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Mon. October 22, 2018
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What to do about Syria?
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By Dr. Anna Cornelia Beyer

Yesterday, the people of Syria called the international community to help solve their civil war. The world has ignored the violence for too long.

What can be done?

It is important not to try to end the violence with more violence. Every person killed is a person too much. And therefore, any military intervention would probably do more harm than good. This puts the international community in a fundamental conundrum, as we do not have many tools to end violence without the use of counter-violence.

In terrorism research, one option for ending campaigns of violence is decapitation. Decapitation refers to the arrest or killing of leaders, such as has happened with Osama bin Laden, and is thought to be sometimes successful in the ending of violence. Decapitation could be applied with regards to Syria with the taking out of Assad. I recommend capture and arrest and trial, instead of killing, as this will be in line with the principles of the Western democracies and will avoid making him a martyr.

For ending the violence of ISIS, it is more difficult to recommend policy options. In the past, I have always argued against the use of military violence, as each military intervention, even drones, result in casualties and collateral damage. And we know from research on terrorism that each person killed can inspire another one to become a terrorist. Death of a loved by the ‘enemy’ is a common cause for radicalisation, for example for suicide terrorists. Arguably, intervention in Iraq is one reason for the emergence of ISIS. Therefore, we need to find ways to end violence without the use of violence.

One futuristic option that comes to mind is to find ways to apply medical models to violence. Violence in psychiatry is responded to with drugs that calm the patient down and make them happier, so that their motivation to use violence declines. Also, patients are put into arrest to avoid harm to others or themselves. The transference of these ideas to military strategy seem futuristic, but research should be done if there is possibility of using these principles in violent conflicts. For example, certain chemicals that fulfil the function of calming humans down and elate their moods could be dispersed over conflict zones. The technicalities might be difficult to solve, as again we know from terrorism research that the use of chemicals, in their case to attack and harm people, is difficult to manage. Aerosols have to be devised and the meteorological conditions need to be right for the chemical to be effective. But research could potentially solve this problem. International law could also be a problem with the rules against chemical warfare. However, if the drugs are not capable of harming individuals, just calming them down and changing their moods, this would be rather a medicalisation of the conflict than chemical warfare.

I have also always argued that the longstanding extreme violence in the broader Middle East will only be solved with development and democracy in the region and restrained violent military action. As soon as the conflicts are ended, the Western democracies need to focus on investing in the Middle East. Prosperity can bring peace, as we know from the literature on civil war causation. This must be the second step in countering the violence in Syria, but it depends on the successful resolution of the conflict.

Dr. AC Beyer is Senior Lecturer at the University of Hull. Her main publications include: Inequality and Violence (2014 Ashgate) and Violent Globalisms (2010 Ashgate). 

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