The Weak-State Security Dilemma, What the Future Holds For Syria and the International Response – Part 2

Now that we have examined and had a look at the security dilemma and threats facing the Syrian government’s survival, what options are available to them? What tactics will they deploy and what rhetoric will they use? The weak-state security dilemma focuses on some of the options available to the political elites, and we can try and see whether or not they are indeed using any of these methods and to what effect.

The first most commonly used tactic used by state elites trying to retain power and survive according to Jackson and the weak-state dilemma is the widespread use of security and state forces to coerce populations into submission. They use tactics such as torture, intimidation, imprisonment, assassination, extra-judicial killings, disappearances, violent suppression of political expression, destruction of food supplies, and in extreme cases, genocide, and politicide.[1]

One danger of using state forces and institutions against the society it rules or large parts of the society is that these state forces can turn against the political elites/regime. We know that before the civil war began in Syria, civilians were protesting the political imprisonment of individuals that critiqued or spoke out in opposition to the regime. Numerous disappearances were reported, security forces arrested some protestors and interrogated them (some of those interrogated were underage minors – children), and some of those arrested were also reportedly tortured. As the protests against the government intensified, the government of Syria resorted to open fire against the protestors. It is during this time that some Syrian defense personnel defected and started up their own militia group known as the FSA, in opposition to the Syrian regime/government. During the civil war so far, populations have been entrapped in enclaves in different cities and towns were there is violent conflict raging and as a result of this, water, food and health care has been and is extremely limited.

One tactic the state elites can use in order to prevent this opposition from rising from within its own state forces, is to divide and conquer. States can divide up the states security forces into different ‘leagues’ such as elite soldiers or divisions, or divide them into different services so that they come into ‘competition’ with one another.[2] The state elites can also use this tactic against state institutions, bureaucracies, religious groups etc. Weakening state institutions in this context is a viable security measure state elites can take in order to reduce the risk of uprisings from within. Sometimes the regime will also create methods of positive reinforcement by creating rewards for those loyal to the regime. These can be in the form of elaborate patronage systems, pompous ceremonies and awards, or promotions and monetary incentives. Such methods used by the state can enforce different types of power redistribution, and corruption feeds into this system.[3] The state elites can also reward figures such as warlords, criminal syndicates, and other militias in turn for their support. The state entices them by offering up control of particular areas, exclusive control over particular commercial activities or have state resources diverted their way.[4] The state can also entice divisions and conflict between minority groups in the state, particularly ethnic or religious groups as part of this divide and conquer strategy. Thus particular groups fight between themselves instead of fighting together against the state. The state can then also promote particular ethnic or religious groups or individuals to state power. Ethnic and religious identity is often exploited by developing states. We know from the previous post on the conflict in Syria, that most of President Assad’s regime and he himself is from the religious minority of the Alawites.

There are also numerous ways that a weak state can exploit the international community and the democratic ‘process’. However, what I wanted to look at more closely since we can use Syria’s current state of conflict as an example, is the way it can exploit and use foreign alliances to its advantage and to bolster its state control and ‘legitimacy’. Weak states look for powerful international allies to help guarantee regime survival. We know that this very important aspect for Syria’s regime. Civil war can often mean the collapse of governance, state institutions and the state economic apparatus. Without these, the Syrian government and state security forces may not be able to continue fighting the opposition over a long period of time. Outside assistance is vital in this scenario. We know Russia and Iran are supporting Syria militarily and financially. Russia and China have vetoed many sanctions and any possibility for UN intervention in the conflict (except for diplomatic resolutions). These state allies usually have many reasons why they take the stand that they do. Remember, no one enters a war, or supports a weak regime without having considered many different factors. For example, Russia and China are most often against military intervention in states, even if a humanitarian crisis is unfolding or if it has taken place. Why? Because they want to uphold the concept of state sovereignty at all costs, even though state sovereignty is only legitimate through the inherent implication that a state protects and secures the future of its population. Very often in weak states, different groups want to either overthrow the state government if they do not believe that the state is upholding its responsibilities to the population or certain groups want to declare independence. Even though Russia and China have functioning power and authority in their states and through their institutions, there are conflicts within certain factions of their societies. China and Russia are afraid that if these conflicts were to increase, their acceptance of other states military intervention, would in turn result in states accepting and carrying out intervention in their own states. It may be a far reach considering the power and authority Russia and China hold, however the possibility cannot be excluded. It goes so far as China refusing the extension of peacekeepers contracts in Macedonia after the break up of Yugoslavia, because Macedonia in rhetoric supported the independence of Tibet. Bit extreme isn’t it, but then again these states want to limit any threat to their control and power of their state.

Russia was an ally of Syria before this current civil war started. Russia not only had (and continues to have) a customer for its arms, but also could have limited military presence in the Middle East. They fear that the Middle East will be dominated by Western control and influence especially after the intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan (the U.S. can also count Saudi Arabia and Israel as allies). Iran no doubt also has this fear that Western states, and especially the U.S. will dominate in influence and military presence in the Middle East. Iran always saw itself as the rightful regional power of influence in the Middle East (stemming from their history and dominance of rule back in the Persian Empire). Iran is predominantly Shiite while Syria is predominantly Sunni, however, the Alawite sect is a Shiite sect. Both states are authoritarian in their ruling (Syria is proto-facist). While Iran is a theocracy and ideologically opposed to secularism and atheist communism, Syria tried to impose a secular state with principles of socialism under its Baa’thist regime. However, their broader security strategies aligned (for e.g. with their opposition to Israel) and fueled cooperation between the two.

And who is supporting the Syrian opposition? Many Western states publicly denounced Assad’s regime and have stated that he should step down from power. Both because the violence and fatalities caused by the Syrian armed security forces could not be ignored, and also because of the fear that the violence could spread beyond its borders. If Assad had stepped down from power earlier, perhaps the civil war would not have started. Of course in that case other problems would arise such as power vacuums (for example like in Libya currently). Russia and other opponents to intervention state that doing so could pull the region into war, especially since Iran and Russia back Syria. However, many experts such as Amir Teheri state that while Iran and Russia back Syria with arms and money, it is unlikely that if the stakes were raised high enough, they would be prepared to fight their war.[5] The longer the conflict continues the more Syria’s neighbours will be dealing with the fall out (e.g. the huge numbers of refugees fleeing Syria to Jordan and Turkey – there is thought to be 350,000 refugees currently who have fled Syria). Wars have a tendency to spread and fall over the borders, especially in troubled regions. We have just heard in the news that Turkish civilians were fatally shot by Syrian security forces (it is probable that it was the Syrian security forces, however it is unknown at this stage if it was a mistake or purposely done so). Turkey has always had a troubled relationship with Syria. At the beginning of the violence in Syria, Turkey pressured the Assad regime to follow through with reforms (and Assad was not happy about this). Turkey was also the place that many national defectors from Syria sought cover. The Syrian National Council is based in Turkey, and is a major Syrian civilian coalition, opposed to the Assad regime. Many of its top members are exiled politicians and diplomats. The top commanders from the FSA are also headquartered in Turkey, however it is unclear how much assistance they are receiving from Turkey, and their movement is limited. Turkey no doubt has to deal with the fall out caused by the Syrian civil war and as a member of NATO has to take the security threat seriously and keep it under control as much as possible. Turkey will be judged by the international community in how well it responds to the fall out of the conflict, and I am not surprised that it is now opposed to the Assad regime as is most of the West. Turkey however does not want to enter into a war with Syria especially alone. Assad’s regime is not happy that Turkey has kept its borders open to Syrian defectors and opposition groups. As military intervention has been vetoed in the U.N., most Western states have pledged to provide Syrian refugees with aid assistance. Britain has gone one step further and pledged 8 million pounds to Syrian opposition groups, while it is thought that the U.S. has pledged 45 million dollars also to Syrian opposition groups. Both states claim that the money will go towards non-lethal assistance, such as satellites, medical equipment etc. In reality though, it is highly probable that some of this money will be redirected by the Syrian opposition for arms. The West is nervous that if the civil war continues for an extended period of time, extremists will join in the fight. As I mentioned in the previous post on Syria, Al Qaeda’s al-Nusra front is present in Syria, even though they are thought to have limited presence.

The more militias and armed groups that enter the conflict, the more Syria could be torn a part and if the Assad regime falls, different territories might be in control by different groups. The threat that power vacuums present are just as dangerous as the current civil war. It seems that both main parties in the civil war have enough backing and assistance to keep fighting for an extended period of time. This could mean years. If the Syrian security forces keep even accidently shelling across the border into Turkey, NATO may feel it has to intervene in some way to top the Assad regime. I highly doubt that any other nation will send its own troops on the ground into Syria, air strikes carried out by NATO like in Libya may be highly probable. I fear that whatever sides gains victory, this could very well be a prolonged civil war, and one side defeating the other will not solve all of Syria’s security issues, in reality it will just create new threats and insecurity.

So where do you think the conflict is heading? Leave me a comment and until next time!

Miss S.

I might do the next post on Wikileaks, but leave me a comment if you would like to suggest a topic for future posts 🙂 Also, if you liked this post, don’t forget to like my facebook page, I post up lots of tantalizing photos and funny bits and pieces 🙂

[1] Richard Jackson in ‘Contemporary Security Studies’ edited by Alan Collins, Oxford University Press, New York, 2010

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Amir Taheri, ‘Syria and the tale of two civil wars’,, 31/08/2012

Definitions: What’s the difference between Intrastate, Interstate & Extrastate???

These terms are often used in articles which explore conflicts and war. They are confusing terms, so I thought I should write up some more definitions as they are worth knowing! The terms listsed here have been ‘inspired by’ articles by Sambanis, and Alan Collins book on Contemporary Security Studies.

Intrastate: Intrastate violence is the most common form of conflict today. It describes sustained political violence that takes place between armed groups representing the state, and one or more non-state groups. Violence of this sort usually is confined within the borders of a single state, but usually has significant international dimensions and holds the risk of spilling over into bordering states (the current conflict in Syria would be described as a Intrastate conflict).

Interstate: Interstate violence is a conflict between two or more states (both members of the international system), who use their respective national forces in the conflict.

Extrastate: Extrastate conflict is between a state (member of the international system) and a political entity which does not come in the form of a recognized state. This type of conflict can take place outside the boundaries of the state recognized by the international community.

Hope this helps! 🙂

Miss S.

The Weak-State Security Dilemma, What the Future Holds For Syria and the International Response – Part 1

The Weak-state security dilemma can tell us a lot about the situation in Syria, and how certain aspects of the civil war effect and threaten the functioning of the state. It also allows us to distinguish how weak-states usually respond to threats (how the government of Syria will keep responding to the opposition of its regime). It is interesting that the threats to developing states usually come from inside the state itself – internal threats are more dangerous than international threats. The insecurity that many developing states face is now incredibly difficult to contain within the states that are experiencing internal threats because of globalization (porous borders and so on – we can see refugees pouring into Jordan and Turkey). Developing countries are much more likely to have to deal with serious internal political violence such as military coups, rebellions, violent transfers of power, warlordism, succession, genocide/politicide, ethnic or religious violence, campaigns of terrorism, riots & disorder (e.g. Syria for decades imprisoned and most likely tortured those who opposed the regime, protests and riots occurred and now an insurgency and civil war is taking place).[1]

A spill over effect from all these different types of political instability/violence can include terrorism, illegal migration, drug & arms trading, organized crime, environmental damage and in the most severe cases, state collapse and anarchy.[2] Syria has experienced a dramatic rise in crime, as police stations are left abandoned. Pro-government militias have been accused of numerous counts of rape, and kidnappings that were once rare, are now common occurrences.[3] Destruction of civil structures and institutions are linked to both sides. Some of the oldest historical sites and artifacts are in serious danger of being destroyed. Smuggling of arms to rebel groups across the borders of Turkey and Lebanon are now also a common occurrence. There is a growing fear that extremists – including members of Al Qaeda – will try and hijack the revolution and turn it into a sectarian war as was the case with Iraq – Sunnis against Shiites. There have been 35 car bombings, and 10 suicide bombings (terrorist tactics) 4 of which have thought to be directly linked to Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front.[4] The FSA has denied being linked with Al Qaeda, however many believe that in time they will be a big contender of influence in the civil war and insurgency.

“A Syrian boy stands in the rubble of a destroyed police station at the border town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, July 29, 2012. The U.N. said 200,000 Syrians have fled the embattled city of Aleppo since intense clashes between regime forces and rebels began 10 days ago.” Image from

A lot of the problems weak states face, are rooted in how the state was formed and how it governs its people.[5] Very often developing states have ruling elites, and the more that these elites try to establish state rule, the more they provoke violent challenges to their rule and authority. Regime security (the condition where governing elites are secure from violent changes) and state security (the condition where the institutions, processes, and structures of the state are able to function effectively, regardless of the makeup of the ruling elite) become inextricably linked.[6] This creates a situation that very often involves ‘structural anarchy’ where groups create insecurity in the rest of the system when they try and improve their own security.[7] This condition of insecurity is self-perpetuating because every effort by the regime to secure greater security for itself through violent force (Syria is using heavy artillery designed for traditional warfare against other states such as Israel, however it is using this artillery against its own civilians that are said to be sympathizers of the opposition and rebel militias who use asymmetric warfare) and thus undermines the institutional basis of the state and the security of the society as a whole. [8]

It is interesting that not only is the Assad regime a tightly knit group of political elites (however some of its elites have denounced the government and left, more cracks within the regime are expected), it is made up of a religious minority in Syria – the Alawites. The majority of Syria’s population is Sunni, and the government of Syria may fear that if it gives up its power, the Alawite community may suffer huge losses. They are not wrong for thinking so. In neighbouring Iraq, the minority Shiites that suffered brutally under the oppression of a Baathist dictator Saddam Hussein, are supporting the Baathist regime of Syria. Why? Minorities that support the ruling governments are usually supported and protected to a certain extent, even though they may be discriminated against in society as a whole. Also, Syria must fear that like in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, violence against minorities (for e.g. Assyrian Christians, Yazidis etc.) will rise drastically.[9] The same example can be made of Egypt after the fall of Mubarak. This religious and ethnic conflict can easily spread across borders and threatens the Middle East as a whole.

You may be surprised to find out, that a state gains authority and legitimacy through a monopoly of instruments of violence. The state has to be able to physically disarm its opponents and convince its population that violence is wrong and only legitimate when the state controls it.[10] A lack of political and institutional control along with a monopoly of force creates a spiral of insecurity, a semi-permanent situation of emergent anarchy where armed groups are forced to engage violently in strategies that help their survival.[11]  So when we are dealing with a state government that is using its machinery and force to just continue its reign, the concept of state security or national security (the security of a whole socio-political entity, a nation with its own way of life and independent state government) is impossible in that contextual environment. So weak state security is regime security as I mentioned before.[12]

So we are in bit of pickle :S What options does the Assad government have? What outcomes will be a result of this? And what is the response of the International Community – and why do states differ so widely in opinion? All of this will be looked at in the next post J. Until then!

Miss S.


p.s. if you need another fix, don’t forget I’ve got a Facebook group! And we would love you to join in on the shenanigans!

[1] Richard Jackson in ‘Contemporary Security Studies’ edited by Alan Collins, Oxford University Press, New York, 2010

[2] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Richard Jackson in ‘Contemporary Security Studies’ edited by Alan Collins, Oxford University Press, New York, 2010

[6] B. A. Job, ‘The Insecurity Dilemma: National Security of Third World States’ CO: Lynne Rienner, Boulder, 1992

[7] Richard Jackson in ‘Contemporary Security Studies’ edited by Alan Collins, Oxford University Press, New York, 2010

[8] Ibid.

[10] Richard Jackson in ‘Contemporary Security Studies’ edited by Alan Collins, Oxford University Press, New York, 2010

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

Is Syria in a state of civil war? And what are ‘coding rules’? Part 2

Now that we know what coding rules are, we can move onto the coding rules advocated by Nicholas Sambanis[1] and use them against what we know about the Syrian Conflict. This may seem like a long-winded post (and that it probably is!), but I promise that it is worth having a read through. Why? Well the answers to the following questions (aka coding rules) tell us basic facts about the conflict and how it is taking shape. It is a conflict with incredibly high casualty rates, and devastating effects for the people of Syria (plus surrounding states, and a pickle for the international community). If that isn’t enough of a reason to keep on reading I don’t know what is… So lets continue! An armed conflict should be classified as a civil war if:

A)     “The war takes places within a territory of a state that is a member of the international system with a population of 500,000 or greater. (This coding rule is a bit more demanding that some others that are out there, states Sambanis.) This rule also pertains to states that are occupying foreign territories that are claiming for independence (e.g. West Bank and Gaza in Israel). A strict application of this coding rule would mean that cases would be dropped if the states claim of independence is rejected by the U.N.”[2]

The Syrian Arab Republic is an independent state and joined the U.N. on the 24th of October 1945. This means that it is a member of the international system. It has a population approximately of 22,500,000 (July 2012 estimate). So yes the Syrian conflict does meet this criterion.

B)     “The parties are politically and militarily organized, and they have publicly stated political objectives. (This coding rule distinguishes insurgent groups and political parties from criminal syndicates and riotous mobs. ’Terrorist’ groups would be classified as insurgent groups, as terrorism is a form of political violence, however they would have to cause a significant level of violence. The distinction between criminal violence and political violence may become blurred in some cases. Non-combatant populations that are often victimised in civil wars are not considered a ‘party’ to the war if they are not organised in a militia or able to apply violence in pursuit of a political objective.)”[3]

The armed Syrian opposition is identifiable, organized, and capable even if it is not entirely unified. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is nominally headquartered in Turkey, thus functions more as an umbrella organization than a traditional military chain of command.[4] The FSA is a politically motivated militant group whose aim is to overthrow Syria’s current government (led by Bashar al-Assad). At the beginning of the political uprising in mid-March 2011, the FSA’s objective was to protect the rights of peaceful protesting civilians against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Syria’s government is using its traditional security forces as well as pro-government militia (the Shabiha militia) against the opposition of its regime, calling the FSA a terrorist organisation.[5] So yes the Syrian conflict does also meet this criterion.

C)     “The government (through its military or militias) must be a principle combatant. If there is no functioning government, then the party representing the government internationally and/or claiming the state domestically must be involved as a combatant. (Extensive indirect support – monetary, organizational, military – by the government to militias might also satisfy this criterion, however here it becomes harder to distinguish civil war from communal violence. In some cases where the state has collapsed, it may not be possible to indentify parties representing the state because all parties may be claiming the state, and these conflicts will also be hard to distinguish from intercommunal violence, e.g. Somalia after 1991.)”[6]

The Syrian government is still retaining control of most of the state and state security forces. There is talk that the government may be collapsing from the inside as more persons defect, however it may not fall any time soon as they still have support stemming from Russia and Iran. At the moment Syria meets this criterion as well.

D)    “The main insurgent organization(s) must be locally represented and must recruit locally. Additional external involvement and recruitment need not imply that the war is not intrastate (intrastate was can be taking place at the same time as interstate war – I will post up some definitions of this). Insurgent groups may operate from neighbouring countries, but they must also have some territorial control (bases) in the civil war country and/or the rebels must reside in the civil war country.”


The FSA was started by soldiers who deserted the Syrian state security forces (therefore the FSA started locally). It is thought that the FSA’s main base is in Turkey.[7] The FSA has control of some parts of Syria (map of current strongholds Figure 1)[8]. Syria’s Kurdish Militia has been helping the FSA, and the FSA now controls large areas of the northern and central countryside. By controlling some parts of the border (Qusayr and Azaz), the FSA is able to smuggle weapons from Lebanon and Turkey. Syria meets this criterion as well.




Figure 1.



E)     “The start year of the war is the first year that the conflict causes at least 500 to 1,000 deaths. If the conflict has not caused 500 deaths or more in the first year, the war is coded as having started in that year only if cumulative deaths in the next 3 years reach 1,000. (This range can be relaxed to a range of 100 to 1,000 because fighting might have started late in the year). Finding credible sources of casualty rates is incredibly difficult when armed conflict takes place. If there is no good estimate of deaths for the first year, we can code the onset at the first reported large-scale armed conflict, provided that the violence continues or escalates in the following years”.[9]

Unfortunately trying to figure out exact figures of casualties on both sides of the conflict, plus civilian casualties, is not an easy task. Each side of the conflict may exaggerate their efforts and number of killings, there may be confusion as to which group an individual belongs, and numerous people may go missing during the conflict. Foreign aid agencies and international news groups do their best at totalling the casualties, but all figures are not likely to be 100% correct. With that in mind, I have found it to be almost impossible to find out when and where the first ‘major’ clash occurred between the FSA and government forces. This is what I can be certain about. The first clash between civilian protestors and the Syrian government forces occurred in mid-March 2011 (Probably on the 16th of March, on the ‘Day of Dignity’ when civilians in Damascus were demanding the release of political prisoners, 35 people were said to have been arrested. In the city of Deera, another rally was being held called the ‘Day of Rage’, and this time the Syrian security forces shot numerous protestors, sparking even more rallies and protests.).[10] This would not be considered the beginning of the civil war. These acts of violence fall under the category of ‘politicide’.[11] After these events, more clashes occur between Syrian security forces and civilians. Defectors from the Syrian security forces (later becoming known as the FSA) begin to fight against the Syrian Security Forces in the summer of 2011 (June/July), this would probably be the time a civil war began to progress. It is thought that in June 2011 there was 400 casualties, and in June 2012 3,000.[12] It is also thought that by August 2012, 21,000 people had died in the conflict.[13] Most of those being civilians. I have tried to find statistics for casualty rates pertaining the to the Syrian Security Forces, and the opposition militia, however these vary greatly depending on sources and so it seems that general casualty rates are the most consistent. It is clear however, that from June 2011 until June 2012, thousands of casualties have resulted from the conflict. Even though these figures may not be exact, it is without a doubt that in the first year of ‘civil war’ more than a thousand casualties were recorded. The civil war would have been regarded as having started in June/July 2011. This criterion is also met.

F)     “Throughout its duration, the conflict must be characterized by sustained violence, at least at the minor or intermediate level. There should be no three year period during which the conflict causes fewer than 500 deaths.”[14]


At the moment the conflict in Syria has been continuing on for just over a year. We cannot know just yet when the armed conflict will cease. There has been a high level of violence recorded since June 2011, until the present date.

G)    “Throughout the war, the weaker party must be able to mount effective resistance. Effective resistance is measured by at least 100 deaths inflicted on the stronger party. A substantial number of those deaths must occur in the first year of the war. This criterion must be proportionate to the intensity of the conflict. If the violence becomes effectively one-sided, even if the threshold is met, the civil war must be coded as having ended, and a politicide or other one-sided violence must be coded to have started.”[15]

As we all probably know, the intensity of the conflict has been very high, and the government has been using very high and according to some, disproportionally high levels of violence against the opposition.  However, the opposition must be doing something right as they are still holding onto some strategic strongholds, and according to the Syrian government, 4,000 of its soldiers have been killed in the conflict to date.[16]  So yes, the Syrian conflict also meets this criterion.

H)    “A peace treaty that produces at least 6 months of peace marks the end of the war.”[17]

We have not yet reached that stage of the conflict as of yet.

I)      “A decisive military victory by the rebels that produces a new regime should mark the end of the war. Because civil war is understood as an armed conflict against the government, continuing armed conflict against a new government implies a new civil war. If the government wins the war, a period of peace longer than 6 months must persist before we code a new war.”[18]

We have not yet reached that stage of the conflict as of yet.

J)      “A cease-fire, truce, or simply an end to the fighting can also mark the end of a civil war if they result in at least 2 years of peace. The period of peace must be longer what is required in the case of a peace agreement because we do not have clear signals of the parties’ intent to negotiate an agreement in the case of a truce/cease-fire.” [19]

We have not yet reached that stage of the conflict as of yet.

K)     “If new parties enter the war over new issues, a new war onset should be coded, subject to the same criteria. If the same parties return to a war over the same issues, we generally code the continuation of the old war, unless any of the above criteria for coding a war’s end apply for the period before the resurgence of fighting.”[20]


We have not yet reached that stage of the conflict as of yet.

In conclusion: From all of the answers gathered from the ‘coding rules’ questions, yes, Syria can be deemed to be in civil war (not a huge surprise really)…


The next post will be about weak state theory and how this relates to Syria’s future.  I will also be looking at the international community’s response to the conflict and why states choose the positions they choose.





[1] Nicholas Sambania, ‘What Is Civil War? Conceptual and Empirical Complexities of an operational Definition’, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 48, 2004

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Joseph Holliday for the Institute For The Study Of War, ‘Syria’s Armed Opposition’, Middle East Security Report 3,, March 2012

[5] Jane’s World Insurgency and Terrorism, ‘Free Syrian Army (FSA), Groups – Middle East – Active,July 24, 2012

[6] Nicholas Sambania, ‘What Is Civil War? Conceptual and Empirical Complexities of an operational Definition’, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 48, 2004

[7] Joseph Holliday for the Institute For The Study Of War, ‘Syria’s Armed Opposition’, Middle East Security Report 3,, March 2012

[8] Al Jazeera, ‘Fractured Revolution’,

, 08/09/12

[9] Nicholas Sambania, ‘What Is Civil War? Conceptual and Empirical Complexities of an operational Definition’, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 48, 2004

[11] International Coalition For The Responsibility To Protect, ‘Crisis In Syria’,, 2012

[13] Ibid.

[14] “This criterion makes coding very difficult because data on deaths throughout the duration of a conflict are hard to find. However, such coding rules are necessary to prevent to prevent one from coding from coding too many war starts in the same conflict or coding an ongoing civil war when for years after the conflict has ended…” Nicholas Sambania, ‘What Is Civil War? Conceptual and Empirical Complexities of an operational Definition’, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 48, 2004

[15] Ibid.

[16] Mail Online, ‘Killed in an instant: Moment a Syrian rebel checkpoint takes direct hit is captured in powerful photographs that show the cost of war’,, 09/09/2012

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

Is Syria in a state of civil war? And what are ‘coding rules’? Part 1

Everyone has no doubtedly  (I’m not sure if that’s a word, but it should be!) heard about the conflict in Syria and its many casualties. While the news informs us where the majority of fighting is taking place, and how many casualties have been recorded on the said day, it is hard to figure out who is fighting who, what the conflict is about, and how the conflict has taken shape. When I started looking into the issue I found so many different complexities intertwining with each other that I really wasn’t sure were to begin. The simplest way to start explaining and exploring the conflict is to decide what type of conflict it really is. That unfortunately in itself is a mind field (and a little easier to do with the perspective of time – while the conflict is unfolding it can change quite drastically as it proceeds), but we shall try to not loose our minds so early on and try and make some sense out of it.

A recent announcement made by the Syrian government shocked many people and can help us explore the type of conflict that is unfolding. Syrian authorities have claimed that Syria is not in a state of civil war, and that any such statements contradict reality.[1] Has someone lost their marbles? A spokeswoman for the Syrian Local Coordination Committee, Rafif Jouejati, has also rejected the notion of a civil war being played out in Syria because of the way the war started, that is; with peaceful protests, which according to the Coordination Committee still happen everyday Syria.[2] She also states that the Assad regime has forced the revolution to militarize and that the conflict should be labeled a humanitarian war instead. I would, reject both of these claims, and conclude that yes Syria is indeed currently in a state of civil war (however, other types of political conflict may also be taking place, but that can be looked at later). Both sides in the Syrian conflict have their own reasons for stating that Syria is not involved in a civil war. The most obvious being that if they had declared a civil war, then both sides are subjected to the Geneva Convention in terms of the rules of war, and later able to be subjected to the International Criminal Court and its conventions. Of course, just because both sides claim to not be in a state of civil war, does not mean that this claim is correct. Al Jazeera has provided guidelines to what constitutes a civil war (I use these as an example, as I watched this news story unfold on TV and would think that other broadcasters use similar examples), however I would argue that it’s guidelines are rather simplistic and only touch the tip of the iceberg (unfortunately the problem with TV news broadcasters is exactly that, they are too simplistic when it comes to complex issues) when it comes to the theoretical variables needed for such ‘coding rules’ (What are these?! > determining factors for whether or not a conflict is deemed to be a civil war) to be comprehensive. Al Jazeera also does not say where they got these ‘guidelines’ from. [3]

Lets start our theoretical journey by stating that it is impossible and probably undesirable to have only one definition of civil war. The way in which we choose to define conflicts through ‘coding rules’ can dramatically change our outlook on the given conflict. Coding rules have changed dramatically over time and opinions of course vary as to what the correct coding rules are. It is also difficult to study civil war without considering that the forms of violence taking place in a particular conflict can and often do change over time, to include such forms of political violence as e.g. terrorism, a coup, genocide, organized crime, international conflict or politicide.[4] Therefore the statement made by Rafif Jouejati that the conflict is not a civil war because at the beginning of the political uprising there was no armed conflict on the part of the public movement, does not mean that the nature of the conflict has not changed or shifted, and indeed we can see that it has changed as both sides have engaged in conflict (irrelevant as to who started it).  We will discuss further down whether or not it can be classified as a civil war.

Nicholas Sambanis[5] details different coding rules and examples of armed political conflict, and the difficulty in determining whether or not particular armed conflicts can be determined to be civil wars. I will not go into great detail about the ambiguity and difficulties inherent in the various coding systems (perhaps another time if there is sufficient interest), however he does present a system of coding rules which are widely used (all of the basic requirements are kept), however tweaked so that some common problems do not reappear.

For example, the Correlates of War (also known as COW – determines some of the leading coding rules, which they themselves have changed numerous times also resulting in problems with data) has a threshold that needs to be meet in regards to how many state forces, as well as how many of the opposing forces or civilian deaths need to occur over a period of time in order to call the conflict a civil war. One problem with this is that because the threshold required is fixed, states with small populations may not reach the threshold of deaths required to call it a civil war, and are thus looked over by the international system and they then cannot take advantage of the conventions in place that dictate the rules of war in terms of civil war. Sambanis proposes instead the number should not be ‘fixed’, but rather should be flexible and based on the nations population per capita in relation to deaths in armed conflict. He gives the example that if 500 people were killed in a one year period (the lowest number of casualties suggested by coding rules to declare the onset of war) in a country with half a million inhabitants (also the smallest population allowed by most coding rules) would amount to 0.001 of the population. A conflict of equal magnitude in a country of 20 million would have caused 20,00 deaths and would have been classified as a civil war by most coding rules (along with other characteristics). It is clear that even in a state with a small population of half a million inhabitants, 500 casualties would be an unprecedented tragedy.[6]

We will continue will Sambanis’ coding rules and apply them to Syria’s current internal conflict as best we can with the current available data, and hopefully be able to determine if a civil war is taking place in part 2 of this blog post J

Speaking of marbles earlier, does anyone remember playing with them as a child? I do, and have no idea what happened with them (as in, not only did they disappear out of shops; I don’t know where my vast collection went to…). It’s almost like the fun police of all things cool decided to ban them as they weren’t cool enough anymore and destroy all known replicas. I remember distinctly that I kept mine in a small brown material pull string bag. Does anyone know where you can still buy them? I guess I have ‘lost’ my marbles hahaha bad joke I know. Kinda sad that it’s true to0 :/

*Please be mindful of others when commenting. You are allowed to disagree and debate an issues, but targetting an individual or persons with derogatary name calling will not tolerated, and the comments will be annihilated.

[1] Al Jazeera English, ‘Is Syria in a state of civil war?’, accessed on 10/09/12,26/08/2012

[2] “We reject the label of civil war, because we go back to how this revolution started: with peaceful protests – and they continue throughout the country, every day, every week, in every governorate. Now the Assad regime has forced the militarisation of the revolution, but he in fact himself has declared a war against his people. I would call this a humanitarian war against the Syrian people.” – Rafif Jouejati, a Syrian Local Coordination Committee spokeswoma Ibid.

[3] Constitutes of civil war provided by Al Jazeera: 1. It is a high-intensity conflict between organised groups within the same nation state or Republic, 2. The aim of one side may be to take control of the country or a region, 3. Another category of a civil war is involving regular armed forces, which are sustained, organised and large-scale, 4. Large numbers of casualties and the consumption of significant resources would also constitute a civil war. Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Nicholas Sambanis, ‘What Is Civil War? Conceptual and Empirical Complexities of an Operational Definition’, Journal of Conflict Resolution, vol. 48, 2004

[6] Ibid.


Welcome Possums

Welcome to Miss World Security!

Drumroll… I am Miss World Security and this is a blog dedicated to all topics related to international security and quirky exotic bits and pieces. Why bother making such a blog you may ask my dear fellow citizens of the world? Well, it surprises me how much the media leaves out of its many reported stories. And what I mean by that, is the background information on conflicts and international happenings. You could go to a political commentary website of course, but often those articles are hard to swallow if you do not come from a particular academic or professional background. So I decided to make a blog where we can explore current events from a wide range of angles, not tradionally heard or seen in the media. I will also explore concepts used in international relations and international security, so that you can relate them directly back to current events. There may be a few curve balls thrown in for good measure (I was quite good at dodge ball back in school, if only it was an olympic sport! *shakes fist!*). And just a warning now before we get stuck into it, I like cheese. A lot. So if your not dairy friendly, things could get a bit awkward. But I promise to be nice.

If you would like me to write a post on a particular topic, please send me your suggestions. Hopefully we can create a community that’s open minded and knowledgeable. Instead of advocating more tolerance (I hate that word) I would like to advocate more compassion instead.  So hopefully you will stick around and we can become friends! 😀