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Abstract

This study is an examination of the Syrian government’s strategic political engagement with the United Nations from 1945 to 1955. Specifically, this work provides an in-depth analysis of Syrian interaction within the United Nations’ primary security and political organs the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly. Leveraging an extensive collection of United Nations primary sources, U.S. diplomatic and intelligence reporting, and Arabic memoirs of officials directly involved in UN activity, this study provides the first ever comprehensive overview of Syrian-UN political engagement on matters directly impacting the Syrian state during the first ten years of the UN’s founding. Counter to the view that Syrian decision-making was driven by either pan-Arab ideology or by Syrian Social Nationalist Party ideals, and contrary to the view that Syrian officials were content with the borders established under the French Mandate, this dissertation argues that Syrian officials operated strategically in pursuit of alternative territorial boundaries and the United Nations was a critical component to that strategy. Investigating bids for independence and definitions of sovereignty from 1945 to 1955, I show how Syrian diplomats made crucial territorial claims to portions of pre-colonial, late Ottoman understandings of Syria that were subsequently situated in Palestine, along the north-eastern bank of the Jordan River. The time period of this first decade after World War II is critical to our understanding of a neglected but central vision of territorial state sovereignty—one articulated by former Ottoman officials and other diplomats raised with this pre-colonial and Ottoman vision of Syria that reflected the past and helped determine Syria’s future. In addition to offering a historical account of Syrian interaction with the United Nations during the organization’s formative years, this study also provides a framework for understanding the Syrian government’s twin strategy of UN engagement and force to achieve its strategic territorial objectives. This study proposes that while the Syrian state’s preferred tool for acquiring sovereignty over territory was the United Nations system, when that avenue failed, the Syrian state resorted to armed force to maintain its territorial claims. However, given the military superiority of the Israeli state vis-à-vis Syria, armed force also had its limits and the Syrian state was forced to return to the UN negotiating table. This framework is critical for understanding Syria’s military decision making at this period and demonstrates that Syria’s use of force was strategic and not purely in the service of dogmatic hatred of the state of Israel. This study will be of interest to historians of post-colonial Syrian history, experts of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and UN historians interested in understanding how the past can inform decision makers understanding of Syrian-UN engagement during the Syrian crisis of the post-2011 era.

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