In February U.S Secretary of State John Kerry stated that a failed ceasefire in Syria could lead the United States to push for a partition of Syria. Despite Russian objections to such a partition, it is worth considering how such a split might impact Syria and the region. For the sake of simplicity I will focus on a potential successor Alawite state that would be ruled by Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
Weakening of Assad’s State
A partition of Syria would fundamentally weaken the Assad regime in many key military and foreign policy metrics. The population would decrease significantly; possibly to less than 3 million people. The loss of areas in the East and South could potentially leave Syria with less strategic depth than Israel and possibly make Assad’s Syria smaller than Lebanon. The Syrian economy, which has already been destroyed by the war could be permanently crippled by the loss of Syria’s major oil producing regions in the East.
Break up of State institutions
As in the collapse of the U.S.S.R, the breakup of Syria would spread state institutions and infrastructure among many successor nations. The oil fields would be a likely source of conflict, but gas pipelines, trade routes and ports could also cause problems. Syrian infrastructure is currently set up to send oil and natural gas produced by the Eastern regions to the Alawite area to be refined and exported. Should the successor states fail to get along, chaos could ensue.
While a partition could be a recipe for internal chaos, many nations would see a great benefit from Syria’s dismemberment.
Reinforcing Israeli power in the Region
Israel would be the most obvious beneficiary. Even though Assad’s military power vis-à-vis Israel has been declining for years, he still had the ability to fight Israel asymmetrically by funneling weapons to proxies like Hezbollah in Lebanon.
With Syria dismembered this threat would be reduced substantially. Israel would be left with a fragile, geographically disconnect state; hard pressed to meet it’s own basic security needs. A partition of Syria might also be a chance to legitimize it’s claim to the Golan Heights; which it basically annexed in 1981.
Turkey’s Trade Off
Although a weakened Assad regime would clearly benefit Turkey in terms of the regional power balance, the creation of an ethic Kurdish State along it’s southern border would be a major detriment. Turkey fears that the creation of a Syrian Kurdistan could incite a nationalist wave among it’s own Kurdish population and fuel violence and separatism.
Helping the Gulf Kingdoms.
Slicing up Syria would be a major boon to the Gulf Kingdoms. Assad helps project Iran’s power in the region. Syria’s partition would be a major benefit to the Gulf states who are currently locked in a regional power struggle with Iran and would like to limit its influence as much as possible.
Should Syria be partitioned Russia could also derive some benefit. The Russian bases on the coast would be safe and their presence in the Mediterranean intact. It would also be left with a smaller, weaker state that would be easier to control.
The beneficiaries of a Syrian partition would undoubtedly be Israel, Turkey and the Sunni gulf states. Deconstructing Syria would severely limit Assad’s regional power and deliver a blow to Iran’s regional ambitions. It would preserve Russian power in the region but allow American allies an upper hand in the regional balance of power.