“Early Recovery”: A Sanctions’ Dangled Carrot… More Importantly: One of the “Step for Step” Tools!

“Early Recovery”: A Sanctions’ Dangled Carrot… More Importantly: One of the “Step for Step” Tools!

Day after day, the different elements of the “step for step” puzzle are becoming clearer. This puzzle includes many integrated elements, including, among other things: “changing the regime’s behavior”, “sanctions”, “early recovery”, “decentralization and autonomous governance”, “administrative reforms”, “safe and neutral environment”.

In this article, we particularly focus on “early recovery”, which has begun recently to occupy a more prominent position with the UN unveiling on March 10, 2024, a document it called “Early Recovery Strategy 2024-28”, based on which an Early Recovery Trust Fund (ERTF) is to be established.
In order to approach the issue as systematically as possible, we will start with the following general structure for this article:
First: “Early Recovery” in Syria-related UN resolutions.
Second: Information in the media about the ERTF.
Third: Declared Western positions on the issue.
Fourth: UN/Western framing of the idea of “early recovery”.
Fifth: The actual political function of “early recovery”.

First: “Early Recovery” in Syria-related UN resolutions

The expression of “early recovery” in relation to Syria appeared for the first with UNSC Resolution 2585, which was adopted on July 9, 2021. This resolution was primarily concerned with extending the cross-border humanitarian delivery. It is no secret that two main issues together formed an introduction to the topic of early recovery. The first is the COVID-related health and economic pressures, which were an essential characteristic for that period, and the second is the Caesar Act sanctions that entered into force in June 2020, and their disastrous effects had begun to unfold at the time the aforementioned resolution was adopted.

The preamble of the aforementioned resolution states: “The Security Council… Recognizing that humanitarian activities are broader than solely addressing the immediate needs of the affected population and should include support to essential services through water, sanitation, health, education, and shelter early recovery projects”. The resolution also states in paragraph 4: “The Security Council… Welcomes all efforts and initiative to broaden the humanitarian activities in Syria, including water, sanitation, health, education, and shelter early recovery projects, undertaken by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other organizations, and calls upon other international humanitarian agencies and relevant parties to support them”.

After the aforementioned resolution, the term “early recovery” appeared in more than one Syria-related resolution. For example, per paragraph 6 of the last cross-border humanitarian delivery resolution, which is UNSC resolution 2672 (2023), “The Security Council… encourages the convening of a Security Council Informal Interactive Dialogue every two month with participation of donors, interested regional parties and representatives of the international humanitarian agencies operating in Syria in order to regularly review and follow-up on the implementation of this resolution, including progress in early-recovery projects”.

Second: Information in the media about the ERTF

Over the last few days, talk about a UN proposal to establish a mechanism for early recovery under the name of “Early Recovery Trust Fund” (ERTF) started. It should be noted that the call to establish this fund appeared in a document titled “Early Recovery Strategy 2024-28”. However, said document, and news about it and about establishing the fund – within the limits of our search – have not been yet published on any official UN platforms or sites. According to media sources that covered the issue, the main points about it can be summarized as follows:

  • The new fund will be based in Damascus and will operate directly under the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator.
  • The fund’s key features will be that it will have more operational flexibility and longer timeframes for the projects funded thereby.
  •  Sources indicate that the idea of the fund came from Martin Griffiths, head of OCHA. According to some sources, “Griffiths is said to have suggested that a new fund would attract Gulf money as it would have fewer red lines than” existing international and UN mechanisms. What is meant here is the red lines of Western – especially US – sanctions. It is worth noting that in mid-December of last year, Syrian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bassam al-Sabbagh, met with Griffiths in Geneva, during which, according to an article in al-Watan newspaper, al-Sabbagh indicated the need to increase the quantity and quality of the early recovery projects.
  • According to other media sources, Abdullah Dardari – a former Deputy Prime Minister of Syria for Economic Affairs (who was the media hero of the tenth five-year plan 2005-2009 that raised the level of poverty in Syria from 30% to 44%), who was appointed (perhaps as a reward for his achievement in Syria) in March 2023 as Assistant Secretary-General, Assistant Administrator and Director, Regional Bureau for Arab States of the UNDP – is planning to increase the early recovery budget to $500 million, which is a 500% increase from the current early recovery funding in the 2023 humanitarian response plan.
  • It is also useful to point out that Dardari’s name being mentioned in Western visions related to “early recovery” in Syria is not new. In 2017, then UN Syria Envoy, Staffan de Mistura presented a proposal that has not yet been declassified, but it did not get adopted at the time, titled “Post-Transition Phase”. The proposal included forming a government presided over by Abdullah Dardadi or Ayman Asfari (who is getting a lot of US and British attention lately). One of the functions of this supposed government, and completely “coincidentally”, is to start reconstruction through early recovery projects.
  • According to sources privy to documents relevant to and associated with the strategy that includes establishing this fund, the strategy does not mention UNSC Resolution 2254.


Third: Declared Western positions on the issue

The following are some of the main positions declared by Western countries regarding early recovery in Syria:

  • Although Western countries, particularly the US, were the ones who opened the door to the idea of early recovery when it first emerged in 2021, they insisted at the time on not increasing early recovery aid. They explained their position at the time that early recovery activities should remain below the level of reconstruction, which is one of the three Western NOs – no to lifting sanctions, no to reconstruction, and no to normalization with the regime. That implies that the subsequent acceptance – which actually took place – of increasing this aid may come within the framework of (some) political conditions that have started to be fulfilled.
  • Later, the donor countries agreed at the Brussels Conference in its sixth edition in May 2022 to increase “early recovery” aid in Syria, as stated in the Conference Chair’s Statement in paragraph 27: “The Conference recalled that the protracted nature of the Syria crisis requires stepping up early recovery efforts, including within the humanitarian framework, to support resilience, community capacity building and self-reliance through the participatory provision of basic services, livelihoods and local economic development that will also strengthen the sustainability and cost-effectiveness of the humanitarian response”. As a side note, the two most important key words these days for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or so-called civil society organizations, to receive funding from Western donors are: “early recovery” and “safe and neutral environment”.
  • In May 2022, the US Treasury issued General License 22, which indicates some activities permitted in areas outside the regime control. Later, the US administration started to expand the types of activities that could be carried out in all parts of Syria, which were further expanded after the February 2023 earthquake through General License 23. Kassioun discussed this license in an article titled: “Washington Implicitly Admits the Criminality of its Sanctions” and in another article titled: “For the US, Whoever Provides Syrians with Humanitarian Aid is Guilty Until Proven Innocent”. When the general license though which sanctions were “eased” after the earthquake expired, which was in August 2023, the US Treasury published a “Compliance Communiqué”, which included an explanation of exempting projects relating to stabilization and early recovery that are implemented by the UN, its specialized agencies, programs, funds, related organizations, and its employees, contractors, or grantees.

Fourth: UN/Western framing of the idea of “early recovery”

The UN distinguishes terminologically among humanitarian relief, humanitarian assistance, early recovery, and reconstruction. It is understood from the official definitions of these terms on the official website of UN terminology that these terms express four graded levels, the lowest of which is relief and the highest is reconstruction.

Nevertheless, the term “early recovery” is the vaguest among these terms, as within it there is overlap with elements related to humanitarian relief and related to reconstruction, especially with regard to infrastructure.

If we rely on the logic of the saying “condemning you based on your own words”, then the definition of early recovery as stipulated by UNSC Resolution 2585 would include the following: “water, sanitation, health, education, and shelter early recovery projects”.

The elements enumerated by the resolution under the name “early recovery” are all in reality part of the minimum level; that is humanitarian assistance, which includes urgent life-saving relief, as well as indirect assistance related to the basics of life, especially water, health care, education, and shelter.

Some could argue that the difference lies in the level of provision and support for each of these services. However, using the word “shelter” and not “housing” is sufficient to indicate that the level of these services is still within the limits of aid and has not reached the level of early recovery, not to mention the level of reconstruction.

Perhaps the most significant tangible evidence is the amount of funding allocated for “early recovery”, which still amounts to about $100 million, with promises to increase it to $500 million, in a country the reconstruction of which requires, according to the lowest estimates, $500 billion, which is, five thousand times the budget actually allocated for early recovery, and a thousand times the size of the rumored supposed new budget.

To further clarify the picture, we must recall the appeal launched by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, Adam Abdel Mawla, on March 22, 2024, which included the following appeal: “For the year 2024, we request the mobilization of $4.07 billion to provide life-saving aid to 10.8 million Syrians out of the 16.7 million who need help”. It should be noted that the numbers later rose in OCHA’s Humanitarian Response Plan for Syria, to become $4.4 billion, and usually no more than 35% of the required aid is met at best.

What that means is that the actual budget for early recovery, which is supposed to be a level higher of “humanitarian assistance”, constitutes only 2.2% of the needs falling under “humanitarian assistance”. If we take the higher hypothetical figure (the rumor saying $500 million), it will constitute about 11% of the minimum required to provide humanitarian assistance (in its life-saving form, by the way, i.e., at its minimum level).

All of this allows, without terminological and descriptive errors, to say that the issue is first, second, and third political, and after that it may be technical and then humanitarian.


Fifth: The actual political function of “early recovery”

In addition to the ambiguity and lack of clear theoretical definition of the term “early recovery”, including in UN documents, the practical aspect applied to it in Syria reveals – at least with the abovementioned numbers – that it does not rise to the level of the theoretical definition, even in its vague form. This legitimately justifies searching for its actual political goals, not hypothetical humaneness.

So not to prolong the construction of the theoretical basis for the political conclusions that we believe to be correct regarding early recovery, we refer the reader to a previous Kassioun article titled “From ‘Changing the Regime’s Behavior’ to ‘Step for Step’, Where Are the Under-the-Table Agreements with the West Today?”. Here it suffices to refer to two quotations that directly lead to the results we will present.

The first quote:

Based on these premises, we can say the following with regard to Syria:
First: Implementation of UNSC Resolution 2254 was never a real American objective. The real objective was and still is “making Syria a quagmire” as stated by the former US Envoy to Syria, James Jeffrey.
Second: The West’s acceptance of UNSC Resolution 2254 at the end of 2015 is not at all different from its acceptance of the Ukraine-related Minsk Agreements, regarding which the West’s leaders (including Merkel) admitted accepting not in order to implement them, but rather to give Ukraine time to prepare for war. The same goes for Syria. Accepting UNSC Resolution 2254 was not for the purpose of implementing it, but to get more time (after failing to execute the Iraqi/Libyan scenario) to get the same results as those two scenarios, albeit using other economic-political tools, while continuing to partially use military tools, especially ISIS.

The second quote:

In essence, the [step for step] project includes the following:
1- Prevent restoring Syria’s unity, and the most important tool for that is finding a way to legitimize all the controlling authorities now in all the areas of influence in Syria (implicitly, “Syrianizing al-Nusra”).
2- Tempting the dominant forces within the areas of influence in Syria by lifting the three NOs off them, in exchange for “changing behavior”, which consists of several economic, political, and strategic elements.
3- The main economic elements include completing implementation of the IMF and World Bank projects in Syria, which have started in 2005. That is, getting Syria to a legal-economic state that is similar to the one on which the current Argentinian president is working: ending any role for the state, ending any subsidy of any kind, complete flotation, ending any historical rights or gains that productive classes have obtained, ending anything of a productive nature in the country, and deepening and bolstering the criminal financial activity as the dominant activity (something that a significant part of which has been accomplished, using sanctions as one of the main incentivizing tools).
4- The political elements include bolstering and legislating military weakness in Syria, not only through reinforcing Syria’s division, but also through preemptive legal start including requirements related to the active army size, types of weapons, etc. (for example something like what was done in Lebanon).
5- The political elements also include the final and blatant moving of the rifle from one shoulder to another, or even tossing it. That is, engaging in an Emirati-Jordanian sponsored normalization process with the Zionist entity. Of course, that includes expelling Iranian forces from Syria (and only Iranian force, with the others staying, and even a possibility of new forces coming in, e.g., Jordanian forces).
6- Transforming the idea of “decentralization” from a slogan and tool of governance that Syrians could agree on and on its limits in a manner that serves their interests, to an implementation tool for the “changing the regime’s behavior” process. Perhaps the UN’s activity lately in this regard, and no other, allows for such assumption, especially since signs of response within the same context have appeared from several sides simultaneously.
7- The S4S project’s sides are the West and the regime, while the Syrian opposition is not a side thereto, and it is not based on UNSC Resolution 2254. Thus, those who are comforted by the West’s talk about “putting away this project” must think in the opposite way. This is because proposing the project as a tool to implement 2254, was the first step (in reality the second after the “changing the regime’s behavior” slogan) in the gradual shedding of 2254. Now, when some are told that the project is being put away, what is really meant is that the act in which they had a necessary part is over, and next there will be a transition to the actual work, in which they have no place (no Constitutional Committee, no negotiation, no political transition, but only “behavior change” and bilateral arrangements).

Moving on to drawing some general conclusions about “early recovery”:

First: It is a tool complementary to the sanctions tool. If sanctions are the stick, then early recovery is the carrot, precisely because its definition allows for a gradual increase in the amount of funds that can come through it according to progress in completing under-the-table agreements. That is in contrast to humanitarian assistance, which are limited in nature (not to mention that in practice it is less than needed to meet actual urgent humanitarian needs).

Second: Since early recovery is the precursor to reconstruction, it is also an essential part in determining the direction and nature of reconstruction. More clearly, the West’s control over the early recovery process provided “drop by drop” could contribute to completing the implementation of the recommendations of the IMF and the World Bank in Syria, ensuring complete economic dependency, economic backwardness, and especially productivity, for many decades, which in turn imposes political subservience and maintaining that subservience.

Third: Within the American strategy in the region as a whole, the strategy of comprehensive hybrid chaos – not only in Syria – economic tools have a pivotal role. This opens the door to thinking that what is required is not to preemptively ensure control over the “future Syria”, but rather over the “future Syrias”, which intersects with the method of controlling sanctions between lifting, tightening, and easing them in the various regions of Syria, and intersects with promoting a specific type of “decentralization” in line with a steady encouragement of “local identities”.

Fourth: It is known that reconstruction is linked to a comprehensive political solution, not because the West hypocritically says so, but because reality says so. Therefore, the perception of “early” recovery, that is, recovery before reconstruction, and implicitly before the political solution, provides a vision of the Western-assumed date of the political solution, which we can say that according to the Fund’s strategy entitled 2024-28, is the year 2028. If we rely on the US sanctions indicator, they were recently extended to 2032.

Finally: All this allows us to conclude that the term “early recovery” has become an additional tool and element within the Western comprehensive plan towards Syria, where it is combined and integrated with other tools including “sanctions”, “supporting decentralization and autonomous governance”, “administrative reform”, and “a safe and neutral environment”, all under the broad title of “changing the regime’s behavior”, “step by step”, leading to uprooting Syria from its historical position, including from the Palestinian Cause, and uprooting it itself from existence, if possible, through partition.

(النسخة العربية)