A five-pronged strategy*1) is needed to overcome these obstacles and set post conflict Syria on the path to recovery. Ash-Sham CARE wants to play a central role in the efforts.
- First, the international community should focus on the human elements of the crisis: helping returnees reunite with their families, sheltering those whose homes have been destroyed, supplying vast amounts of basic commodities (mattresses, blankets, cookers, food) to those most in need, and helping with home repair and rebuilding. Specialized international agencies and NGOs should be mobilized alongside national NGOs.
- The second element concerns the health and education systems. Hospitals, clinics, and schools need equipment, staff, and supplies to help in the recovery process. Most of the wounded have been treated in a summary way, and many are in need of secondary surgery, prosthetics, and rehabilitation. The need for psychological support is also immense, not least for the children. Here too, specialized international NGOs should be involved alongside the Syrian doctors and medics who have kept working under horrendous circumstances.
- Third, the country's struggling infrastructure needs to be restored. Roads, sanitation, energy, telecommunications, and water supply facilities have been devastated. In addition, a massive cleanup of military ordnance and equipment as well as civilian scrap vehicles is required. Not least, chemical weapons stocks should be secured and destroyed under international agreement and supervision. This will probably call for a combination of military and civilian expertise.
- The fourth aspect involves restarting the Syrian economy and restoring agricultural, industrial, and trade activities. The proper incentives and self-help schemes should be put in place, while fair and equitable access to funding should be ensured.
- The fifth element is related to governance and is probably the most difficult component of the strategy. The focus should be on assisting local and national administrations to reorganize and resume the management of public services. Reinserting civil servants, the police, and the military into society will be an extremely delicate task. Getting the civil registry right (that is, counting the deceased), transitional justice efforts, public-assets recovery, and combating corruption should be high on the agenda.
None of this will be easy, as past experience in post conflict management shows. The UN system will probably take the lead, experts will pile up evaluations and diagnoses, NGOs will compete for visibility, and individual countries will want to show leadership. The new Syrian government, whatever its composition, will have to rely in part on structures held over from the previous regime that are by now largely discredited. Of course, the various components of the National Coalition, not least the commanders of the Free Syrian Army, will also struggle for their share of responsibility in the reconstruction process. Ideological battles will not be far under the surface. Indeed, the road will be fraught with dangers. It is too early to envisage the kind of international framework under which such massive efforts will be planned, agreed, funded, implemented, and supervised. But some sort of UN-sponsored agreement with the new authorities will be required in order to ensure full acceptance by the Syrian people and the international community. Individual Arab states, such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, may want to play a major financial role, while international agencies such as the World Bank will also naturally have a central part. The European Union is the unknown factor. It has been conspicuously absent so far from each and every phase of the core negotiations during the Syrian crisis. The EU's lack of influence on the political aspects of the Syrian crisis is not surprising given the way the Lisbon Treaty is translated into institutional arrangements. "Foreign policy" responsibilities are separate from "operational" issues, and there is no effective link between the European External Action Service, the EU's foreign policy arm, and the European Commission, its executive body.
In this new context, the EU has a harder time generating relevant initiatives combining foreign policy positions with concrete actions on the ground. But helping with Syria's reconstruction is not about debating the virtues of the Lisbon Treaty. It is about concrete action in favor of desperate Syrian citizens. Syria requires more than just another EU foreign policy statement to be promptly archived. The European Union should act in a way worthy of its economic power and international responsibilities and develop a plan for post conflict Syria. The European Commission should spearhead the effort. Post conflict reconstruction in Syria is an operational issue well-suited for the body, which has both the funds and the technical expertise for humanitarian assistance, development support, trade and economic policies, and sector support. This time around, there is no excuse for inaction - not even a lack of funding. In devising concrete help for Syria, though, the Commission should avoid its usual bureaucratic tendency to channel assistance mostly through governmental structures. In a post-Assad context, this will not work and will result in waste of money. Civil society should take the lead, both inside and outside Syria. There are many NGOs that have both expertise in this area and readiness, and the EU should rely on them rather than on a newly inaugurated government or discredited structures such as the old regime's "fake" NGOs. A formidable strength has emerged during the Syrian revolution: the amazing capacity of the Syrian people, of all beliefs and affiliations, to take responsibility and cope almost on their own with the struggles of daily life in a devastated Syria. These achievements should not be ignored. On the contrary, they should be acknowledged, and what works should be supported from outside. Ash-Sham CARE is willing to take the lead of the Coordination of the reconstruction process.
*1) The "Five Steps the EU Can Take to Help Syria's Recovery" were defined 2013 by Marc Pierini and published by the European center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Pierini was a career EU diplomat from December 1976 to April 2012. He was EU ambassador and head of delegation to Turkey (2006-2011) and ambassador to Tunisia and Libya (2002-2006), Syria (1998-2002), and Morocco (1991-1995). He also served as the first coordinator for the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, or the Barcelona Process, from 1995 to 1998 and was the main negotiator for the release of the Bulgarian hostages from Libya from 2004 to 2007. Pierini served as counselor in the cabinet of two European commissioners: Claude Cheysson, from 1979 to 1981, and Abel Matutes, from 1989 to 1991. He has published two essays in French: "Le prix de la liberté" and "Télégrammes diplomatiques." He is also currently a fellow with the Open Society Foundation, Turkey.