Archive Profile


The Syrian civil war has continued to burn relentlessly. By the end of 2014, total casualties were estimated at over 200,000, refugees at 3.2 million, and internally displaced persons at 7.6 million. The violence has only escalated over time, with the death toll in the third year of the conflict twice that of the prior two years. Refugees have also fled in growing numbers, with around 600,000 in 2012 and 1.7 million in 2013. The external and internal displacement of nearly half of Syria’s population of 22.5 million makes it the worst humanitarian crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

In addition to the mass atrocities and mass suffering, the conflict has fueled the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)—sometimes also referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or the Islamic State (IS)—a brutal Islamist terrorist group that originated with Al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2003, and metastasized into an even more indiscriminate killing machine eventually disowned by Al-Qaeda itself.

The UN and Arab League have tried to mediate this conflict, and both organizations briefly deployed small peace operations to Syria in 2011-2012. Neither organization has been able to make any sustained progress towards peace. The UN and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons did, however launch, an innovative operation to dismantle Syria’ chemical weapons stockpile in 2013-2014, however, despite the continuing conflict.


The Syrian conflict began in March 2011 when peaceful protests against the government of Bashar al-Assad , sparked as part of the wider Arab Spring movement, were crushed with brutal force by security forces. An amended constitution approved in February 2012 and parliamentary elections in May were insufficient to satisfy the aspirations of the Syrian opposition, who refused to accept any outcome short of a complete change of government. However, the opposition has many fissures, with some estima Read More...

Key developments

In 2013, international engagement in Syria involved four main lines of activity: international removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons; UN and Arab League efforts at negotiations among the warring parties; alleviating mass suffering of refugees as a second-best alternative to preventing mass atrocities of civilians; and international efforts, led by the US, to counter the threat posed by ISIL. International removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons In response to a requ Read More...


International efforts to mediate the conflict and reach a political solution have been unsuccessful thus far. The ferocity and arbitrariness of the violence has also made it difficult for international missions to operate in the country, even for monitoring purposes let alone the delivery of humanitarian aid or peacekeeping. Refugee flows into Syria’s neighboring countries have put significant stress on the host countries and their institutions. Collective use of force against ISIL further com Read More...