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The news from Syria just continues to get worse and there is no glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said this week that the death toll now exceeds 100,000, making it this century’s third deadliest conflict for civilians. White House Spokesman Jay Carney said that Syrian President Bashir Assad will go down as one of the “worst tyrants” in recent history and that there is no solution that doesn’t include a transition to a “post-Assad” Syria. 

Preemptive contract sanctions would put something tangible behind the rhetoric. Under this new sanctions tool, President Obama and leaders from other governments in the Friends of Syria group would declare that any new contracts with the Assad regime (or perhaps designated individuals or entities associated with it) would be unenforceable in the courts of countries signing onto the declaration. Such a declaration might do little to deter Assad’s supporters in Russia and Iran, but it would be a signal to Assad’s supporters in Syria that they have no hope of resuming normal economic activity at any time in the future if Assad stays in power. And, while the administration continues to struggle with how to materially support (the right) opposition groups in their struggle against Assad, preemptive contract sanctions would be a signal of tangible support that does not require favoring one group over another. 

Preemptive contract sanctions alone would not resolve the situation in Syria. But they are one of the few tools left in the toolbox that does not involve direct military intervention.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.