International Affairs
June 15, 2013
Will the Syrian civil war lead to a wider regional conflict?

As civil war rages in Syria, the international community appears unable to figure out how best to help halt the bloodshed and prevent the conflict from spreading to neighboring countries. Also in the region, governments are dealing with escalating sectarian violence and — in post-Arab Spring Egypt and Tunisia — constitutional struggles among militant Islamists, political reactionaries and those seeking democratic reform. In Africa, the French military recently helped Mali push al Qaeda-affiliated Islamists out of the country’s northern deserts; and in Asia, North Korea has fueled regional tensions by escalating its nuclear arms program. The European Union continues to try to restore growth, create jobs and stabilize the euro. And new leaders have taken the reins in Russia, China and Venezuela.

Syrian rebels celebrate atop the remains of a Syrian government fighter jet, shot down on the border between Aleppo and Idlib provinces, on Nov. 28, 2012. (AFP/Getty Images/Francisco Leong)   Syrian rebels celebrate atop the remains of a Syrian government fighter jet, shot down on the border between Aleppo and Idlib provinces, on Nov. 28, 2012. At least 90,000 people have been killed during the 2-year-old Syrian civil war, as the big powers — Russia, China, the United States and the European Union — argue over how to respond. (AFP/Getty Images/Francisco Leong)

Syria’s worsening civil war has become the most violent manifestation of the democracy movements unleashed by the 2011 Arab Spring, which has spurred fierce power struggles among Islamists, old-guard reactionaries and pro-democracy advocates. The Syrian conflict is spilling over into neighboring countries as the big powers — Russia, China, the United States and the European Union (EU) — haggle over how to respond. Syria’s closest ally, Iran, is another worry, because of concerted international efforts to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Nearly 93,000 people had been killed in Syria by early June, and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes in a civil war that is fragmenting the nation along ethnic and religious lines. Sunni Muslim Syrians form the core of the armed rebellion against a regime that is predominantly Alawite, a branch of Shiite Islam. President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have lost control of the country but retain a monopoly over airpower, as Russia and China continue to block any U. N. Security Council resolution to impose a no-fly zone over Syria. In May and early June, Assad's forces, bolstered by militants from the Iran-backed, Lebanon-based Shiite Muslim organization, Hezbollah, regained control of some key parts of the country. On June 13, the United States announced it had decided to arm the rebels because Assad had crossed a "red line" by using chemical weapons. 1

RELATED REPORTS