First, the civil war in Syria is far from over – some estimates project that the relentless conflict will drag on for another year or more – and the Assad regime will have to find ways to continue to finance the military’s brutal crackdown on the Syrian people. Just this week, reports show that Iran has started construction of a $10 billion natural gas pipeline to Syria, a sign that some countries are still all too willing to do business with Syria and a move that has been called a ‘public show of confidence in Assad’s ability to ride out the uprising’. New contracts, such as this, and other loans to the Assad regime will leave the next government burdened with obligations incurred for odious reasons—to support Assad’s repression—and not necessarily in the public interest. Preemptive contract sanctions would relieve a legitimate successor government from having to honor these contracts. Even if Iranian firms would be unlikely to use American or British courts to enforce these contracts, a future Syrian government could nullify them knowing that it could turn to European and American investors to help it rebuild. These sanctions would send a signal to business supporters of Assad that there simply is no future with him in power, and that encouraging him to leave - sooner rather than later - is the way to go. Second, the Syrian opposition groups have united and the newly formed National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces is rapidly receiving backing from the international community, including formal recognition from France, the UK, and a number of countries in the region. The United States and European Union also recognize the new coalition as a legitimate representative of the opposition. With its increased international legitimacy, the Coalition hasn’t been shy about its hopes to secure heavier weapons from Western and Arab countries, but many countries – particularly the United States and United Kingdom - are reluctant to go down that path. Preemptive contract sanctions provide one of the few nonlethal diplomatic options left for the United State, the United Kingdom and other nations to back up their rhetoric and show concrete support and protection for a future successor government.For all these reasons, we ask: why wait? We hope that the draft Declaration Regarding Illegitimate Contracts with the Syrian Government will be among the ideas that is seriously considered at the Friends of Syria meet in Tokyo. As the saying goes: the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago; the second best time is today.
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.