Home > Website archive > News and media > News archives > 2015 > 08 > Practical help to rebuild Syria's economy, rather than bombs and aid, is essential for defeating ISIL, says new LSE research.

Practical help to rebuild Syria's economy, rather than bombs and aid, is essential for defeating ISIL, says new LSE research.

Dynamic state-building, rather than aerial bombardment and the provision of aid, is essential for defeating ISIL, according to new two LSE research papers.

In a major new empirical study of Syria under the present armed conflict, LSE researchers, led by Dr Rim Turkmani, conducted more than 100 in-depth interviews with people in three areas under opposition control. The study found that ISIL’s ability to expand is due to its tendency to plan and act as a proto-state, its ability to restore law and order and governance to the war-torn country and to offer lucrative salaries. Interviewees reported that ISIL, despite its brutality, had brought improvements in security and services and were providing clean, well-run hospitals.


In all three areas studied a new societal condition has emerged. The main sources of revenue and employment before the war began – agriculture, the public sector, small-scale industry and tourism – had shrunk dramatically. Eighty per cent unemployment means that Syrian men have been drawn into fighting for ISIL which provide the highest combatant salary in Syria. Other sources of revenue in the new “war economy” include bribery and extortion, looting and smuggling of people, fuel and antiquities. Fuel is not provided in a legitimate way by any state or actor to any of the opposition controlled areas - which leaves these areas having to buy fuel either from ISIL or government-controlled areas through a network of war profiteers. Diesel, essential for agriculture, has risen sharply in price as a result, which has damaged the agricultural sector whilst all industry and trade dependent on it.

The research found that the main parameter, which explains the respective dynamics of violence and economy in all the areas studied, is the borders; the way they are controlled, what and who is allowed to cross and the fees imposed.

Efforts to dry up the external funding resources of ISIL are not enough, the report insists. They push the organisation to adopt more violence in order to control resources in Syria. Cutting off funding requires more collaboration among those involved and should include a strict policy on not paying ransoms.

The report also recommends:

  1. Ending the conflict is key to ending all terror in the country including ISIL and JAN, but talks about ending the conflict should focus on ways to change the situation on the ground, including concrete measures to counter the war economy and improve daily life, alongside more traditional political discussions aimed at reaching a political settlement and cease-fires. Negotiations for restoring control of Syria’s international borders are also essential for ending the conflict and reversing the war economy. Lifting the economic sanctions could be an important tool in a negotiation framework. 
  1. Support state-building structure. Addressing the collapse of the state is key to countering the war economy and returning stability to areas under the threat of ISIL expansion. This includes a strong emphasis on supporting governance within a unified legal framework and channelling of the public money, such as fees at border crossings and income from oil, to finance public services and governance structures, rather than financing armed actors as is currently the case.
  1. Reviving the legitimate economy is crucial for reducing both poverty and violence.Rather than humanitarian aid, there should be more emphasis on reviving agriculture, economic development and education. Fuel should be provided in a legitimate way to opposition controlled areas, this would revive the economy and cut important source of funding for ISIL. Interviewees called for practical measures such as providing diesel, seeds, fungicides, herbicides and insecticides.
  1. Increased presence of international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) and better organisation of aid.
  1. Support that enhances the humanitarian situation for civilians should not be cut from areas where JAN (Jabhat Al-Nusra - a branch of Al Qaeda) has a presence, since the termination of such support make civilians even more dependent on JAN.
  1. The research gives also area-specific strategies such as more pressure on the government to allow systematic delivery of international humanitarian aid to areas under siege such as Ghouta and pressure on Turkey to ensure that ISIL is not smuggling oil and antiquities through its borders or receiving support and supplies through these borders.

Dr Turkmani, Research Fellow in the Department of International Development at LSE, commented: “Syria is being destroyed by its own resources, which are now being used to fund the war rather than the public good. Civilians are suffering beyond imagination because of networks of war-profiteers that include armed actors and their business associates from all sides. They are having to indirectly pay such networks and even ISIL when they cook their food, as even home use gas is only available in the black market which benefits these actors.”

Mary Kaldor, Professor of Global Governance in the Department of International Relations, added: "Our research shows that ISIL is the product of war and state collapse.The only way to prevent further expansion is through the construction of a legitimate government and a legitimate economy."


The papers are available under the website of Security in Transition group at LSE:


To interview Dr Turkmani, please contact her: r.turkmani@lse.ac.uk

To interview Professor Kaldor, please contact her: m.h.kaldor@lse.ac.uk

For any other information, please contact Joanna Bale, LSE Press Office, j.m.bale@lse.ac.uk or +44 7831 609679.

6 August 2015