Scholars at the University of Birmingham are calling for preparations for the likely fall of the Assad regime in Syria - and warning that failure to do so will lead to continuing political, economic, and humanitarian crises.
Professor Stefan Wolff, Dr Christalla Yakinthou, and Professor Scott Lucas are developing the findings as part of both day-to-day coverage of the four-year conflict in Syria and recommendations for post-Assad governance and transitional justice.
Rebels have captured much of northwest and south Syria in spring 2015 and are looking at further advances, including in the divided city of Aleppo. The Islamic State, despite facing its own difficulties, holds much of northern and eastern Syria and has captured the historic city of Palmyra in the centre. Meanwhile, regime offensives have ended in costly defeats north of Aleppo and less-than-desired progress south of Damascus.
The military difficulties of the Assad regime are accompanied by mounting economic problems and an erosion of political support, even from allies like Russia. At the same time, rebels have begun to coordinate their command and operations and are receiving increased backing from countries such as Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.
"Assad's fall will not be sudden," says Scott Lucas, who is Professor of International Politics and also editor of EA WorldView, a leading website in coverage of Syria. "But this will be a protracted, steady erosion of power until he leaves or is forced from the Presidency."
However, the Syrian story is not a simple one of a unified opposition stepping into the void left by a deposed President. Instead, given the disparate and numerous rebel and opposition groups - as well as the complex religious, ethnic, and social make-up of Syria - there will be a long, complicated period of negotiations over political, economic, military, and legal processes and institutions.
In view of this, as well as the immediate challenge of dealing with more than 10 million displaced and refugee Syrians - almost half of the country's population, Professor Stefan Wolff advises, "Now is the time to think about how a future agreement can be sequenced in its implementation such that all parties remain committed to it."
Wolff continues, "It will be essential to factor in the current level of displacement of people within and beyond Syria and the possibilities and sustainability of their return and/or resettlement."
Extending Wolff's analysis, Christalla Yakinthou warns that the international community cannot defer consideration of the humanitarian crisis. Focusing on Lebanon, she projects a crisis, amid cuts in provision of food and social protection, for almost 1.2 million refugees.
Yakinthou, a Birmingham Fellow specialising in issues of transitional justice, says that the concept must be considered as more than a question of legal processes. To deal with both conflict and with the reconstruction of societies, "justice" has to take on the emergency challenges of provision, shelter, and re-integration.
Wolff and Lucas have published an earlier version of their findings in a November 2014 proposal for no-fly zones and "internal containment" in Syria. Both have written for The Conversation on the Syrian crisis, most recently in June 2015, and Lucas's EA WorldView website provides latest news as well as analysis of the conflict. Yakinthou's most recent publication on transitional justice considers the impact on women's of enforced disappearances during Lebanon's civil war.
Preliminary findings were presented at a briefing in Brussels on 15th June 2015, held by the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security. Participants included representatives of the Lebanon Mission to the EU, the International Crisis Group, European Endowment for Democracy, Carnegie Europe, Oxfam, and the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union.