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David Gordon and Stephen Krasner, two respected former State Department Policy Planning Directors, have a timely oped in Politico today on Syria policy options. They claim, convincingly, that the current bimodal choice between the (dead?) Kofi Annan plan or (costly & risky) military strikes ignores further squeezing the Assad regime. Gordon and Krasner argue that attacking Assad's economic flank holds the best prospects to shake his confidence – which is precisely what's needed to allow transition negotiations to begin in earnest – yet current sanctions are insufficient.

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As the 14-month crackdown grinds on, the diplomatic toolkit is looking awfully threadbare. After the recent massacre of more than 100 civilians in Houla, the U.S., UK and other Western nations expelled Syrian diplomats. And Annan has returned to Damascus for one more try.  It's thus urgent that new ideas emerge.

Gordon and Krasner point to preemptive contract sanctions as one new idea that is worth trying.  Under this approach, first proposed by CGD, any new contracts with the Assad regime (for example, for oil or arms or loans) would be declared illegitimate. This would further isolate the regime and intensify pressure, all without needing Russian acquiescence. Ideally, it would help tip the balance in favor of a negotiated exit for Assad and a fresh start for the people of Syria.  At a minimum, it would help protect the eventual post-Assad successor from such obligations. It would also, once tried and tested, add one more nonlethal option to respond to the world's most brutal regimes.

To learn more about how preemptive contract sanctions could work in Syria, watch Kim Elliott’s 4-min whiteboard video (with Arabic subtitles).


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.