Comparison of Rwandan and Syrian Civil Wars and Its Military Strategies

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A civil war is defined as a conflict between a non-state actor(s) and a state actor residing within the state’s territory. In civil wars, insurgents seek different objectives ranging from territorial succession to control of the central government. Insurgents emerge as opponents from outside the political establishment, in military coups or from the state apparatus. (Gleditsch, 2017). This essay will highlight the reasons that explain the length of the Syrian civil war compared the Rwandan civil war.

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Many factors determine the length of civil wars. First, external intervention undeniably prolongs civil wars. When external actors involve themselves in civil wars, the length subsequently increases due to more actors being involved. External interference can be disguised as a means to help end the war, but actors with personal agendas extend the wars duration. Personal agendas extends a civil wars length as it adds further demands to those already in existence from other civil war participants. This makes resolving conflicts more challenging as the additional external actor may have a different set of demands from existing belligerents. In pursuit of their demands, external states can choose to support actors involved in the conflict as a means to be involved away from the conflict. (Cunningham, 2010).

For example, in Syria, US intervention was followed by the United Kingdom’s and France’s involvement alongside additional allies. Western allies object to President Bashar al-Assad’s government and Islamic extremist groups such as the Islamic State (IS). Militarily, the West contribute to the conflict through airstrikes and drone strikes. However, the US contributes more through carrying out covert programs training and supplying Syrian rebels and moderate Syrian opposition to combat the IS. On the contrary, Russia and its allies such as Iran support president Assad. Russia is also militarily involved with assaults initiated on land, sea and air against Assad’s insurgent opposition and weapons deployment in aid of the regime. (The New York Times, 2015). Yet, it is important to note the individual agendas that the US and Russia are in pursuit of to understand their contribution to the wars duration.

Aside from the objective of ceasefire, the US, aims to remove the problematic regime, strengthen Israel and increase imperialist control in the Middle East to alter the military balance in the area and limit Iran’s power to respond or attack the US. (Everest, n.d.). In comparison, Russia has a differing independent agenda. Russia intends to secure its military authority within the Middle East and their affiliation with Assad aids them in doing so. In the Western province of Latakia and the port city of Tartus in Syria, Russians have important military bases they intend to keep. (Pearson, 2019). Assad’s presence allows the Russians to pursue their objective and maintain the presence of their military bases. Ultimately, the presence of both countries and their underlying personal agendas increase the civil wars duration. If the US were to engage with Russian troops and vice versa, this would risk a larger conflict. Hence, neither intervening state engages the other but they support their side to obtain their agenda through them.

Support is further demonstrated by external states funding the war as costs are cheap compared to domestic actors paying. Conflict does not occur in an intervening state’s territory, significantly reducing the costs for intervening states as their infrastructure is undamaged and domestic trade is uninterrupted. (Cunningham, 2010). Foreign supporters present self-reinforcing mechanisms that intensifies a stalemate. To avoid their favoured sides defeat, external involvement is increased when additional resources and support is provided. (Fisher, 2016). Essentially, external interveners have more incentive to fund the side they support to achieve their goals. This indirectly helps prevent other states from the international community in succeeding which further contributes to a civil wars duration until one side withdraws or is militarily defeated.

In comparison, the 1990 Rwandan civil war had little international intervention. The conflict involved the Rwandan Armed Forces (RAF) representing Rwanda and the Tutsi rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). When the RPF invaded Rwanda, they were defeated a month into the war with the aid of France. French intervention was primarily based on protecting its own citizens; however, they aided the government troops against the rebels.

Subsequently, Paul Kagame, leader of the RPF began a guerrilla war that saw neither side victorious. Protests emerged urging President Habyarimana to implement peace negotiations with the RPF occurring from 1992 onwards. The deployment of the United Nations Observer Mission Uganda-Rwanda was sanctioned to ensure arms were not crossing the border during negotiations. Eventually, the signing of the Arusha Accords in 1993 occurred and to support the peace agreement executed by the accords, the United Nations Assistance Mission For Rwanda (UNAMIR) was deployed. Unfortunately, the President’s assassination ended the accord and arguably the civil war, sparked the genocide and resulted in 15 UNAMIR peacekeepers killed where Belgium retracted its troops.

Rwanda’s civil war shows that little foreign intervention arguably prolonged war. With France aiding the Rwandan government, the RPF were forced to regroup extending the wars duration. The war eventually resumed between the domestic actors and eventually saw a ceasefire supported by UN groups. With no personal agenda, UN support eased the process to the peace agreement. Compared to Syria, Rwanda’s civil war had little intervention with and without personal agendas. The wars length was significantly shorter than Syria’s where the presence of multiple external actors with their own personal agendas have allowed the war to continue.

Another factor that contributes to a civil wars length is whether multiple domestic actors are involved. Civil war combatants involve the government and internal insurgents which arise after challenging the government. Two classifications describe insurgent groups; ‘original groups’ who pursue a different agenda from the other original group and ‘splinter factions’ which surface when a division occurs in an existing group. Separate groups involve themselves in rebellion of the government, but also because they disagree with the original groups policy in pursuit of their own agenda. Multi-party groups can emerge depending on the state’s size, its ethnic composition (which requires higher representation) or if the government has previously instigated divisive policies which has affected different people that needs attention. (Cunningham, 2006).

Essentially, when additional combatants join the war, the issues they are fighting for require attention and action. This reduces the ‘bargaining range’ of negotiations because if the government and original group reach an agreement that is unappealing to the additional combatant, they may continue to fight. Meaning, the government and original groups needs are unmet and the domestic actors may continue fighting. (Cunningham, 2010). In Syria, Syrian forces have pro-government allies fighting alongside them with different motives. For instance, the Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia movement fight Sunni opposition forces. They supply a pipeline for arms from Iran to Lebanon alongside training areas with the intention to stop the Syrian revolt. On the contrary, fighting alongside the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the original group that emerged from the revolt are the Nationalist Jihadis. The group fights for the same goal as the FSA, to tackle the regime, however they reject the FSA’s advocacy of a pluralistic and democratic Syria and intend to restructure the state and society using Islamic principles. (Laub, 2017).

More involved combatants means each group has an incentive to hold out in hope of securing a more satisfying deal. The group that signs last may request to include certain demands in the negotiation or they could threaten to disengage from the process. Consequently, involved combatants attempt to be the last signers to impede their demands. Meaning, the conflicts duration is extended as the range of demands require revision in order to appeal to everyone. (Cunningham, 2010). The likelihood of a stalemate increases due to the uncertainty that signing produces. Thus, a status quo bias is created as combatants consider preserving what they have obtained instead of risking loss pursuing broader goals. (Fisher, 2016). The diversity of plans inhibits combatants from achieving their common goal in fear of this and in favour of their personal agenda. Essentially, the for and against government and insurgent forces individual plans for a post-war Syria elongate the wars length and severity for the unforeseeable future.

In comparison, the Rwandan civil war was shorter because the conflict was primarily between the RPF and the RAF. The two shared differing objectives individually, where the outcome was mutually exclusive. The RPF intended to re-establish a Tutsi influence in Rwanda’s government and the RAF fought to prevent this ensuring the continuation of the Hutu government. With only these two actors mainly involved, the conflict remained between them pursuing their individual goals. Compared to Syria, where multiple actors are fighting to achieve various aims from over the state in representation of numerous ethnic groups, Rwanda’s conflict involved two ethnic groups, the Hutus and Tutsis with individual objectives. Hence, the duration of Rwanda’s civil war was shorter than Syria’s on-going war.

In conclusion, external intervention prolongs a civil wars duration if they intervene with a personal agenda. Multiple actors are directly and indirectly involved pursuing their own agendas. The funding, supplying and deployment of arms and military personnel alongside the wrong engagement could trigger a larger international conflict initially contributing to the duration of a civil war. The presence of multi-party domestic actors means multiple interests are involved increasing the difficulty of ending the war due to the status quo bias produced. The difficulty of compromising an agreement is heightened with every involved combatant therefore increasing the longevity of the war.

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