HUMANITARIAN RELIEF THROUGH HUMAN RIGHTS PROMOTION AND CIVIL SOCIETY-BUILDING AS VITAL TO US NATIONAL SECURITY INTERESTS
Dr. Marc Gopin
CONF 695: Approaches to Conflict Management & Resolution: Field Work with Syrian Refugees
23 April 2016
In a recent trip to Jordan to get a first-hand look at the Syrian refugee situation, several ideas and emotions percolated in my mind and mixed with what I was reading about the civil war in Syria and its prospects for resolution. We spent time with Syrians who were doing everything they could in their sphere of influence to assist in conflict resolution and Syrian reconstruction. Much of our time was spent in Syrian refugee schools, with Syrian women in women’s centers, and in community groups. These individuals are smart, strong, and healthy. Many refugees look forward to the day they can return to their homeland and build it up again. Life is hard and sometimes paralyzing in its uncertainty. These Syrian citizens and their children work hard to make a life for themselves, but much is needed to alleviate their suffering and support them until they can return and rebuild.
Through these experiences and in researching for this paper, I explored the benefits and necessity of providing humanitarian relief to these populations. I was enlightened and thrilled to see the huge impact that individual, concerned citizens can have on this conflict. Our teachers were conducting peace projects or supporting the Syrian population as best they could and doing very well at it. One of our classroom instructors works with the refugees and then turns around and represents them in the highest negotiation bodies in this conflict. I was interested in what contributions the international community is making to this conflict and how their efforts can be harnessed and persuaded to offer humanitarian assistance while the fighting still goes on. In this paper, I will explore human rights promotion and civil society building for effective conflict resolution and frame it in a way that shows its benefits to US national security. This is in an effort to persuade greater aid and assistance from the US for Syrian refugees. In this paper, I will show how humanitarian relief in support of human rights promotion and civil society-building is vital to US national security interests and goals. I will conclude with bold recommendations for conflict interventions that follow these lines.
Human Rights Promotion
It is within US national security interests to provide humanitarian relief that promotes human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in 1948, states rights to life, liberty, and personal security among many others (“The Universal” 1948). Many refugees are in overcrowded camps, unable to work, and susceptible to radical influences (Rudoren 2015). Many more IDPs within Syria are in far dire circumstances, facing starvation, attacks, and inadequate medical help (“Al Bayda” 2013; Overton 2014). These human rights violations create insecurity for the Syrian people, which has repercussions that eventually create insecurity for US citizens. Overcrowded refugee camps harboring populations without prospects for working and providing for their families creates hopelessness and listlessness. This erodes Syrians’ expectation for their future and undermines the most important instruments for Syrian reconstruction. Lack of opportunity is especially dangerous in younger populations. The many violent extremist groups fighting inside Syria find fertile recruitment grounds in refugee camps where hope and opportunity are lacking. Young men with an education and without viable job prospects are especially susceptible to recruitment. The growth of these violent, extremist groups creates instability, not only in the region, but in the world. Terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris, Ankara, or other European cities are likely just the beginning of insecurity spread by these extremist groups. America faced the same kind of danger during the attacks of 9/11, one of the first major and most visible examples of exported terrorism by a non-state, violent actor. US foreign policy can help prevent these kinds of attacks and reduce the recruitment potential of these groups through promoting human rights for Syrian refugees.
Benefits for Promoting Human Rights
America has much to gain in the short term for promoting human rights among Syrian refugees and IDPs. By funding refugee camps, medical aid, and food security programs that would ensure security for these dispossessed populations, the US would help release pressure on a powder keg region as well as reduce the flow of migrants bursting Europe’s borders. This would afford the US greater influence with its allies and put it in a better position to conduct its own operations in the region. If its allies see that America is there to help and shares the burden of taking care of refugees, the US would gain clout for its future policy objectives in the region. Additionally, the Syrian people, the direct beneficiaries of this support, would not soon forget who was there to help them in their hour of greatest need. This would increase US influence in shaping Syria when the time comes for rebuilding.
There are many long term benefits for the US in supporting human rights in delivering humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees. In addition to garnering influence in the present situation, the US’s continued support would create inroads to future decision makers in Syria and the region and increase US influence in post conflict Syria. In a country that has been beholden to Russia for decades and in a region of current upheaval due to the Islamic State (IS) and other extremist groups that export terrorism, having a strong ally will be important for keeping Americans safe from future attacks.
Additionally, investing in refugees today is investing in Syrian reconstruction. Human capital will be the single most important factor in rebuilding Syria in the long term from a failed state to a viable and secure country. Syria needs everyone, from teachers, to engineers, to bankers, to politicians to build their nation again. Education and practice in human rights will also support the rebuilders in creating an inclusive, stable country and begin the hard work of healing sectarian divides that now haunt its neighbor, Iraq. Additionally, taking care of Syrians now will reduce the brain drain that is already happening. Assisting refugees and preventing brain drain will preserve a cadre of concerned, personally committed citizens who can offer expertise during state building.
Another long term benefit is that the US will be able to strengthen its diplomatic relations with regional partners as it works in partnerships to meet Syrian humanitarian needs. Strengthened local partnerships is an investment as well will increase the US’s ability to influence the region, hopefully without having to use military instruments of national power.
As researchers Chenoweth and Stephan have noted, nonviolent interventions have long term benefits and a lot of staying power (2008). They conducted exhaustive research on nonviolent campaigns over the last several decades and published findings on the success rates of these campaigns. Nonviolent campaigns were more likely to succeed than violent ones in the short and long term. US involvement in Syria, in either its own nonviolent campaign or supporting native Syrian nonviolent initiatives, will assist the US in achieving its national security goals in the region and at home.
Nonviolence works, these researchers found out, for two major reasons: nonviolent actions attract a wider base of support, both locally and internationally. A nonviolent, humanitarian focused campaign, led by the US, will attract funds from donor nations and groups with expertise from around the world. Many people can do very little to end the violence of the conflict now. However, there are many things ordinary or trained citizens can do to nonviolently intervene, relieve the humanitarian crisis, and prepare the region for peace and reconstruction. This kind of wide-base involvement necessarily increases pressure on the opposing side. With a whole of government or whole or society response to the Syrian humanitarian disaster, greater pressure will be placed on both decision-makers in the conflict as well as their supporting nations and advisors. Many leaders in repressive conflicts have collapsed under the pressure of a wide, popular base (Stephan and Chenoweth 2008).
Secondly, nonviolent engagement often produces successful results because nonviolence is not seen as extremist and so the opposing side using violence against the nonviolent party provokes outrage, erodes the position of the oppressor, and often moves parties to talks and concessions (Stephan and Chenoweth 2008). This has partially played out in Syria so far. The civil war started as nonviolent protests against the government. The government responded violently, which provoked international outrage (Polk 2013). As the situation descended into a sectarian civil war, many nations were already creating a wide base of support for the Syrian opposition, even before the refugee crisis starting knocking on their doors. They have been supporting the Syrian opposition, a group they had never formed diplomatic ties with before, but were supporting on a basis of principle and attracted by their nonviolent beginnings. Though violence against the Syrian people has not yet created a situation where successful talks have ended the conflict and concessions have been made, there have been talks and ceasefire agreements that are moving the conflict toward resolution.
In addition to nonviolence, other long term national security benefits for the US engaging in the Syrian humanitarian crisis and promoting human rights includes stabilizing Europe and the Middle East, and doing so without getting militarily over-committed, and mending our reputation. More than four million refugees have fled Syria and are now migrating throughout the region and across Europe (“Syria; Mapping” 2015). These refugees place infrastructure and cultural pressures on their neighbors and European countries. Infrastructure in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan are overdrawn, and in cases of water and food security, dangerously taxed (Polk 2013). Similarly, in Europe, social programs, resources, and educational opportunities are being stretched, taxed, or saturated.
Not only is the infrastructure struggling to bear the needs of 4 million refugees and migrants, the social and cultural weight placed on these systems is likely sowing the seeds of future insecurity in some of the US’s most reliable allies. As refugees flood foreign lands, if they are not integrated into each country’s society, we will likely see situations we observe in France and other nations struggling to integrate immigrant populations but more exacerbated. The disaffected populations in France, Belgium, Germany, the UK, and other countries are prime recruiting ground for groups like IS. If these populations are not cared for and integrated, Europe may devolve into a powder keg in 20 years similar to the volatile tinderbox the Middle East has been since the end of WWII. Engaging in the humanitarian situation now will help alleviate some of these pressures and prevent future conflict for our partners in Europe and the Middle East, prevent radicalization, and keep America safer in the long run.
Finally, in addition to helping stabilize that region of the world, the US will diversify its foreign policy tools and repair its reputation by engaging with the Syrian humanitarian crisis. Showing humanitarian engagement will allow us to exercise these powerful, long-lasting, but slow-acting foreign policy instruments. Focusing on these nonviolent tools will decrease our reflex to rely on military tools as a main foreign policy instrument. It will be wise for US national security to commit humanitarian resources rather than military resources to conflicts involving violent, non-state actors. Many violent, non-state actors in the Middle East employ insurgency tactics in their strategy. Classic success for insurgent groups is bleeding out their conventionally more powerful opponent until they leave, defeated. If the US can exit the chosen arena of their insurgent enemies and fight them in its own chosen arena of humanitarian aid and interventions, winning hearts, minds and support, they will do more to weaken their enemy and be strengthened and supported themselves by the local population in return. The US needs to leave off fighting insurgencies with missiles exclusively and focus on fighting them with aid drops and humanitarian programs that uproot insurgent bases of support and replants them in the camp of American influence.
A successful effort in providing humanitarian aid and protecting human rights in the Syrian crisis will be a step in the right direction for repairing the US reputation after Iraq II. This was an unnecessary, unprovoked war that drained US blood and treasure, decreased trust of the American electorate in its leaders, and harmed America’s international reputation and influence in the region. We have used up our potential power in the Middle East and in the possibility of military interventions there in the future. We need to take time to restore relations with peoples in this area, our potential international partners in future conflicts, and Americans themselves. If real progress toward peace can be made and shown to the American people, and the price tag is a fraction of that of a military intervention, American reputation, influence, and trust would go a long way in being restored.
Challenges for Promoting Human Rights
In addition to the many benefits for promoting human rights among Syrian refugees by providing humanitarian aid, there are also many challenges yet to be overcome, both long and short term. Many of the short term challenges are organizationally based. There are many Syrians in hard to reach areas that are denied human rights and humanitarian aid (Miliband 2014). Getting access to besieged areas will require creativity and a combination of diplomatic, military, and other state powers to do so. Additionally, for the US to reach the most people and increase its influence, it will have to organize efficient efforts. Its national body for foreign aid, USAID, will not only need more funding, but more partners, programs, and practitioners. Needs assessments will reveal where the gaps in humanitarian aid are. Filling those gaps in the local context will be a feat in and of itself. Adding to this effort the desire to work in international partnerships will be a blessing and curse. It will be beneficial to both the US and Syrian refugees to have more countries and organizations providing aid. However, coordinating with these partners will take a lot of time, effort, and communication. This effort will hopefully net benefit the Syrian crisis rather than sap funds and focus for ill-executed projects.
Finally, gathering and sustaining public will for this kind of nonviolent, humanitarian intervention will be a feat. In a congress where legislation is often based on the election cycle and bringing home results to their constituents, it may be difficult to get long term funding and a sustainable focus on these initiatives. Sustaining popular and legislative support of these endeavors will require public dialogue or education in building sustainable support for humanitarian interventions.
Civil Society Building for Successful Conflict Resolution
In addition to humanitarian intervention protecting human rights, humanitarian intervention can also go a long way in building up civil society in a way that can bring better and more lasting conflict resolution in the coming years. The aspects of civil society included in this portion are building educational infrastructure, providing work and livelihood opportunities, and fostering cross-cutting social ties through civil society groups. The following section reviews the benefits and challenges of such civil society building in the current Syrian context and how these focuses benefit US national security and help it achieve its goals.
Benefits for Civil Society-building for Successful Conflict Resolution
Building up civil society in and around Syria among refugees is a sound conflict resolution strategy that also benefits US national security goals in the short and long term. In the short term, ensuring educational programs and livelihood opportunities will help a displaced people feel hope and peace for the future. They will have endeavors and opportunities that will help them remain around Syria and eager to return when the war is over. It will decrease the pull that radical groups have on populations in the camps and decrease the number of recruits they make on a regular basis. This will increase regional security which is in US national security interests. It will also make reconstruction efforts easier and increase the stability in the region long term if Syrians in refugee camps are gaining an education and see opportunities for earning a livelihood in the future. Preventing brain drain and ensuring that the millions of Syrian refugee children do not become a lost generation will ease reconstruction efforts in the future (Overton 2014).
Similarly, creating programs, councils, and social experiences where cross-cutting social ties between different groups in Syrian society will bear many benefits. It will help Syrian society speak with a more united voice and make negotiations, cease-fire agreements, and building an inclusive society in the future easier. While opposition forces remain split and diverse, efforts to unify the civil society and the opposition groups they support will go a long way in moving negotiations along (Polk 2013).
We have already seen this in the High Negotiating Committee where civil society groups and representatives met in Riyadh. As a vibrant cross-section of Syrian society, multi-ethnic and multi-religious, they produced a document that extolled inclusivity. They successfully formed a committee to represent Syrian civil society at the High Negotiation Committee in Geneva (Kabawat 2015). This kind of work makes negotiations more possible in the short term because it unites Syrian voices and agendas. It also affects the long term as it paves the way for a more inclusive and peaceful reconstruction. A stable Syria adds to a stable Middle East. Focusing national security efforts on building cross cutting ties among various civil society groups in Syria will make reconstruction more inclusive and lead to a more peaceful region. It is to the US’s benefit to invest in building these ties now for both short term gains in negotiations and long term gains in conflict resolution and effective reconstruction.
Challenges for Civil Society-building for Successful Conflict Resolution
Despite numerous benefits, both to the conflict and US national security goals, to building up civil society through education, livelihood opportunities, and creating cross cutting social ties, there are many challenges preventing the success of these initiatives. In the short term, these include providing consistent funding and programing for children in schools, filling the education gap for those in their late teens and early 20s, and anti-education attitudes that stem from a lack of hope in the future. Long term challenges to building cross cutting social ties include the different reasons why opposition fighters are fighting, creating work opportunities for refugees, and managing the sheer volume of people in need of opportunities and assistance.
In the short term, providing for consistent funding and programing for refugee schools wherever refugees are found is a persistent struggle. Nousha Kabawat, founder of the NGO Amal ou Salam, which creates or fosters schools for Syrian refugees from primary to mid-secondary levels, partners with local or existing schools and organizes funding as well as influences the curriculum and goals of the schools. She is an example of how to overcome this challenge, but it is still a steady battle ensuring funding and resources reach kids in the hard to reach areas. An alarming number of Syrian children are out of school, about two out of every three refugee children are not in school and around three million children still inside Syria are not in school (Hosseini 2014). More efforts like Kabawat’s are needed to fill the education gap for Syrian children.
Additionally, eliminating the education or activity gap for the population most at risk for radicalization, young men and boys in their late teens to early 20s, is essential for creating lasting conflict resolution and also supports US national security goals. If school programs exist for refugees, they often end before students reach their late teens. Having a rising population with little to do and few prospects for building a life can create unrest. Violent, non-state actors in the region, including IS, prey on these men and boys and more easily win recruits to their cause, promising the refugees activity, purpose, and a future. Many refugees are not allowed to work in their host countries. At times, there is a little work available for them in the camps, but it does not render the same effect of hope for a future as more sustainable work or civic engagement programs could.
Finally, attitudes against education, in part rooted in hopelessness for the future, prevent some parents from enrolling their children in school. Some parents in refugee camps ask the question of why they should put their children in school if they know there is no future for them. (Rudoren 2015). However, this attitude keeps Syria’s future out of education and less able to help Syria when the time comes. It also has an effect on the parents of living from day to day rather than nurturing hope for a better future they will have a hand in creating. A loss of hope is a loss for Syria’s future.
Long term challenges to building up Syrian educational opportunities, livelihood prospects, and cross cutting civil society ties include the disparate creeds and reasons for fighting among Syrian opposition groups. William Polk divides Syrian opposition fighters into two broad categories. One is fighting for their watan or their national homeland. It is isolated to the national idea of Syria. The second group, many of them not even Syrian but foreign jihadists, is fighting for Dar ul-Islam or the wider Muslim world, expanding over several countries, and seek to establish a Caliphate (2013). This gap in ideology will make reaching a ceasefire and establishing a new nation very difficult. The watan vs Dar ul-Islam ideological split will need to be addressed and bridged in order to focus efforts on rebuilding Syria after a cessation in hostilities. Each ideology contains a different vision for Syria, with the latter more willing to continue the war in order to establish a caliphate.
Another challenge to building up civil society is creating work opportunities for refugees in host nations. Most host nations do not allow refugees to enter the economy and work, so providing viable livelihood opportunities for refugees proves difficult. Even in camps that are well ordered, have sufficient water, food, and services, and comfortable living arrangements, still do not provide activity, purpose, or enough work for the refugees inside them (McClelland 2014). This idleness can lead to hopelessness and doubt in Syrians’ future. It is important to create opportunities for work and nurture reasonable expectations among refugees so they can prepare and maintain hope.
Finally, managing the sheer volume of refugees and providing for opportunities and educational programs for them is a massive feat that no single country, organization, or leader has responsibility for. With over seven million IDPs inside Syria and four million already across the border, the need to stimulate many actors in a concerted effort to provide educational and working opportunities, and cross-cutting social ties in order to keep hope alive for Syrian refugees and prepare for the day they will get to return to rebuild their nation (“Syria” 2015).
Above, we explored the Syrian refugee crisis in terms of it being a humanitarian disaster and looked at how alleviating the humanitarian needs are beneficial to and in line with US national security goals. We explored how supporting human rights in creating access to life, liberty, and personal security through refugee camps affording greater opportunities and protecting insecure or besieged populations inside Syria was of use to US security interests, affording many benefits with a few challenges. We also looked at how providing humanitarian support, in the form of building civil society, can lead to conflict resolution through providing schools, livelihood opportunities, and cross-cutting social ties that will benefit the conflict and fall in line with US security interests in the region in the long and short term. Indeed, providing humanitarian support for Syrian refugees goes a long way in investing in both resolving the Syrian crisis and in advancing US national security interests, including regional stability, reduced threat from IS and other radical groups, and leveraging its influence in the region. In the rest of the paper, I will focus on how this kind of humanitarian help can be offered in order to better manage and resolve this humanitarian crisis and the attendant conflict.
Bold Recommendations for Conflict Resolution and Mitigation in the Syrian Refugee Crisis
There are many things the US, the international community, businesses, organizations, and individuals can do to help alleviate the Syrian humanitarian crisis and pave the way for lasting resolution to the civil war there. The overall tenor of my suggestions focuses on not only preventing more conflict, but taking an active role in changing the narrative and the situation around Syrians. Instead of merely denying content, these suggestions focus on creating content. They form a voice in the narrative, not merely counteract other narratives. This stance on empowerment is essential to actively impact the humanitarian crisis and create an end to the civil war and pave the way for a new, peaceful Syria. Practicing active content development, raising your own voice and narrative in events taking place, will have second order effects as these refugees and other activists move into the next phase of rebuilding their country. They will already have experience and practice setting an agenda, working cross-sector, raising their voice, and making a difference.
In accordance with the theme of creating content, putting forth their own narrative, and perpetrating their own actions, my first set of suggestions centers on empowering the refugee populations themselves, using technology and media broadcasting to give them a voice in the narrative, feel empowered, and nurture hope. Without hope, many parents have given up on sending their children to school. Without hope, many young men and some women radicalize and join or support groups that will hurt Syrian peace in the long run, creating a more difficult environment for a national, inclusive society to form. Without hope, many Syrians turn away from Syria and ever living there again and seek permanent resettlement through very dangerous journeys to countries ill-equipped to absorb them.
My first recommendation is to get Syrian refugees on the airwaves, radio waves, and online. Have them provide programming and content for their own shows that allows them to tell their story and influence the narrative that is presently happening. This can be facilitated in many ways, most simply by providing internet cafes in refugee camps. These cafes are similar to those that existed in Syria before the revolution and could be run and operated by refugees themselves. With a small upfront donation of equipment, internet connection, and space, tech savvy refugees, particularly the younger generation, will be able to take over these centers and give refugees a link to both the outside world and, through blogging, videos, and social media, the outside world will be given a direct link to refugees. As refugees are humanized, more aid and public support may be forthcoming and favor refugees and elicit help for them and greater momentum to end the conflict. This is a tactic already used by radicals in violent, extremist groups, ones that prey on refugees in their vulnerable state. This recommendation would empower refugees to not only avoid such influences and radicalization, but also fight back with their own viewpoints, narrative, and acts of hope and creation. If US enemies are blowing up the Internet and Twittersphere with relentless content, getting their message out there and attracting new recruits, empowering refugee groups with a voice and some hope will go a long way in building security, hope, and anti-radicalization programs among the most vulnerable.
With the organization of capable refugees and the donation of broadcasting equipment by telecom companies or other groups, this online voice can grow to a voice transmitted over radio waves and airwaves. Syrians with prior broadcasting experience, or those apprenticed to them, can run, manage, provide content, and broadcast themselves to the world. This would give the world direct access to refugee life and the Syrian conflict from their eyes. Public will needed to support humanitarian aid and missions in Syria will be more easily cultivated through these refugee broadcasting groups. It will also activate the creativity of those watching to lend help in innovative and useful ways, both before and during reconstruction inside Syria.
Above all, providing Syrian refugees a voice to the world will influence viewpoints on all sides of the conflict and, provided refugee broadcasters’ agenda tends toward inclusivity and peace, can have an integral role in influencing public opinion and therefore popular support. It can influence refugees, giving them greater hope in the future of their country and prevent brain drain. It can also let this dispossessed people know they are not abandoned and that they have power. It can compete with radical voices that call Syrian men and women to the cause of the supranational caliphate that promises to continually drive the region in conflict. It can call to those already fighting for radical groups to come home and build a better Syria. It can also help unite the cacophony of voices in the opposition and create or influence a clear agenda, thereby streamline negotiations. It can influence international support, educating and shedding light on the plight of these people. Provided these broadcasts and content got into Syria, these media content providers could also have a priceless impact on influencing government-supporters inside Syria. If they can be reached and convinced of a greater vision for Syria, of amnesty after the conflict, their support for Assad will wane and the way will be better prepared to mend sectarian rifts that threaten to undermine rebuilding Syria. Giving Syrian refugees a voice is the most far reaching and valuable recommendation I have for generating hope, building unity, and empowering refugees in bringing about peace and rebuilding their lives and country.
Above I mentioned US public support and federal funding for humanitarian relief. One obstacle to US federal funding for humanitarian relief inside Syria as a part of its national security budget is educating the public of the viability of these measures, as well as maintaining public support for them. Broadcasting refugee voices in English will go a long way in providing needed public support. Politicians operate on an election cycle and tie reelection to providing competent and useful legislation to their constituents. Refugee media would help educate and persuade American public opinion and help increase focus on and attention given to the humanitarian crisis. It would then be the job of US legislators to educate their electorate on how assisting in the humanitarian crisis is a viable investment in US national security.
As public opinion in the US is more educated and in support of the Syrian humanitarian crisis, successful legislation should build long-term commitment aid packages that would be distributed over a period of years. Need of humanitarian relief usually last longer than the public attention it commands. Humanitarian aid legislation needs to match that need. US national security legislation should provide for funding and flexible programming over a period of at least five to ten years. Normal congressional oversight will be conducted to ensure funds are being put to the best use in helping relieve this conflict, the humanitarian disaster, and strengthen US national security goals. Long-term funding will go a long way in investing in the peace and conflict resolution in this area.
Another recommendation that will empower Syrian refugees in creating cross-cutting civil society groups that encourage unity are to, as a part of humanitarian relief inside camps, provide funding for civil society groups. Empower refugees to create groups in arts, media, skills instruction, broadcasting, journalism, programming, cooking, reading, continuing adult education, or any other groups organized by interest. This will not only enrich their lives and provide activity and hope in places where boredom and lack of opportunity reign, it will create community connections across sectarian divides and build a network that can be used later in rebuilding Syria. Funding for these groups would be comparatively little in terms of US national security funding and would be given in small amounts in support of groups refugees themselves petition for. Small grants can be given to start a library, or purchase electronics for vocational courses, or to put on theatrical or musical performances. This would empower refugees to build their own society in ways they choose and in ways that will unite different groups across the Syrian diaspora in refugee camps. These groups will also give hope, focus Syrians on returning to rebuild rather than leaving Syria to flounder for decades to come.
Another recommendation is to prepare to rebuild Syria through a scholarship program to educate Syrians in nearby countries who promise to return to Syria for so many years to work and rebuild it. These scholarships would be relatively inexpensive and would go a long way in providing for the future of Syria. Syria is currently a warzone and a humanitarian disaster; however, attention must be paid to its future if the US and its partners do not want Syria to be a continual source of instability and refugees in the future. Building up a population with expertise in fields the fledgling nation will need is imperative for ensuring the success of the country after a political solution is reached. This will also give hope and opportunity to Syrian refugees awarded these scholarships that will help relieve the burden of refugees, many of whom are not allowed to work and do not have access to education.
There are also several things that can be done to relieve immediate suffering for Syrian refugees and IDPs and will also support US influence and security goals in the region. David Miliband, the UK former foreign secretary and president of the International Rescue Committee, outlined six recommendations for dealing with the humanitarian crisis as it stands. Paraphrased, these recommendations include the following:
- Each concerned country appointing a dedicated Humanitarian Envoy
- Legitimize, enhance, and support cross border relief and aid deliveries
- Attain access to besieged areas
- Foster dialogue between donor nations on humanitarian issues
- Fund (UN or other funds) humanitarian NGOs working inside Syrian rebel territory
- Effectively resettle refugees in third countries (Miliband 2014)
These recommendations seek to coordinate international efforts on behalf of vulnerable populations still inside Syria, and, to a lesser extent, refugees outside of it. These recommendations are good Track 1 approaches to providing humanitarian relief in the Syrian crisis. The most influential idea in this plan is the need to separate out and especially focus on humanitarian needs. This casts a strong spotlight on the need of Syrian refugees and makes those needs just as imperative as ceasefire negotiations. US foreign policy focuses largely on agreements and does not give enough attention to relieving suffering caused by this conflict. Miliband, as a foreign secretary, presumably saw the great need and opportunity to help in humanitarian situations as a vital imperative of the foreign policy of a nation. Following the gestalt of this paper, national security is benefitted and its long and short term goals met by offering humanitarian assistance.
The only things I would add to Miliband’s recommendations are reframing the humanitarian disaster in point four. I would hold dialogues in such a way that puts all humanitarian providers on the same side and presents the problem on the other side as starvation, insecurity, or whatever disaster they are working to alleviate. This will build positive and more cooperative relationships among aid providers and refugees alike.
Additionally, Miliband’s recommendations target Track 1 audiences, however, there have been countless efforts to relieve suffering inside Syria from Track 2 actors and citizen diplomats. Mark Jacobsen is a private citizen and member of the US military who created the Syria Airlift Project. This project focused on airlifting and dropping aid to Syrians in besieged areas via drones (Nye 2015). The drones were built and tested, with a target of launching 30 drones a minute to fly up to 30 km into Syria, drop food and medicine, and return again. His plan involved refugees from beginning to end. They would assemble, launch, and receive the planes again. This not only delivered aid inside Syria, but provides much needed work and hope among refugees. However, his plan was not able to get off the ground, literally, due to legal and military concerns. Miliband’s point 2 and 3 should make projects like this a priority, cut through red tape, and fund and support innovative and effective relief programs like the Syria Airlift Project.
In conclusion, humanitarian relief for Syrian refugees and IDPs is a vital US national security interest and supports national security goals in both the long and short term. Particularly, supporting human rights such as life, liberty, and personal security for Syrian refugees, will enable the US to influence present and future leaders in the area, invest in the future so reconstruction efforts will not be so high or take as long, rebuild its reputation in the region, and relieve refugee pressure threatening regional instability for decades to come. It will also be able to exercise its nonviolent tools of its foreign policy rather than relying on its military prowess almost exclusively and will help to support the region and end the conflict in a way amenable to US interests. Likewise, building up civil society in terms of schools, livelihood opportunities, and encouraging socially cross-cutting bonds in the diaspora and refugee populations will ensure greater US influence in the region following a ceasefire and reduce reconstruction costs. It will ensure a more independent and educated Syria, give hope, and relieve the refugee burden on us and our partners. I recommend empowering Syrians through Internet, TV, and radio media outlets run by refugees in refugee camps that give them a voice and influence in the conflict, in hopes they will unite disparate factions, garner needed public and international support, and encourage other refugees to have hope and wait patiently to return and rebuild Syria. I also support David Miliband’s Track 1 recommendations to addressing the Syrian humanitarian crisis and reaching besieged populations, but also think it can be expanded to include Track 2 innovations that need assistance getting off the ground. It is imperative to act now. It will forever be to our and Syrian’s benefit. Sara, a 12 year old Syrian girl and survivor of a government-led massacre on her village, told the journalist reporting on her village, al-Bayda, that, “The world should pay attention about what is happening in al-Bayda. Why is everyone asleep? Why don’t they do something? You cannot just keep quiet. This is not right. They have slaughtered all of us. They have emptied al-Bayda” (“Al Bayda” 2013). Indeed, if we do not pay attention now, we will pay dearly for years to come. It’s time to step up and assist in this refugee crisis in any way we know how. It’s what we would want of others we were the refugees.
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