The Battle for Syria International Rivalry in the New Middle East Christopher Phillips

Publication date:
15 Sep 2016
Yale University Press
320 pages: 235 x 156mm

An unprecedented analysis of the crucial but underexplored roles the United States and other nations have played in shaping Syria’s ongoing civil war

Most accounts of Syria’s brutal, long-lasting civil war focus on a domestic contest that began in 2011 and only later drew foreign nations into the escalating violence. Christopher Phillips argues instead that the international dimension was never secondary but that Syria’s war was, from the very start, profoundly influenced by regional factors, particularly the vacuum created by a perceived decline of U.S. power in the Middle East. This precipitated a new regional order in which six external protagonists—the United States, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar—have violently competed for influence, with Syria a key battleground. 

Drawing on a plethora of original interviews, Phillips constructs a new narrative of Syria’s war. Without absolving the brutal Bashar al-Assad regime, the author untangles the key external factors which explain the acceleration and endurance of the conflict, including the West’s strategy against ISIS. He concludes with some insights on Syria and the region's future.

Christopher Phillipsis Reader in International Relations at Queen Mary, University of London, and associate fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. He lives in London.

"Philips . . . argues in a lucid and readable manner with a good balance of facts and anecdotes, that while domestic triggers and the wider impact of the Arab Spring may have caused the crisis, it was maintained by 'external powers being unwilling to prioritise ending the conflict over their own wider geopolitical agendas.'"—James Denselow, New York Journal of Books

“Provides genuinely valuable insight into the dynamics of a tragedy that will undoubtedly remain at the centre of the world’s attention for many years to come.”—Daniel Falkiner, LSE Review of Books