February 21, 2012

CNAS Expert Calls for Renewed Diplomacy, Not War, in Syria

If Syria is to have any chance of reaching political transition, the United States and the international community must respond to the increasing violence there through an enhanced diplomatic strategy rather than military intervention, argues Dr. Marc Lynch in Pressure Not War: A Pragmatic and Principled Policy Towards Syria, released today by the Center for a New American Security.

Download Pressure Not War: A Pragmatic and Principled Policy Towards Syria.

Dr. Lynch, a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at CNAS and Associate Professor of Political Science and the Director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, argues that while the United States has a responsibility to respond to the growing violence in Syria, "the United States should not intervene with military force, which is unlikely to improve conditions in Syria and instead threatens to make them worse. Though advocates of military intervention claim it is the moral choice, it is not. Military intervention will allow Americans to feel they are doing something. But unleashing even more violence without a realistic prospect of changing the regime's behavior or improving security is neither just nor wise."  U.S. policy should focus on engaging in a sustained and targeted campaign of pressure against the Asad regime with the end goal of bringing key components of the ruling coalition to the negotiating table to devise a post-Asad political path forward. Dr. Lynch recommends specific actions for policymakers grappling with the crisis, including:

  • Present Asad with an ultimatum: resign, or be referred to the International Criminal Court for War Crimes.
  • Tighten economic and financial sanctions against Asad regime officials and the most senior members of the Syrian military.
  • Conduct a sustained and vigorous effort to isolate the Asad regime diplomatically.
  • Strengthen the opposition and encourage it to develop a unified political voice.
  • Support a strategic communications campaign to publicize the regime's atrocities and encourage regime members to defect.

While he maintains that no course of action will produce a quick end to the turmoil, Dr. Lynch argues that the top priority for the United States in Syria should be constructing a narrative of "endless isolation and economic disaster with Asad, or a rapid return to international society with economic revival and political guarantees without him."


The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) is an independent and nonpartisan research institution that develops strong, pragmatic and principled national security and defense policies. CNAS leads efforts to help inform and prepare the national security leaders of today and tomorrow.

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