What Syria Reveals About the Future of War

Syria demonstrates something that has been evident for decades: The United Nations is unsuited to play a major role in complex, modern wars, particularly when permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, each with a veto over its actions, are involved. But there is also no chance that any other multinational organization with the possible exception of NATO might serve as a platform for collective action to stop a war. And after Libya, even NATO is unlikely to do that outside Europe.

So this is what the Syrian war suggests about future conflicts: They will be intricately complex; they will involve conflict-specific configurations of participants; there will be no humanitarian intervention to stop them; and the United Nations will be a nonfactor. But that isn’t all. It gets even worse.
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Syria has strengthened or reaffirmed some relationships (US/Israel), but has challenged others (US/Turkey and Russia/Iran, the latter of which was never strong). The clear victors appear to be Russia and Iran, but even these victories appear to be under threat. The complex realities of Turkish, American, and now Israeli involvement in Syria is demonstrating how little real power Russia brought to Turkey, and increasing risks that will prove unpopular at home. Iran’s gains are already undermined by domestic turmoil.

Syria is clearly Obama’s greatest foreign policy blunder, but it isn’t clear yet how much can be extrapolated from a sample size of one.