This paper is a summary of the discussions that took place during a small closed-door study group convened at Chatham House in December 2011 to discuss possible future scenarios for Syria.
The main findings of the meeting are as follows:
- Predictions for the country's future vary considerably – and are often politicized. While increasing numbers of observers believe President Assad’s days are numbered, the timescale and endgame are still unclear.
- The regime, like other Arab regimes that have faced uprisings, is trying to send the message that the only alternative to its rule is chaos and conflict. Yet so far most of the violence has come from the regime, which seems to be prepared to take the country into further conflict in a bid to preserve its power.
- Overall, there is a serious deficit of provable, hard data on events in Syria, especially as the government is trying to block foreign journalists and NGOs from entering the country.
- Western countries have called for Assad to leave but, lacking the appetite for an intervention, are hoping for a regional solution involving Turkey and the Arab League.
- The Arab League is placing increasing diplomatic and economic pressure on Syria, but its members have mixed feelings about regime change. The Arab League's position may influence China's stance in efforts to deal with the crisis through the UN.
- The regime is assuming that there will be no international military intervention, but the situation remains deeply unpredictable. A massacre could yet trigger international action.