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Geopolitical Issue: Syrian War

Syrian War


Syria and its population of about 22.5 million people currently undergo a debilitating and destructive civil war that threatens to destroy the notion of non-ethnic citizenship and non-sectarianism. The armed struggle has aggravated sectarian divides and threatened to destroy the Syrian state leaving the country into a nightmare of genocide and population displacements. This essay argues that the causes of the war were due to external foreign aspirations to control it because of its central location in Levant, and internal discontent by its citizens (specifically the Sunni Muslim) with geographical and economic isolation triggered by the Ba’ath regime.

Case Scenario

The Syrian Civil War (also known as the Syrian Uprising), is an ongoing armed conflict between forces that are loyal to the five-decade old Ba’ath regime (led by President Bashar al-Assad) and forces looking to overthrow it. President Assad is from the minority Alawite Muslim while the forces against his regime comprise the majority Sunni Muslim. The conflicts erupted in March 15, 2011 following demonstrations that escalated across Syria by April 2011 (Almond 2012). Demonstrators demanded the demise of Arab Social Ba’ath Party that had been in reign since 1964 and the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, whose kin had ruled the Syrian state since 1971 (Chalala 1988). The Syrian Army that was deployed to stop the protest in April 2011 fired on the protestors fuelling mass atrocities and armed rebellion. The conflict was essentially asymmetrical, with clashes concentrated in major towns and cities. In June 2013, the United Nations approximated the death toll to have surpassed 100,000. Over 4 million Syrians had been displaced and 1.8 million had fled the country (Almond 2012; Hof and Simon 2012).

Causes of the Syrian War and relevant theories

Syria is at the heart of the Levant and is a pivotal country in the eastern part of the Arab World. Some of the major causes of the Syrian War such as the Arab Spring and the religions extremist movements can be explained by the Mackinder Theory. According to Mackinder, “it is the Heartland that serves as the pivot of all geopolitical transformations of historical dimensions within the World Island.” Since the Heartland (Syria) is the most advantageous geopolitical location (central location), forces would always exert pressures on the Heartland to control it, and to ultimately control the economic and geographic potential of the World Island (Asia Pacific) (Hof and Simon 2012).

On analysis of all Arab Spring movements in Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Syria (except for Yemen), it can be argued that the conflicts resulted from election of parties linked to Islamic fundamental movements (Zrasul 2012). The Arab Spring was intended to break the long-term dependency on Middle East conglomerate dictators, so that the United States could move its focus to the Asia-Pacific as a region of confluence. Through control of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the US attempted to oust President Assad. After the demise of Assad, the Sunni would take power through civilian support. Afterwards, the Saudi Arabia would finance the Sunni Fundamentalist government (Zrasul 2012).

The Syrian War was also triggered by discontent by the nation’s poorest regions such as Homs and Daraa that are predominantly occupied by the majority Sunni (Hof and Simon 2012). While some regions in Syria faced deteriorated standards of living and high unemployment rates, others were affluent (such as Damascus dominated by the Alawites). This situation relates to Mackinder’s theory, which states that “great wars of history result from the direct and indirect effects of unequal growth of regions (nations)” (Foster 2006). The Spykman theory is also applicable.

The political and civil aspirations to control the centre of power cannot be undermined as a major cause. The brutal killings by the Syrian army set the motion of the Syrian Uprising (Hof and Simon 2012). Conversely, the atrocities committed against the Sunnis increased the probability of retaliatory attacks as a result triggering the Alawites to defend Assad’s regime. Additionally, the increase of regime repression triggered parallel radicalization within the elements of the Sunni Opposition (Krayewski 2013). Towards this end, the rise in sectarianism and concern over the fate of the Alawite minority in post-Assed Syria made the Alawite to persistently retaliate to defend Assad regime to prevent majority Sunni will from assuming the presidency (Hof and Hariris 2012). This relates to Spykman’s theory, which hypothesizes that “the decline in one power would be replaced by another depending on the new centres of power” (Gerace 1991).

Compared to the Mackinder theory, the Spykman theory is more effective in explaing the cause of the Syrian war as it explores both the external and internal causes. In Mackinder’s theory, there is one pattern of conflict between the “heartland” and the “seapower” (Silk Road Studies 2006). In Spykman’s theory, there are two patterns of history between the “heartland” and the “seapower” and between the independent centre of power in the “rimland,” with the heartland and the seapower allied against it (Silk Road Studies 2006).


Syria is at the heart of the Levant and is a pivotal country in the eastern part of the Arab World. The root causes of the Syrian war are both external and internal. This includes aspiration by the foreign powers to control it so as to control the Asia-Pacific because of its strategic position. Internal factors include general dissatisfaction over dictatorship, high unemployment rates, unequal growth rates, unequal distribution of resources and corruption.


Almond, K 2012, Syria explained: What you need to know, CNN, viewed 20 August 2013, http://edition.cnn.com/2012/08/24/world/meast/syria-101

Chalala, E 1988, “Syria’s Support of Iran in the Gulf War: The Role of Structural Change and the Emergence of a Relatively Strong State,” Journal of Arab Affairs, Vol. 7, no. 2, pp. viewed 21 August 2013, http://homepage.smc.edu/chalala_elie/documents/IranIraqWarMay2508.pdf

Foster, J 2006, «The New Geopolitics of Empire,» Monthly Review, Vol. 57 Issue 8, viewed 21 August 2013, http://monthlyreview.org/2006/01/01/the-new-geopolitics-of-empire

Gerace, M 1991, ‘Between Mackinder and Spykman: Geopolitics, containment, and after’, Comparative Strategy, Vol. 10 No. 4, pp347-364

Hof, F & Simon A 2012, Sectarian Violence in Syria’s Civil War: Causes, Consequences, and Recommendations for Mitigation, A Paper Commissioned by The Center for the Prevention of Genocide, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, viewed 20 August, http://www.ushmm.org/genocide/pdf/syria-report.pdf 2013

Krayewski, E 2013, Syria’s Civil War an Increasingly International Affair, Reason.com, viewed 21 August 2013, http://reason.com/blog/2013/06/27/syrias-civil-war-an-increasingly-interna

Silk Road Studies 2006, The Heartland Theory and the Present-Day Geopolitical Structure of Central Eurasia, viewed 21 August 2013, http://www.silkroadstudies.org/new/docs/publications/1006Rethinking-4.pdf

Zrasul 2012, The Truth About Syria: Regional Spillover and Theories of Conflict Causes, PoliticoAnalyst, viewed 21 August 2013, http://politicoanalyst.com/2012/08/05/the-truth-about-syria-regional-spillover-and-theories-of-conflict-causes/