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Preventing State Collapse in Syria

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Technical Report

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RAND National Defense Research Institute Santa Monica United States

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The situation in Syria following the siege and battle for Aleppo remains catastrophic, according to the United Nations UN, and the UN General Assembly in December 2016 empowered a new, independent panel to investigate and prosecute possible war crimes. While the international community has lamented the human costs of the war, a political solution to its end has been elusive. U.S. priorities in the war have included the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and, more pressingly, the defeat of the Islamic State and al Qaeda and its affiliates. The Obama administration has also sought to put in place basic requirements for a post-conflict transition, including preservation of state institutions. This Perspective asks how U.S. policies can create the best possible conditions for a post-conflict transition in Syria that would defeat terrorist groups and preserve Syrian state institutions, especially in the absence of a regional consensus to end the war. Our assessment suggests that these objectives are best served by partnering with Russia, working through the UN Security Council, and undertaking post-conflict stabilization policies that support centralized Syrian state institutions. Lessons from recent conflicts, including U.S. interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, suggest that post-conflict security, governance, and reconstruction in Syria will require centralized state authority. A collapsed or fractured state would contribute to further instability and radicalization in Syria, its neighbors, and the wider region. The longer the war goes on, the higher the probability of state collapse, fragmentation, endemic terrorism, and continued refugee flows.

Subject Categories:

  • Government and Political Science
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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