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Published: 26 March 2015

Research Project: Syria

Centre for International Intervention's (cii) latest project seeks to refocus attention on the ongoing conflict in Syria. Bringing together the expertise of several academics within the Politics Department, the proposed research project aims to explore and understand the domestic drivers of the non-interventionist foreign policy that has prevailed within the United Nations Security Council, with a view to engaging policy makers on the matter.

Initially embedded in the wider unrest of the Arab Spring, the conflict in Syria has been ongoing since the outbreak of civil war in 2011. The prolonged violence has reportedly caused over 200,000 deaths and it is estimated that almost 9 million people have been displaced, 3 million of whom have fled across the borders of neighbouring countries. Both government and rebel forces have been accused of committing war crimes and an Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic has been set up to investigate these claims. In August 2013 the violence escalated substantially when chemical weapons were used, allegedly to target civilians in the areas surrounding the capital city Damascus. Although the Government of Syria has since acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention there remains some uncertainty about the sincerity of its commitment to it; it has subsequently been reported that there is evidence that chlorine gas has been used in the conflict.

The international reaction to the violence in Syria has been, and remains, mixed - specifically with regards to the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. Following the chemical weapons attacks in 2013 the United States and the United Kingdom, both with a previous history of backing intervention, led calls for a military intervention. This was not a view shared by all Security Council members with Russia openly opposing military intervention, instead favouring a disarmament plan to be agreed with Syria. In a domestic setting the views presented within the Security Council were also challenged as a vote in the House of Commons rejected the use of military action, ruling out UK involvement in a coalition with the United States. Consequently, the vote against intervention allowed the diplomatic disarmament plans to go ahead but these have failed to curtail the violence across the country.

cii Executive Director Professor Sir Mike Aaronson, Dr Jack Holland, Dr Maxine David and Dr Malte Kaeding will be investigating the competing discourses of military intervention and non-intervention found within the Security Council. It is hoped that understanding the role played by interventionist and non-interventionist foreign policy language in the US, UK, Russia, and China will enable policy-makers and practitioners to evaluate interventionism and military-premised solutions to civil war more critically, creating the scope for the formulation of more effective multilateral and coalition foreign policy in the future.