The Syrian conflict poses enormous challenges for US policy and for US efforts to engage with affected Syrians, including through stabilization projects. Ongoing violence in which civilians are actively targeted shows no sign of abating. As US efforts at stabilization and transition in Syria move forward in 2014, Syria’s complex conflict will continue to pose a significant set of challenges for the United States. A deeper examination of “lessons learned” from previous US experiences with conflict stabilization could provide valuable insights for Syria. Gaining deeper understanding into both successes and failures in cases including Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans holds particular merit. Ideally, these lessons learned should help to improve the effectiveness of stabilization and transition efforts in Syria and avoid the pitfalls of past stabilization experiences.
The newly established Center for Applied Research on Conflict (ARC) at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) invited the Stimson Center to organize and lead the Lessons Learned for Stabilization in Syria project. Stimson established a working group comprised of experts with a broad range of expertise and skills to advise Stimson’s Syria expert Mona Yacoubian, who authored the report. Working group members encompassed a wide range of institutional and country experience, and some have worked directly on Syria-related projects funded by the US government.
The Lessons Learned for Stabilization in Syria report is not intended to review current programming for affected populations in Syria, nor to provide operational guidance or develop ideas for specific stabilization programs. It is also not intended to assess current US policy, or to devise a new “grand strategy” for Syria. Rather, the project focuses on developing critical insights from past stabilization efforts for policy makers as they contend with the daunting challenges of engaging affected populations in war-torn Syria.