Control of Borders

Dimension 2 of 17


We wanted to learn about how sovereign Syria is, and how well it is able to control its borders. We listened to a wide range of local, regional, and international actors influential in the life of Syria. We received a wide range of responses, for example: 

“The country is struggling to regain its power and legal recognition." (232631)

“There is no country now.... It is all outside. There is no border." (231211) 

"It's not really a civil war. It's the government that's killing our people." (235931)

"Assad still has a regime. He probably couldn't do that without outside political support. Most of the fighting groups are now Islamist with long term grievances against Assad. It is doubtful Assad could ever control the violence or govern those areas without ethnic cleansing. Even if Assad survives Syria will not likely be whole again. His relationship with Iran and Hezbollah will not be forgotten. Those interests have compromised their sovereignty. Arab nationalism is gone, from other states too, vs. Islamism. The Islamic State is a bunch of Shis who decided to kill Kurds and Christians, ethnic cleansing. Christians and Alawites are afraid the Sunnis are coming for them. Christians and governments seem to be aligning together in Syria and some other Arab states like Egypt." (239312) 

"During the Hafez Al Assad regime and the Iranian revolution Iran exported the idea of the Shia Crescent. In most of Syria the Alawi (supported by Iran) opened centers to encourage people to convert from Sunni to Shia. They got salaries and monthly rewards. It was run by Jamil Al Assad (brother of Hafez). It is still running under the name of Imam Mortada. It is going on in Egypt now." (230713)

Is Syria no longer a country? Or is it a country that is strongly manipulated  from outside?  Why does this matter in your choice of partners, the design of initiatives, and the implementation of those initiatives? Read more to find out. Scroll to the bottom of the page for more statements. 


ABOUT INCA DIMENSION #2: 

CONTROL OF BORDERS


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Syrian Control of Borders is the 2nd of 17 dimensions in Syrian society that influential local, regional, and international actors assessed and discussed through 3 rounds of interviews and feedback, beginning in January, 2016. Taken together, the 17 dimensions of the x-axis offer a comprehensive, holistic view of Syria and its people. Interview participants assessed the capacity of each dimension, represented by the y-axis; higher levels indicate greater capacity within that dimension for Syrians to respond effectively to existential global threats.

Control of Borders is important because it reveals elements of Syria's sovereignty.  Based on the 8-level hierarchy described in the question below, participants from 27 influential organizations assessed Syrian control of borders at different levels at this time in history, from as low as Level 1 to as high as Level 6. (At the bottom of this page, you can read statements interview participants gave to support their assessments.)


The Question

Of the 17 components of national sovereignty considered in this assessment, the most basic is the ability of the country (or self-identified people, or “nation”) to control its national boundaries. Which of these levels of development is the dominant mode of this country? (If two or more seem true, choose the lowest.)

1.     This country is consumed with a struggle for survival, or the population is struggling to gain more sovereignty.

2.     This country is partially self-governing and stable (i.e., autonomous areas, overseas or dependent areas or territories).

3.     The country is legally recognized as an independent nation-state, but is not able to protect itself against the mass murders of parts of the population by outsiders (invasion or bombing) or its own people (civil war).

4.     The country is able to protect itself against the mass murders of parts of the population by outsiders or its own people, but is not able to manage its guest worker, immigration or refugee flows.

5.     The country is able to manage its guest worker, immigration or refugee flows, but is not able to protect its economic system against unwanted foreign influences.

6.     The country is able to protect its economic system against unwanted foreign influences, but is not able to protect its political system against unwanted foreign influence.

7.     The country is able to protect its political system against unwanted foreign influence, but is not able to protect its society from unwanted cultural foreign influences.

8.     This country is able to protect its society from most unwanted cultural foreign influences


READ CLOSELY, IMAGINE, LEARN

Read each statement below closely. Assume the person who wrote this is sincere; they believe every word. Imagine what life experience or background might lead a person to have this belief. Whether true or false, this person’s perception is a fact. To move forward on an initiative involving Syria's control of its borders, the reality of each perspective might need to be accounted for.

This Prime Actor participant sees Syrian control of its borders as centered at Level 1, a struggle for survival and sovereignty:

“There is no country now.... It is all outside. There is no border." (231211) 

A different Prime Actor participant sees Syrian control of its borders as centered at Level 3, a legally recognized as an independent nation-state:

"It's not really a civil war. It's the government that's killing our people." (235931)

When you can imagine how other Prime Actors could hold each of these perceptions, you will be better positioned to partner, plan, and implement initiatives in Syria.



DEVELOPMENT IN SYRIA


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WORK WITHIN SYRIA’S CONTROL OF BORDERS

The thick brown line represents the lack of a legally recognized, independent nation-state.

The thick brown line represents the most conservative assessment of Syria’s control of borders, as only partially self-governed, not functional, and in a struggle for its survival. Any organization operating in Syria or with refugee Syrians would be best served by assuming there is no agreed upon, functional state. Most business, political, and social agreements will need to be made without the assumption of a functional state. 


STRENGTHENING SYRIAN CONTROL OF BORDERS ONE STEP AT A TIME

Aim just right: negotiate an end to the violent conflicts

The green area of the chart, from levels 1 to 2, indicates where projects to strengthen Syrian border control will be most likely to succeed. These are almost entirely initiatives to end the conflict, obviously. The goal is stability, and the ability to successfully negotiate conflict without resorting to violence. The Astana and Geneva peace talk are examples. This is a realistic goal. 

If you aim too high: destructive overreach

Projects and agreements in the red area of the chart are overly ambitious and, at best, will be a waste of time. More likely, they will drive confusion and corruption into the country.

Border capacity in post-invasion Iraqi society was at a similarly low level in the spring of 2003. The United States, however, failed to recognize the true weakness of Iraq’s border capacity and instead enacted many programs based on the faulty assumption that the Iraqi state exercised full sovereignty over its population and economic flows, but was vulnerable to malicious anti-government actors working to undermine political institutions from within (level 6).  As a result, inappropriate practices and projects drove needless confusion and fear into Iraqi society with disastrous results.

The most blatant overestimation of Iraq’s border capacity was evidenced by Order #2 of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the US-backed body in charge of the early stages of reconstructing Iraq. With this order, the CPA disbanded the Iraqi armed forces and dissolved the Iraqi defense ministry, resulting in the dismissal of more than 500,000 Iraqi defense personnel – many of whom never received compensation payments or pensions. The CPA, believing that Iraqi border patrol and police forces were strong enough to prevent physical violence until a new military could be formed, issued this order in the hope of rooting out subversive or foreign elements within the Iraqi military-political establishment (a level 7 goal). As our INCA platform reveals, however, this assumption was misguided and led to program overreach. The actual outcome of this policy was the destruction of the only Iraqi body large and organized enough to maintain order in the streets during the transition of power; the absence of any real government challenge to looters, insurgents, gangs and paramilitaries; the easy infiltration of Iraqi territory by anti-government militants and special forces from Turkey and Iran; and the creation of a large, armed population who blamed the CPA and Iraqi government for their unemployment – it is no coincidence that more than half of ISIL’s top leadership is made up of former Iraqi military officers. Rather than rooting out potentially destructive political influences within the military establishment, which was the intention behind the order, CPA Order #2 in fact succeeded in weakening the monopoly on the domestic use of force by the Iraqi government (backed by the CPA), opened the border to foreign fighters, and quite possibly spurred recruitment for anti-government insurgent groups.

Background Reading

For more information on INCA for Iraq, read our retroactive case study here: http://sovereigntyfirst.com/iraq/report


Round 3 Statements (Nov 2016 - Jul 2017)

Note: These statements were given by participants as rationale for their decision to gauge Syrian capacity at their stated level. 

The Range

Lowest Score:1

Highest Score: 6

1.     The country is consumed with a struggle for survival, or the population is struggling to gain more sovereignty.

“Culturally it can protect its borders, but not politically. The universities, schools, etc., protect the Arab culture successfully." (230784)
“Syria doesn't control any borders except with Lebanon. In the north the borders are controlled, in part, by the PYD, in part by the Turkish government, and in part by the Islamists. The eastern part is controlled by IS. The south is controlled by Islamist military factions." (231641)
“The government is only part of the country. It is recognized, but not necessarily representative." (232272)
“The country is struggling to regain its power and legal recognition." (232631)
“There is no country now. The decisions belong to Iran and Russia. It used to be the Alawi, no longer. It is all outside. There is no border." (231211) 
“All levels are partially true. Syria is legally recognized, but it's not stable. Assad controls a rump state, and has influence outside of it, but does not control the whole area within the borders. There are the free Syrian forces, Islamic State, and ethnic divisions in the south. The Sunni areas are internally contested by Islamic State, Al Nusra, etc. Assad controls an allegiance of minority groups. Syria exists as a legal entity on the map only. It's like the Balkans or Lebanon in the '80s." (239311)

2.     The country is partially self-governing and stable (i.e., autonomous areas, overseas or dependent areas or territories).

No Statements

3.     The country is legally recognized as an independent nation-state, but is not able to protect itself against the mass murders of parts of the population by outsiders (invasion or bombing) or its own people (civil war).

"There is no country that can control its borders. Even the United States can't control its border with Mexico. Through social media you can cross borders anywhere. We all are in contact with each other. There are no real borders. The Syrian regime managed to isolate the people under Hafez, but Bashar could not continue it because of technology. Most nations are affected by Wall Street. Loyalties and education differ from one country to another."' (233881)

4.     The country is able to protect itself against the mass murders of parts of the population by outsiders or its own people, but is not able to manage its guest worker, immigration or refugee flows.

No statements

5.     The country is able to manage its guest worker, immigration or refugee flows, but is not able to protect its economic system against unwanted foreign influences.

"Neither Russia nor Iran control Syrian borders. The opposition controls the open borders. Jordan controls the south, the PYD the Kurdish areas. The Turkish invasion is no different than Russian or western border incursions. It doesn't reflect long-term control. (233911)
"The conflict started as internal, then became regional, then international. At that point Syria [could] no longer control its borders. Syrians are stripped of the right to speak their opinion. The borders are a secondary concern." (233881)
"It is a legally recognized country, but controlled by other groups and easily infiltrated by other countries." (238631)
"There are parts of Syria that are more stable and self-governing, but by and large that is not the case." (233121)
"The legal part of the country (the south) is involved in its own mass murder." (235781)
"The country does not have control over its borders." (233081)
"Half of the border is outside Syrian control." (236592)
"It's not really a civil war. It's the government that's killing our people." (235931)
"Assad still has a regime. He probably couldn't do that without outside political support. Most of the fighting groups are now Islamist with long term grievances against Assad. It is doubtful Assad could ever control the violence or govern those areas without ethnic cleansing. Even if Assad survives Syria will not likely be whole again. His relationship with Iran and Hezbollah will not be forgotten. Those interests have compromised their sovereignty. Arab nationalism is gone, from other states too, vs. Islamism. The Islamic State is a bunch of Shis who decided to kill Kurds and Christians, ethnic cleansing. Christians and Alawites are afraid the Sunnis are coming for them. Christians and governments seem to be aligning together in Syria and some other Arab states like Egypt." (239312) 

6.     The country is able to protect its economic system against unwanted foreign influences, but is not able to protect its political system against unwanted foreign influence.

"During the Hafez Al Assad regime and the Iranian revolution Iran exported the idea of the Shia Crescent. In most of Syria the Alawi (supported by Iran) opened centers to encourage people to convert from Sunni to Shia. They got salaries and monthly rewards. It was run by Jamil Al Assad (brother of Hafez). It is still running under the name of Imam Mortada. It is going on in Egypt now." (230713)


Round 2 Statements (Aug 2016 - Oct 2016)

Note: These statements were given by participants as rationale for their decision to gauge Syrian capacity at their stated level. 

The Range 

Lowest Score: 1

Highest Score: 8

1.     The country is consumed with a struggle for survival, or the population is struggling to gain more sovereignty.

“We used to live in a country whose leaders had the mentality of the mafia. They called it Assad's Syria. Some people were his slaves. Others were left with nothing." (225662)
"The borders are not a matter of a big problem, ISIL is a big problem, but it's diminishing. It's only a matter of months until they are suppressed. It's not a matter of the neighbors." (222272)
"We are trying to spread the freed regions all over the country. They are connecting the local councils, preparing in case the Assad regime vanishes so they can continue governing, assuming there are no terrorist organizations, including the Assad regime." (222172)

2.     The country is partially self-governing and stable (i.e., autonomous areas, overseas or dependent areas or territories).

No Statements

3.     The country is legally recognized as an independent nation-state, but is not able to protect itself against the mass murders of parts of the population by outsiders (invasion or bombing) or its own people (civil war).

"It's a legally recognized country, but people are being murdered by its government and foreign jihadists, Sunni and Shia." (223911)
"The way the country controls its borders defines it. It kept that control until Russia the United States, and Hezbollah entered the war. It used to have complete control of the borders and any influences allowed in. Russia and Iran control the country now, especially Russia." (229051)
"The Turkish invasion of the north and the presence of foreign fighters demonstrates the country cannot control their borders." (228631)

4.     The country is able to protect itself against the mass murders of parts of the population by outsiders or its own people, but is not able to manage its guest worker, immigration or refugee flows.

No Statements

5.     The country is able to manage its guest worker, immigration or refugee flows, but is not able to protect its economic system against unwanted foreign influences.

No Statements

6.     The country is able to protect its economic system against unwanted foreign influences, but is not able to protect its political system against unwanted foreign influence.

No Statements

7.     The country is able to protect its political system against unwanted foreign influence, but is not able to protect its society from unwanted cultural foreign influences.

No Statements

8.     This country is able to protect its society from most unwanted cultural foreign influences.

"The world is moving to weaker and weaker borders by trade, media, Internet…. There is a greater fear of developing countries by the more developed ones." (223881)


Round 1 Statements (Jan 2016 - May 2016)

Note: These statements were given by participants as rationale for their decision to gauge Syrian capacity at the level they did for this dimension. 

The Range

Lowest Score: 2

Highest Score: 7

2.     The country is partially self-governing and stable (i.e., autonomous areas, overseas or dependent areas or territories).

No Statements

3.     The country is legally recognized as an independent nation-state, but is not able to protect itself against the mass murders of parts of the population by outsiders (invasion or bombing) or its own people (civil war).

No Statements

4.     The country is able to protect itself against the mass murders of parts of the population by outsiders or its own people, but is not able to manage its guest worker, immigration or refugee flows.

No Statements

5.     The country is able to manage its guest worker, immigration or refugee flows, but is not able to protect its economic system against unwanted foreign influences.

No Statements

6.     The country is able to protect its economic system against unwanted foreign influences, but is not able to protect its political system against unwanted foreign influence.

No Statements

7.     The country is able to protect its political system against unwanted foreign influence, but is not able to protect its society from unwanted cultural foreign influences.

No Statements