Global Ethics Corner: Are Grand Bargains Overrated?

Aug 31, 2012

With the crisis in Syria escalating, many analysts think a lasting resolution will be found in an internationally negotiated comprehensive settlement. Is a grand bargain possible in Syria? Is this idea overrated, in any case?

Many believe a lasting resolution to the Syria crisis lies in an internationally negotiated comprehensive settlement, similar to the one drawn up in the Balkans. In other words, a grand bargain.

The grand bargain has long been a popular conflict resolution tool. It's easy to see why. Grand bargains involve all stakeholders in a conflict. Countries that are not involved in the conflict help identify core contested issues. Then, they oversee a series of compromises, in which all parties make sacrifices and gains. The ideal result? To resolve all points of conflict in one fell swoop.

In Syria, a grand bargain was meant to provide just such a solution. Diplomats hoped to negotiate a peaceful transition of power. President Assad would pull back his army and lay the groundwork for elections. In exchange, Syria's rebels would put down their arms and end calls for Assad's resignation. From an outsider's perspective, these compromises seemed fair.

But in Syria, a grand bargain has proven elusive, which is why some analysts question this approach.

They say grand bargains rely on a miscalculation of stakeholder interests. The reality is that the gains of winning war often outweigh the gains of ending war—at least from the perspective of those on the ground. In Syria, for example, Assad has much to gain by crushing the rebels and much to lose if he fails. Likewise, Syria's rebels will win big if Assad goes down. And both sides have reason to believe they'll succeed.

So it's hard to see either side settling for the smaller gains that a grand bargain would bring, even though peace would accompany the resolution. A better bet may be to look beyond comprehensive solutions. Perhaps even beyond diplomacy, towards military intervention.

What do you think—is a diplomatic solution in Syria still possible? Or are grand bargains overrated?

By Marlene Spoerri

For more information see

Ilan Greenberg and Andrew Radin, The Problem with Grand Bargains, The National Interest, August 24, 2012

Associated Press, Syria Crisis: Death Toll Tops 17,000, Says Opposition Group, The Huffington Post, July 9, 2012

Martin Chulov, Lebanon fears a firestorm as old rifts that led to civil war open up again, The Guardian, August 25, 2012

The Washington Post, How, When and Whether to End the War in Syria, Brookings, August 10, 2012

Nicholas Noe, In Syria, We Need to Bargain With the Devil, February 6, 2012

Photo Credits in Order of Appearance:

Al Jazeera English
Jaime Silva
Public Domain
Ammar Abd Rabbo [also for picture 9]
Ministério das Relações Exteriores
UN Photo Geneva
Ibn Dimashq Shaam News Network [also for picture 8]
Gwydion M Williams
Omar Chatriwala
thierry ehrmann
Expert Infantry

You may also like

Anti-Assad Protest. CREDIT: <a href=>Omar Chatriwala</a> <a href=>(CC)</a>

AUG 30, 2012 Article

Syria and the Arab Spring: Unintended Consequences?

It is easy to seek to add Assad to the list of toppled despots, from Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen to Libya. But it would ...

Not translated

This content has not yet been translated into your language. You can request a translation by clicking the button below.

Request Translation