The Syrian Civil War II

So it's official…ish. It's official-ish.  Or maybe not. The BBC reports that the UN Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, Herve Ladsous, seems to be the first official to publicly describe the Syrian civil war as a civil war, as opposed to something moving ever closer to that oh so elusive place. However, the article also notes that others have pushed back against this description (big surprise). Officials from the Syrian Foreign Ministry are opting to describe the conflict as follows:  

Talk of civil war in Syria is not consistent with reality… What is happening in Syria is a war against armed groups that choose terrorism.

So they don't quibble with the use of the word "war," but simply the notion that what Syria is experiencing is of the civil variety. Coming from Syrian officials, however, I get it, and I don't really find this to be terribly surprising.

What I'm curious about is how this comment by a UN official will impact the way other public officials talk about the Syrian civil war, henceforth. Last week I wrote about how there has been a widespread reluctance among US, UN, and other policymakers to refer to the Syrian conflict as a civil war. Here's a piece at the NY Times from yesterday addressing the same issue. Barbara Walter and Elizabeth Martin offer some suggestions as to why that might be, and I've offered a few of my own followup thoughts here.

Will more senior officials publicly rebuke Ladsous for comments? Label them "premature"? "Hasty"? Will there be some sort of domino effect, whereby Ladsous' comments make open the door for other policymakers to start using the label? Perhaps there is something to be said for the label arising from the "bottom up" so to speak. Though, I'm not entirely sure that Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations constitutes coming from the bottom. Still, perhaps now that someone with "expertise" in this area (almost like a scientist or something) has used the label, higher level officials will feel that they have cover to use the term. Whereas if Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton were to trot out the term first, it could seem more "political" in its derivations? 

Of course, this is all an exercise in aimless musing. Thoughts? 

Michael Flynn

About Michael Flynn

Michael Flynn is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Kansas State University. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Binghamton University in 2013. His research focuses on the political and economic determinants of foreign economic and security policy, security issues, and state repression.

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