As the atrocities of the Assad regime pile up, the question on everybody’s lips is what the international community will do about it and will everyone agree to the solution. What ever the answer to that question, we have to ask ourselves what things should we be looking out strategically with regard to this situation. We also need to ask ourselves what a conflict with Syria would be like. We will look at the basic military situation, then that of the rebels, and finally the Geopolitical situation.
Comparing the Syrian military to that of the military’s of several recent conflicts we can make an educated guess as to what a conflict with Syria might produce. Unfortunately I could only find statistics for Syria’s military for 2003, nonetheless it is useful for comparison purposes. As we can see in terms of troop levels Syria is closer to Iraq than Libya and Afghanistan and Syria has more armaments than Iraq had.
Select Military Statistics For Several Countries
|Armed forces personnel||303,000 (2003)||72,000 (2003)||80,000 (2001)||397,000 (2002)|
|Weapons Holdings||11,480 (2003)||5,050 (2003)||2,180 (2001)||7,080 (2002)|
|Military Expenditures (2008 Dollars)||2,490 (2011)||1,116 (2008)||—||—|
|Land (sq kilometers)||183,630||1,759,540||652,230||438,317|
|Troop/ Arable Land Ratio||6.65||3.97||1.01||6.90|
Sources: CIA World Fact Book https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook
SIPRI Military Expenditure Database 2011, http://milexdata.sipri.org
Bonn International Center for Conversion http://www.bicc.de/
Another important way to look at the data is the troop land ratio. The reason being that it gives you an idea of what size area is being defended by a certain number of troops. It has a huge impact on how defensible a country is. A higher troop/land ratio not only means your troops are less spread out but also a small country indicates that it may be easier to deploy troops to another region. As we can see Syria is better armed than any of are recent opponents and is much more geographically compact.
Another concern about Syria’s Geography is that it is much less isolated than some of the other countries we have been in conflict with. Syria, is not only compact, allowing for better defense, it is more densely populated and shares borders three major US allies Turkey, Jordan, and Israel as well as with its former protectorate Lebanon and the unstable Iraq. A conflict in Syria that spread out side of Syria would place pose a grater potential risk then at least Afghanistan and Libya did.
That said as a problem this may also be an advantage for the international community. It places the Syria problem in the sphere of influence of two major powers who are likely to play a major role in any international intervention. Turkey as showed excellent willingness to step into the fray and it is highly doubtful that Israel likes having this ruckus on its front door step.
Syria not only is less Geographically isolated, it is less politically isolated. Much has been made of the Russia and China’s support of Syria however it is important to note that unlike the Taliban and Saddam, Syria has not been through years of sanctions and the economy is in a better state. For example in 2002 the Iraqi GDP per capita PPP (in 2011 dollars) was about $3,100, by comparison Syria’s is currently about $5,100, roughly 64% higher. (from the CIA world Fact Book) Meaning that at least in the short run the county can better economically deal with a war.
The news as also announced Russia has also been supplying Syria with arms so Syria has up to date armaments. On the other hand it is nice to note that Russia has finally agreed to support some sort of peace agreement, but the degree of support and whether Russia will stop supporting the Assad regime is still unclear.
Finally the Rebels, are not as encouraging as one might think. Although the presence Rebels should be a boon to the United States, unlike those in Libya, the Syrian Rebels seem far less useful. One is hard pressed to list any of their victories and they seem plagued by infighting.
I am not advocating or rejecting intervention in Syria although the US has already started with some intervention and it is both unlikely and against US interests to the US will ignore the situation. But Syria unlike Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya has the potential to be a prolonged campaign, the situation will have to be approached differently and with greater caution.