Preparing for a Syrian Transition Lessons from the Past, Thinking for the Future

by Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart

The political unrest in Syria has descended into a civil war. Stripped of legitimacy, the Assad regime has launched a violent assault against the opposition, which is itself determined to see the end of Assad and the overthrow of the regime. With few exceptions, the international community has roundly condemned the actions of the regime and called for Assad to step down. Faced with the unpalatable choice of standing by while Assad massacres the people of Syria or engaging in what is already a violent and unpredictable conflict, the international community should at a minimum prepare to assist any future transition, while at the same
time avoid the unintended consequences of badly designed assistance. Before preparing and implementing a strategy, both policymakers and donors must have a comprehensive understanding of the situation. In this report, we outline recommendations for working groups and members of the international community. We develop scenarios for transition; identify relevant peace-building lessons from the past; and pinpoint issues to be addressed in articulating and implementing a post-Assad agenda.

To maintain flexibility, we recommend that the international community prepare for four possible scenarios for transition. Scenarios are an analytic tool designed to illuminate probable outcomes, patterns, and consequences of action or inaction. Preparation for each of these scenarios will require further work with people on the ground. During the last three decades, a large number of peace agreements have been concluded. Half of them broke down within five years. The Institute for State Effectiveness recently carried out a comprehensive review of peace agreements, both successful and failed.