As currently conceived, Geneva II — the diplomatic process aimed at reaching a political settlement in Syria — is headed for near-certain failure. Continued difficulty in setting a firm meeting date underscores a fundamental obstacle: the Syrian protagonists — particularly the opposition — are not yet ready to talk. Even if both sides come to the table, deep-rooted differences over the purpose, structure, and conduct of the talks as well as a widening rift between the political opposition and armed fighters, likely would lead to the negotiation’s immediate unraveling — with dire consequences on the ground.
Instead, the United Nations should reconceive the Geneva process by adding an interim phase — call it Geneva 1.5 — before attempting to bring the Syrians to the table. Geneva 1.5 would center on a multilateral conference assembling key international and regional actors to address some of the most pressing issues feeding the conflict and to lay the foundation for an eventual Syrian negotiation process.
The Syrian conflict’s severity underscores that neither a disavowal of diplomacy nor its failure are options. Indeed, as Syria burns, the conflict demands a heightened urgency for an international response. The world cannot simply wash its hands of Syria. Nor can it afford to embark on a diplomatic process that is doomed to fail. In either event, Syria would continue its precipitous spiral toward chaos.
As it stands, the Syrian conflict may be at a phase change, transforming from a sectarian civil war to a humanitarian and security nightmare with broad regional spillover. While regime forces appear to be consolidating control over key areas, the overall trajectory remains one of protracted stalemate, with neither the regime nor the rebels likely to prevail militarily.
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This op-ed was originally published in Foreign Policy on Nov. 20, 2013
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