The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is an initiative created by the United Nations to alter the international community’s and individual states’ responses to human rights atrocities. The primary aim of R2P is ‘saving’ civilians when internal conflict arises, and the state is unable to help or directly targeting civilians, as was the case in Rwanda and Kosovo. Most recently, the situation in Syria has sparked debate over whether R2P should be invoked to justify action in the hope of ‘saving strangers.’
Unrest has plagued Syria since March 2011, and the crisis is ever-evolving as issues seem to arise daily. From an international perspective, the primary narrative has focused, and continues to focus, on feeling ‘sorry’ for the Syrians. More recently the spotlight has turned to the crossing of the red line of chemical weapons usage, and if and how the US will respond.
A less highlighted, yet undoubtedly important, understory that continues to develop is how Syria’s economy is suffering as a result of the fighting. R2P’s primary focus is ‘saving strangers’. However, R2P actually has three components: Prevent, React, and Rebuild. The third, to which the international community committed itself at the World Summit in 2005, focuses on ‘rebuilding’ the state following intervention.
Of course, at this point, trying to predict the economic outcome of this situation is not only speculative, but also foolhardy. That aside it is critical that attempts are made to understand Syria’s current economic situation, so when the time does come for assistance, the international community and states are not starting from scratch.
As one might expect, understanding Syria’s economic reality is challenging because many institutions used to determine the health of the economy have been crippled by the ongoing internal conflict. As one astute analysis captures, much of the Syrian economy has gone underground. Indeed, “the chaotic situation in Syria, with decreasing central control over the economy, has provided new opportunities”. A Turk, who has sold provisions to Syrian rebels cited in the Reuters report, says, “there is so much demand from the Syrian side. There is demand for everything.”
An article in Der Spiegel identifies the inability of business persons to sell their goods to hospitals because so many have been destroyed. As Ulrike Putz points out, “[of] the 75 state-run hospitals, just 30 remain in operation. In the embattled city of Homs, just one of 20 hospitals remains open.”
Moreover, about “75 percent of the production facilities in Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital, are no longer operating”. Much of the product that is available for sale on the open market cannot be taken abroad because of devastating economic sanctions.
Right now, the international community remains steadfastly devoted to saving Syrians from further chemical weapons attacks. While this is certainly admirable, it will hardly solve the underlying issues of this conflict. R2P could be deemed a failure thus far for failing to save Syrians from the attacks of President Bashar al-Assad. But this does not mean that R2P as a doctrine cannot formulate a ‘rebuilding’ response.
Difficult questions will arise about what the best path for such a response will be. The conflict is Syria is ongoing and is likely to continue for some time. Nevertheless, the international community should continue to watch closely and offer advice that will help stabilize Syria’s economy, and not just temporarily.