Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Syrian crisis and the larger issue at hand

     Currently, the President is working  with Russia to get Assad to give up his chemical weapons. This deal is preferable to war. However, not only does this deal not offer a endgame to the crisis, it also fails to address bigger picture, not only for Syria, but for the Middle East as a whole: ethnic and religious diversity. This diversity is a centrifugal force in the region, and is prominent in the countries of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The process in how the former three formed and how the latter formed have significant differences, so I will address them separately.

      After the Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of WWI, the arab states of this former empire were supposed to be independent states. However, Britain and France formed them into colonies. Among them were Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. These colonies were ethnically and religiously heterogenous, and inherently unstable. When these colonies became independent, they kept the borders established by Britain and France. Lebanon has been unstable, and had a bloody decade long civil war. In contrast, for a time cruel but stabilizing dictators in Syria and Iraq prevented them from following the same path. However, since Saddam was deposed in Iraq, these ethnic and religious factions have been in constant conflict. As with Syria, the conflict has largely turned sectarian. If Assad wins, he will treat the Sunnis even worse, while if the Sunni rebels win, expect the Alawites, an offshoot of Shia Islam, to be treated terribly. Even worse, the conflict could go on for many more years, and there will not be much of a country left once it finally ends.

       Afghanistan, on the other hand, was colonized in an invasion by Britain between 1838 and 1842. It was, and still is, made up of several hostile tribes belonging to different ethnic groups. It became independent in 1919 and has remained unstable ever since.

     There are three possible solutions to prevent instability in these middle eastern nations. The first is a strong dictator willing to do anything to maintain power, such as Saddam in Iraq, and Assad in Syria. However, this approach is flawed. Despite the obvious human rights issues, this option seems less viable than previously. With a more educated and better connected population, it has been harder for dictators to keep their grip on power, which has been shown in the Arab Spring. The second option is a republic including all of these ethnic groups, such as in Lebanon, and for a short period of time after Afghanistan became independent.  However, with these groups hating each other, and many of the people in them more loyal to the group than the nation, this inevitably leads to instability. The inherent weakness of this form of government, with a hostile heterogeneous population, has been shown in the Afghan coup of 1973. The last solution is to divide the countries along ethnic and religious boundaries, partitioning some of the country to existing states, while creating new states out of others. This approach could not work in Lebanon because the resulting states would be too small and non-consectutive to be politically or economically viable. However, in the other countries I mentioned, this appears to be the best solution.

      First lets start with Iraq. Iraq can be divided into three general groups: Shia Arabs, Sunni Arabs, and Sunni Kurds. The Shia Arabs, being about 60% of the population, live in the Southern and eastern parts of Iraq, which is mostly a dry hilly area. This part of Iraq contains most of the oil The Sunni Arabs, who make up about 20% of the population, live in the central and western parts of Iraq. Central, Iraq has a more temperate climate than southern Iraq, however western Iraq is mostly desert and uninhabitable. The Sunni Kurds live in the northern part of the country, which is a mountainous region. It produces only about 100,000 barrels of oil per day of the total 2,900,000 produced in Iraq, but has about  45 billion of the total 143.1 billion barrels in proven reserves. However, the region produces the vast majority of Iraq's natural gas, as well as the vast majority of Iraq's natural gas reserves . Despite this oil wealth, it is poorer than the rest of Iraq, with a pathetic $4,500 GDP, and had 2009 growth rate of 4.3% compared to Iraq's 2010 growth rate of 5.9%.  Dividing these groups along ethnic borders will not be easy, since some Sunnis live in Shia areas, and some Shias live in Sunni areas. Also there is the question of Baghdad, which is fairly mixed between Sunni Arabs and Shia Arabs. Third of all, establishing borders would pose a huge problem, since the position of it would determine how much oil each group gets. For the first problem, because some people would want to move because they would now be the minority in the area, the government should buy those peoples houses at full value. For the first problem, it would be messy at first. The people who are the minority in the new country would want to move, and it is likely those who don't will be treated badly. Bagdad will then have to be divided into to sections, one will be the capitol of the Sunni Arab State, like how Jerusalem would be divided under the current peace plan.

     Like Iraq, Syria is ethnically and religiously divided. At first glance, Syria looks too hard to split up, but at a closer glance it is easier than most realize. First of all, only 4 main groups make up over 90% of the population Sunni Arabs (around 60% of population),  Kurds (10-15% of population) Alawites ( around 8-15% of population), and Christians (around 10% of population). They also live in fairly distinct areas. The Alawites and Christians live along the coast, which has a fairly wet Mediterranean Climate. The Kurds live in the north-east corner of Syria, which like the area of the Iraqi Kurds, is mountainous  and the Sunnis live everywhere else. Although almost all of this area has little rainfall, but the Euphrates River makes agriculture possible in some of this area. Additionally, since Syria produces little oil, it will be easier to get a land agreement than Iraq, where the factions would be squabbling over oil reserves. Three states could be carved out of this country. The Syrian Kurds would join in with the Iraqi Kurds to form Kurdistan. The Western edge of Syria would form a new country that had a mix of Christians and Alawites. Assad would most likely stay in power here. The rest of modern day Syria would go to the Sunnis. Because of the hostility between the Alawites and the Sunnis, there would have to be a DMZ between the two new states to prevent a war. Obviously, this transition would not be pretty. Although this would end the civil war, the minorities in these new regions could face slaughter. In all likely hood, the U.N. peacekeepers would have to come to prevent gross human rights abuses. Despite this, it is still better than a never ending civil war where both sides are at a stalemate and the fighting continues.

     Lastly, we have the issue of Afghanistan. Before British colonization, Afghanistan had no central government, but instead was made up of many small tribes. Then, in 1842, the British colonized it. Although the people of Afghanistan share a common religion, the ethnic diversity is astounding. Fortunately, there are a variety of factors making partitioning easier. First of all, many on the ethnic groups border the country with that ethnic group as a large make up of the population. This is true of the Tajk group, which borders Tajkstan; the Uzbek group, which borders Uzbekistan, the Turkmen group, which borders Turkmenistan, and the Pashtun group, which borders Pakistan. There is  a fairly large Baluch population in Afghanistan and Pakistan, so these two groups could for Baluchstan. The Harzaras and the Amaqs would each get their independent countries. Kabul would be under Pashtun rule. This solution is far from ideal, since the ethnic borders are not absolute, and their would be many  people who would no be in the minority. The border changes would be controversial, since the plan would take some land from Pakistan. However, it is also adding land to Pakistan, so the government may accept it. Despite this, we have clearly seen that Afghanistan can not function as a country. It is incredible unstable, the ethnic groups hate each other, and is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a truly pathetic $450 GDP per capita. In other words, things can't get much worse. Knowing this, it seems wise to try this solution.

    Partitioning the above countries along ethnic and religious lines is not ideal, can go wrong in a variety of ways, is expensive, will upset the governments of Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, and will lead to some conflict. Despite this, it is still better than the mess we have now. The relationships with Turkey and Pakistan will be able to be repaired with a large bribe (in technology and money) Besides, considering we already have poor relationships with both countries to begin with, they can not get much worse.  Most of these groups will be happy that they either get their own country, or are part of a country where they are the majority. This should cause these groups to have a better relationship with the U.S. (assuming they impose and implement it) than they had previously. Additionally, while the downsides of this solution are temporary, if it is not implemented, the current problems may become permanent. Also, the money that will be spent in the short-term to implement this solution is almost guaranteed to be less than what we would spend long-term on wars and humanitarian aid. The deaths and violence this will cause short term will probably be less than the inevitable violence and deaths that will happen long-term if nothing changes. All in all, this is not a good plan, but the alternatives are even worse.


















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