash and fighters to keep failing forces (notably the regime) afloat and worsened already fiendishly difficult negotiations among the dizzying array of armed groups…

Read on.