Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Research Report

SETTING THE STAGE FOR PEACE IN SYRIA: The Case for a Syrian National Stabilization Force

Copyright Date: Apr. 1, 2015
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 44
  • Cite this Item

Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 7-8)
    Jon M. Huntsman Jr.

    Four years ago, Syria began its descent into a modern-day hell when President Bashar al-Assad decided to respond to peaceful protest with deadly violence. The descent gathered momentum as Assad, with the support of Iran and Russia, militarized to crush a broad-based uprising against his corrupt, capricious, and incompetent rule. Assad designated all of his opponents as terrorists in the employ of the United States, Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, and instigated a sectarian campaign of war crimes and crimes against humanity. This campaign drew to Syria Assad’s opponents of choice: remnants of al-Qaeda in Iraq and foreign fighters from...

  2. (pp. 11-14)

    Syria is failing as a state. Since March 2011, the regime—the ruling Assad clan and its enablers, in and out of government—has executed a violent sectarian survival strategy, one that has traded the unitary nature of Syrian statehood for an Iranian-sustained regime fiefdom in western Syria precariously maintained by brute force. By attacking peaceful protesters with lethal force, applied in large measure by politically reliable and predominantly Alawite armed elements (official and not), the regime deliberately provoked sectarian responses (both local and regional) and ultimately converted unarmed protest into armed resistance. By releasing political Islamist prisoners from jail...

  3. (pp. 15-22)

    On June 26, 2014, President Barack Obama, in response to the invasion of Iraq by Syria-based Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) forces, asked Congress to authorize the US Department of Defense to allocate $500 million “to train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the moderate Syrian armed opposition. These funds would help defend the Syrian people, stabilize areas under opposition control, facilitate the provision of essential services, counter terrorist threats, and promote conditions for a negotiated settlement.”¹ By September 19, 2014, the request had been approved by both houses of Congress (in a fiscal year 2015 continuing...

  4. (pp. 23-30)

    The Syrian National Stabilization Force (SNSF) should be conceived from the outset as an integral part of a political-military solution to the Syrian crisis, not as a foreign-commanded collection of Syrian auxiliaries committed to battle the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on Syrian territory. Through military and diplomatic means, the SNSF must prompt a complete political transition and establish the basis for post-Assad army and security forces, reflecting the full participation of all Syrian communities. Notwithstanding the central role of the United States and its partners in building the SNSF, the entity itself must ultimately be Syrian;...

  5. (pp. 31-42)

    The United States has committed itself to a train-and-equip program aimed at organizing nationalist Syrian rebels, principally to provide a ground combat component for coalition air forces engaging the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria. However, this report envisions something considerably more ambitious: a force that could stabilize all of Syria and form the basis for the kind of legitimate governance that would put both ISIL and the ISIL-enabling Assad regime in history’s rearview mirror. It is admittedly difficult, from the vantage point of early 2015, to envision all contingencies and to design a force with...

  6. (pp. 43-43)

    The foregoing analysis suggests several conclusions concerning the prospective creation of the Syrian National Stabilization Force (SNSF). Above all, this will be a politically and militarily complex task, one that transcends exponentially issues of recruitment, vetting, training, and equipping.

    Clearly, the challenges presented by the operational environment in Syria, likely missions, required capabilities, appropriate organization, and the nature and phasing of operations require careful consideration as the force is configured. The following factors are deemed critical:

    A Syrian political structure does not yet exist that can provide the requisite political guidance and national command authority. This report recommends that an...