International Security Issues: Understanding the Conflicts in Syria and Ukraine

International Security Issues: Understanding the Conflicts in Syria and UkraineIn today’s global climate, it seems that conflict is constantly erupting. And with the rise of the 24-hour news cycle, we receive constant updates on geopolitical issues from around the world. Factor in the ability to access the Internet on our phones around the clock, and it can seem as if we are flooded with information.

With the sheer volume of news we digest on a daily basis, it can be difficult to really understand what is happening across the globe. We’ve put together a primer to help explain some of these complex international security issues, specifically those taking place
in Syria and Ukraine.

The increasing influence of global security issues on government and business creates a demand for professionals who understand security policy. A strong background in international relations and policymaking can make you an asset in today’s global business world.


The conflict in Syria started last year, when President Bashar al-Assad began a concentrated effort to deter activists demanding political freedom and civil liberties. The activists were motivated by Syria’s weak economic status. President al-Assad used violent tactics that led to a nationwide revolt and eventually a civil war. Many of those involved in the rebellion are former members of the military who have defected and joined the activists’ cause.

The present conflict is one result of the Arab Spring, which began with Tunisia’s revolution in 2011. This rebellion caused civilian unrest in many Middle Eastern and North African countries. These countries, like Tunisia, were dealing with corruption, high unemployment rates and political repression under autocratic leaders.

By July of 2014, the Syrian conflict had resulted in an estimated 17,000 deaths, most of which were civilians according to the United Nations. More than 170,000 people have fled Syria and are currently refugees in the neighboring countries of Iraq, Turkey and Jordan. Though this conflict is considered globally to be a civil war, the Syrian government considers their opposition to be terrorists whose sole aim is to weaken the country. The opposition views this stance as a justification for violent attacks.

President Barack Obama and other global leaders are urging al-Assad to leave office. Al-Assad and his family have been in power in Syria since the 1970s. World leaders have also put economic sanctions on the country in hopes of fostering a diplomatic solution.


The underlying issues involved in the Ukrainian conflict are largely cultural. The eastern region of the country, as well as the Crimean Peninsula, is more connected with Russia. Citizens there speak both Russian and Ukrainian, and their political beliefs align closely with Russia as well. On the Western side of the country, people are more culturally similar to the rest of Eastern Europe. This is largely due to the Ukraine’s past membership in the USSR. Its present-day independence causes lingering issues with Russia.

Pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych became president in 2010, and was removed from office in February of 2014 by the Ukrainian Parliament. Russia has supported Yanukovych throughout this conflict, creating even more of a contentious relationship between the two countries. Tensions increased when Russian president Vladimir Putin moved Russia’s military into Crimea and throughout Ukraine.

Though Russia’s foreign minister justified this move as necessary protection for ethic Russians, opposition believes that Russia is there largely to protect its own interests. Russia has taken various types of military action, including imprisoning Ukrainian soldiers and surrounding military bases in Crimea. Although no major violence has occurred, the Ukrainian government considers Russia’s invasion of Crimea a declaration of war.

President Obama and other European leaders have tried to discourage Russia from using military intervention in Ukraine; however, tensions between the two countries continue and Russia has not removed its military from Ukrainian borders. Because Ukraine is not a full member of NATO, the U.S. and Europe are limited in what they can do in its defense. In addition, Russia is a member of the United Nations Security Council, which means it has veto power and can limit military intervention.

National Security and Intelligence Studies at Notre Dame College Online

If you are interested in a career related to foreign policy and international security issues, Notre Dame College Online offers two programs in security and intelligence policy studies. We offer specialized studies at the graduate or postgraduate level for students looking for careers in areas like public policy, infrastructure and intelligence security. The certificate program allows you to specialize with real-world concentrations like:

  • Biodefense, science and technology security analysis
  • Transnational threat analysis
  • Strategic intelligence and risk assessment analysis
  • Terrorism and critical infrastructure analysis

The Master of Arts in National Security and Intelligence Studies features coursework that focuses on modern security challenges and appropriate response methods. In this program, you’ll learn the foundations of policymaking and the factors that shape public policy.