Positive Peace in a Besieged Nation: Syria’s Struggle
Because of the violence in the Syrian conflict, it remains almost impossible for Syria to foster practices of Positive Peace. Negative Peace efforts are an essential first step.
The ongoing six-year conflict in Syria was induced by the uprising of various militias opposed to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in early 2011. This insurrection was part of a chain of complex events that unfolded following the Arab Spring protests, which were incited in opposition to enduring authoritarian regimes in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. Although initially manifested in the form of massive anti-government demonstrations, Assad’s security forces severely cracked down on dissenters, refusing to meet their demands. These counterinsurgent tactics triggered an ongoing armed conflict in Syria between the state and rebel actors. Though initially solely a Civil War, the crisis has led to forms of sectarian warfare between Sunni and Shiites sects, as well as proxy war between external powers like the United States, Russia, the Gulf States, Iran, and Hezbollah.
Consequently, Syria remains the least peaceful country on the 2017 Global Peace Index (GPI) for the second year in a row. The country has been ranked amongst the world’s five least peaceful countries since the start of civil war. It is also the only country that has low levels of peacefulness for all three GPI domains—ranking among the five least peaceful countries for ongoing conflict, safety and security, and militarisation. Over the past six years, the conflict has led to the death of approximately 250,000-470,000 people and displaced over 13.5 million Syrians both internally and externally. The conflict has led to weak governance, corrupt institutions, and the deterioration of many social services and institutions in the country.
One of the greatest consequences of the instability and violence resulting from the Syrian Civil War has been the disproportionate economic cost. The country has the highest economic cost of violence, averaging approximately 67% of their GDP spent on violence-related costs in 2017. Between 2011 and 2014, the cost of conflict to Syria was $240 billion PPP, equivalent to nearly 200 percent of its GDP in 2011. During these three years, the country saw a 53% decline in GDP. The massive economic contraction associated with the conflict has overturned the business community, leading to an overall weakened business environment. Without the presence of regulatory systems conducive to sound business operation, economic productivity has been stunted.
In 2015, the country fell 29 spots on the Human Development Index (HDI), earning a spot in the low-human development group of countries. The conflict has set back the national standard of living by decades, as healthcare, schools, and sanitation systems have been largely damaged or destroyed. While more peaceful countries are able to ensure equity in access to resources such as education and health, the war-torn country is unable to satisfy its citizens’ basic needs. Almost half of Syria’s pre-war population has been displaced by the conflict. Approximately 85% of Syrians live in poverty, with over two-thirds of the population living in either extreme or abject poverty. Over 12.8 million people require health assistance and over seven million are food insecure. Additionally, approximately 1.75 million children are out of school.
Over 68% of the Syrian population are either refugees or internally displaced. While this high percentage is striking in itself, it is even more salient when compared with the less than 1% of the Syrian population that were refugees or Internally displaced people (IDP) in 2008. While countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and the EU member states have taken in approximately 5 million Syrian refugees collectively, 6.5 million Syrians still remain internally displaced within the country. Roughly three million of these IDPs are children.
Syria ranks number 4 on the 2017 Global Terrorism Index (GTI), scoring a high 8.621 behind Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Just prior to the conflict, Syria ranked 57 on the GTI, and in 2002 was placed at 118. This drastic increase in score highlights the lack of institutional resilience in absorbing sudden shocks that have been a result of violence in the Syrian Civil War. However, the number of deaths from terrorism decreased 24% from 2015 to 2016. This reduction can mainly be attributed to the reform efforts of the al-Nusra front, which has sought to portray itself as an anti-Assad rebel group rather than a terrorist organisation loyal to Al-Qaida.
Could Positive Peace measures be implemented into this besieged and divided nation? Since the inception of the GPI in 2007, Syria has fallen 64 places in the rankings—earning the largest drop in score of any country in the last decade. Because of the highly violent nature of this conflict, it remains almost impossible for Syrian society to foster practices of Positive Peace. Thus, Negative Peace efforts are an essential first step in moving towards a stable and peaceful Syrian state. However, looking forward, Positive Peace measures are fundamental in both creating and sustaining a secure environment for the Syrian people to flourish.
Since the onset of the conflict, ongoing peace plans and initiatives have been a predominant strategy in achieving negative peace. Beginning with the Arab peace plans in 2011-2012, the Arab League has moderated attempts to find solutions for stability through facilitating various peace conferences such as those held in Sochi this past January. Thus far, the peace plans have yielded little success. Despite their shortcomings, this continued dialogue is important in working towards multilateral solutions for peacebuilding amidst the ravaged Syrian state.
Equally as significant as the absence of violence is the presence of cultural, economic, and political structures and institutions that sustain peace and ensure quality of life for the Syrian people. Though Syria had one of the worst deteriorations in Positive Peace in 2017, efforts to provide prospects of institutional and economic stability are imperative. Explicitly, the provision of protection and community services, healthcare services, and educational support are all crucial in providing relief to the Syrian people. Through increased Positive Peace measures such as these, Syria will improve their likelihood of achieving stability and ceasing ongoing conflict in the future.
Global Peace Index 2017; Global Terrorism Index 2017: http://economicsandpeace.org/reports/
“Internally Displaced People.” UNHCR, UNHCR, 7 July 2016, www.unhcr.org/sy/29-internally-displaced-people.html.
World Bank Group Engagement in Situations of Fragility, Conflict, and Violence: Lebanon and Jordan. The case of the refugee crisis: http://ieg.worldbankgroup.org/sites/default/files/Data/reports/LebanonJordanRefugeeShock.pdf