The Syrian conflict through the theories of constructivism Essay
The Syrian conflict through the theories of constructivism
This essay aims to delineate and elucidate the Syrian conflict through the theories of constructivism and realism. Particular attention will be paid to the origin of the Syrian Civil War, along with the major actors involved in this regional, and now international, conflict.
“The people want to topple the regime” was the anti-government graffiti on the wall of a local school in Daraa city painted by a group of Syrian children on March 2011. Those children were arrested and tortured by the local security authorities (Diehl, 2012: 7). This act eventually led to an anti-governmental uprising due to the outrageous reaction of a community over children’s mistreatment after incarceration by the local security authorities. The uprising demanded the release of children, justice, freedom as well as equality for all people. At the core, these peaceful demonstrations were considered to be against the sectarian and family dictatorship because the political power was mainly held by the Alawite elite (Diehl, 2012). In response to these demonstrations, the Syrian government planned to enforce security forces for the protestors to suppress them. The deadly aggression used by the government to oppose dissent led to protests across the country calling for the president to resign. Violence soon escalated as the government battled hundreds of rebel brigades. This rebellion further turned into a full-fledged civil war between the Free Syrian army and the Syrian regime (Thompson, 2016). The main allegation that the Syrian regime associated with the protestors was that they were Islamic Al- Qaeda’s extremist terrorist gangs who were supported and funded by the various countries such as Turkey, Qatar, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as the United States of America which they try to seek peace with Israel (Sommier, 2014). Similarly, the same Syrian regime who was supported by Russia, China and Iran, was present in the front fire line with Israel (Fisher, 2012). Since then, the regional and international intervention has proven to be a key factor in the power struggle as the government and opposition have received financial, political and military support. This has directly intensified the fighting and allowed it to continue; Syria is effectively being used as a proxy battlefield (Wimmen and Asseburg, 2012).
The death toll as recorded and presented by the Syrian Centre for Policy Research approximately totaled at 470,000 as a result of ongoing conflict till February 2016. Due to the intensification and spread of fighting, a dire humanitarian crisis was evident since 4.8 million people tried to take refugee abroad and 6.1 million people were internally displaced as per the records of UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. It has also been reported by the Syrian Network for Human Rights that since 2011, more than 117,000 people have been either disappeared or detained by the governmental forces. In the detention, ill-treatment and torture are two rampant things that have resulted in the death of thousands of people. Additionally, the Islamic State (ISIS) made more complications by the widespread and systematic violations. This was through targeting civilians with artillery, kidnappings, torture, executions and using children as soldiers (Human Rights Watch, 2016).
One of the biggest challenges that the international relations could face was about how substantial issues could be understood in the globalized world. Steve Smith in his book ‘International Relations Theories’ examines the concept of international relations by deep research and fascinating drawing of the international relations. Smith illustrated that the “theories are like different colored lenses: if you put one of them in front of your eyes, you will see things differently” (Smith, Kurki and Dunne, 2016: 11). Based on this, there are various currents within the international relations theories, with each a different point of view on the Syrian conflict. Realism approaches a dissimilar perspective than constructivism does.
Realism uses an explanatory, as opposed to a normative, approach to examining International Relations. Three core assumptions are made: (1) states are the key players in the international field, also known as “statism” (Dunne and Schmidt, 2017: 109); (2) states function as isolated, rational actors that are moved by their self-interests and egoism that they need to fulfil (Ikenberry and Parsi, 2009); (3) the international system is an anarchic one and it does not have an overarching authority (Mearsheimer, 2001: 30). Hence, assure their survival and security through their own material capabilities and self-assist (Waltz, 1979: 213). These assumptions lead realism to assume, at a core level, a pessimistic outlook wary of constant threat and danger. State actors are thought to be driven by motivations to survive and dominate, aiming to gain favorable positions of power and reduce the potential for their demise (Gellman, 1988). The competition and insecurity inherent within the anarchic system will compel states consciously to adopt a balancing response when confronted with other actors’ sudden concentrations of power. Therefore, they will either develop their own material resources (internal balancing) or combine their material resources with other states’ (external balancing). This provides evidence that, for realism, alliances are not motivated by shared ideas and values, but through national self-interest (Morgenthau, 1948).
In realism, it should be noted that the states are not equal and are placed in a hierarchical order as per their power. In an anarchical system, the only way to defend and survive is to use the military power (Slaughter, 2011). Some of the egoistic passions are given primary emphasis by the realists, especially that the presence of political action with an evil in it as mentioned by Donnelly in 2000 “the tragic presence of evil in all political action” (Morgenthau, 1946: 203). This outlook necessitates that politics is viewed as a struggle for power with the where “shadow of war” is something that is considered to be an ever-present (Aron, 1970: 36); mainly due to the irreconcilable aspirations of the states (Carr, 1946). According to this, every state would try to obtain as much power as possible. But in case there is an imbalance of power, the likelihood of war becomes high primarily because the stronger state may attack the weaker state without sanction or any loss of itself. However, this idea about power and equipoise not only encompasses the military power but also encompasses the economic power. This means that states whose economies are growing are also gaining more power. Therefore, the attention of realists is focused on the economy of a state as it is related to its power (Mearsheimer, 2016). Moreover, realists consider that the non-governmental organizations do not possess the military power required to compete with states in the international system. This means that the role played by United Nations is limited (Dunne and Schmidt, 2017: 106), as the main actors (states) in international relations are not worried about absolute gains, but rather with obtaining further benefits and relatively higher gains than the others involved.
Considering all of the above, strategies like mutual mistrust, selfishness, power-seeking, recklessness as well as survival-securing are considered to be capable for producing anarchical structures amongst polities along with security dilemmas, international self-help systems, violence, ever-present threats of war, and unrestricted politics of national interests.
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