A Red Crescent aid convoy in Douma, March 2018.
Bassam Khabieh / Reuters

The international sanctions imposed on Syria since April 2011 are the most comprehensive on record. Nonetheless, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has over the past seven years waged an extraordinarily brutal war on his own people, killing half a million Syrians, displacing millions more, and creating a massive humanitarian crisis in the country.

Why have sanctions been so unsuccessful at stopping Assad’s killing machine? To some extent, the failure can be attributed to the Assad regime’s determination to survive, as well as to military and economic assistance from allies such as Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah. But a big part of the blame lies with the UN-led humanitarian effort in Syria. UN agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) have permitted the Assad regime to take control of the $30 billion international humanitarian response, using donor funds to skirt sanctions and subsidize the government’s war effort. The bulk of these

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  • ANNIE SPARROW is an Assistant Professor with the Arnhold Institute for Global Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
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