How to Understand Syria’s “Proxy war” – And Who’s Fighting For Whom

epa05555253 A handout photo released on 25 September 2016 by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) showing Syrian soldiers at Handarat camp in the north of Aleppo, Syria, 24 September 2016. According to SANA, government troops recaptured Handarat camp. EPA/SANA HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

By Simon Mabon

As another attempted ceasefire falls apart, the destruction of the Syrian people and state goes on. The country’s economy has been annihilated, and the conflict’s societal damage will take decades to repair. The need to stop the conflict is paramount – but even though it’s vaunted as the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, it seems as far from a resolution as ever.

Part of what makes this so difficult is the array of external forces involved in the conflict in one way or another. They are fighting to wield influence over the outcome and backing different factions on the ground to try and seize the initiative.

In 2010, the UK’s then-foreign secretary, William Hague, spoke about how the world was “networked”, saying that to exert influence in the global arena, states and other entities must exert influence over a range of networks. This is a good way of thinking about the conflict in Syria, where a huge range of groups inside and outside the country are now struggling to influence each other.

The networks in Syria are amorphous and perpetually in flux.

A huge array of actors are now involved on the ground and from afar, and many increasingly view the conflict as an existential struggle. The complexity of the conflict has resulted in the emergence of a range of different networks, ones that connect groups inside and outside Syria in intricate and volatile ways.

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About the Author

Simon Mabon is a lecturer in International Relations at the Lancaster University, specialising in the International Relations of the Middle East, ‘soft power’ security dilemmas, Gulf politics, internal-external security dilemmas, and of the interaction between religion and legitimacy, contested sovereignty, and political violence.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The Political Anthropologist.

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