Wayne State University

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Syria conflict is focus of International Education Week panel discussion

December 16, 2013

Wayne State political science and law faculty observed International Education Week by providing perspectives on the Syrian crisis during a Nov. 13 panel discussion in Law School.

Conflict in the Levant nation is likely to persist for a several reasons, most notably the strength and military ties of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, political division among opposition forces, and the reluctance of international opposition supporters to put “boots on the ground,” says Nadejda Marinova, assistant professor of political science. Further complicating matters is that the Syrian National Council, an opposition coalition based in Istanbul, that opposes al-Assad and has the ear of the international community, does not represent the rebels engaged in combat.

An expert on Middle East politics who has conducted field research in Syria, Marinova described the toll of the Syrian Civil War, which broke out in 2011 in response to economic stagnation and decades of political oppression by the minoritarian Alawite regime. Influenced by the Arab Spring, the fighting has claimed more than 100,000 rebel and civilian lives and resulted in millions of refugees and internally displaced peoples, Marinova said.

Fred Pearson, professor political science and director of Wayne State’s Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, said the Levant is characterized by a “complex interdependency” and must be analyzed at the internal, local and global levels. Pearson, who has written extensively on regional conflict in the Middle East and Arab styles of conflict resolution, said regional dynamics include a “cold war” between leading powers Iran and Saudi Arabia. A global level analysis, he said, would capture the reluctance of Russia and China to legitimize United Nations (UN) involvement in Syria’s ethnic war because of ethnic wars within their own borders.

Gregory Fox, professor of law and director of the school’s Program for International Legal Studies, discussed the international debate over the legality and ethics of military intervention in Syria. The U.N. charter prohibits force as an instrument of foreign policy, allowing nations to use force only in cases of self-defense or where authorized by the U.N. Security Council. An expert in democratic governance and international law, Fox said “the ethos” of the international community has changed substantially since 1945, when the U.N. Charter was developed. Tensions exist between state-centered mentalities and individual-centered mentalities, he noted, leading to debate over whether individual states can use force for humanitarian intervention when it is not authorized by the Security Council.

The panel discussion was moderated by Brad Roth, professor of political science and law, who stressed that intervention must be weighed carefully as it precipitates unforeseeable responses.

“Intervention is not a one-off event, it’s a first step down a road,” said Roth, who is director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Political Science and writes on international law and questions of sovereignty. “You don’t always know where it will lead.”