The Netherlands Institute for International Relations (Clingendael) features a paper authored by Omar Abdulaziz Hallaj entitled The Balance-Sheet of Conflict: Criminal Revenues and Warlords in Syria, written for the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF). The paper argues that as forms of territorial control have changed, the Syrian political economy has transformed alongside them, and examines the implications of this process for peacebuilding.
The first section covers the collapse of the social contract in Syria at the start of the war, particularly in terms of the role played by bribery and patronage in the years preceding the conflict. The second section deals with the fundraising difficulties military groups are facing , and some of the illegal or semi-legal solutions to this problem, including sale of archeological artefacts, ransoms, oil, drugs, and fees arising from the control of border crossings. The third and final section establishes the importance to armed groups of control over local sources of revenue, and compares differing strategies of localized control used by opposition and loyalist militias. The paper proposes a rough estimate of the size of the funding streams used by loyalist and rebel militias. The paper also argues that the creeds and beliefs that initiated the conflict are no longer the sole motors of violence; indeed, greed is increasingly shaping the nature of hostilities and the strategies adopted by armed groups.
In the conclusion, Hallaj considers the implications of the features of Syria’s war economy on peacebuilding attempts:
Peace in Syria will need sustainable roots. It must be built from the bottom up; the top-down process, advocated in the Geneva Communiqué, can work only if it is supported by transforming the dynamics of the conflict on the ground. At this stage, non-conventional armed violence is still reversible, as most warlords still build their success on a careful strategy of balancing power and reputation. The longer the war is prolonged, the smaller this window of opportunity may become.
The full NOREF document is available here.