Syrians: victims of Western paralysis

By Chloé de Radzitzky

Disastrous news from Syria and Aleppo flood newspapers every day. The second Syrian city is not only the theatre of confrontations between the Syrian regime and the rebels, but also of confrontations between the two Super powers. September of this year symbolizes not only the anniversary of the Russian intervention, but also the failure of the cease-fire. The war in Syria represents today the second biggest humanitarian disaster since the Second World War. Nonetheless, no decisions related to the country’s future seem to be taken. After the failure of the cease-fire[1], Russia rejected the draft of resolution presented by France and Spain to the Security Council, rendering prospects for diplomatic solution uncertain. These events recall the Cold War period during which conflicts in the Middle East were the ground for confrontation between the USA and of the USSR.

As explained above, the Syrian conflict is not only influenced by local and regional dynamics. The Russian and American politicians have a major impact on the conflict, and these have difficulty in agreeing on to deal with it. While the United States and its allies insist on the impossibility to include Assad in the transitional process, Russia and Iran remain inflexible on the question. This disagreement blocks any attempts to solve the humanitarian situation. Indeed, Russia refuses to stop its air bombardments, preventing convoys from reaching in Aleppo

Russia justifies its strikes by a war against the terrorism. The underlying causes for supporting Assad are however much more realistic, touching the very interests of the country. First of all, regime of Damascus is an important customer for the Russian military industry. In a context where the economy of the country is at the lowest, losing this customer and seeing it unable to pay back its debts is inadmissible. Secondly, the Baath regime has been a Russian ally in the Middle East for a long time[2]. Finally, a last reason for Putin to defend Assad is that through the maintain bombardments, he shows muscles by highlighting the western weakness in the management of the conflict. In addition, these air strikes aggravate the number of refugees going to Europe, battle horse of the European far-right[3].

With all these elements, the world expects that the West, and quite particularly the United States, reacts to stop not only Russia, but also to protect its ideals. Nevertheless, the American and European politicians are particularly slow and reluctant to take actions. This weakness finds its origin in various elements. First of all the campaign for Obama’s first mandate of the first mandate was based on the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq[4]; and the public American is not particularly pushing for the country to send again troops in the region. Moreover, the Obama administration found that the United States were too invested in the Middle East. All these elements reduced the means of pressure the regime of Damascus and the Russians to comply with international laws (for example: punishing the use of chemical weapons against the citizens, the bombing of hospitals and humanitarian convoys, as well as the failure to respect the cease-fire). By leaving the Middle East, the Americans left a vacuum from now on occupied by the Russians.

As regards Europe she was, just like her American ally, too slow in her management of the crisis. It is unfortunately, as said it exactly the former Spanish Secretary Miguel Angel Moratinos in 2015, the trend since the management of the Greek financial crisis[5]. Member states have difficulty in agreeing on a course of action, especially as regards the migratory crisis.

But which solution then for Aleppo? Will the West continue to letting the Russians to violate the international law? If certain members of the American administration advocate for targeted armed interventions[6], the risk is big that such a solution would lead to a direct confrontation between the Russians and the Americans; and if this solution seems far from being the most optimal, the diplomatic solution also seems to be a more and more distant option. Indeed, with Washington and Moscow which do not communicate anymore combined with the failure of the UN, perspectives for diplomatic solutions appear to be very thin.

Propositions for solution all contain drawbacks, complicating the political process for the West. However, it is urgent to take some actions, especially with regards to the humanitarian situation which degrades itself from day to day. Several people suggested the creation of no-fly zones. If the idea is good and worked in Iraq during the first Gulf War, the Syrian situation is very different[7]. Indeed, Saddam Hussein had not such a powerful as Russia. He was moreover relatively isolated on the international sphere. The implementation of no-fly zones in a region or the Russians occupy the air space create a risk of direct confrontation between the two Super powers[8].

An alternative would be the implementation of new penalties towards Russia. Indeed, certain European countries push for the imposition of penalties on visas or gas[9]. This solution entails risks given that, if Europe makes an embargo on the Russian gas, it would probably put the giant on its knees while leading the EU to its own loss. Furthermore, such actions also risk to strengthen anti-Western feeling in Russia[10].

The American elections might change the position of the country toward Russia and impact the conduct of the conflict, assuming that the city of Aleppo is not torn down in the meantime. Letting Putin to control the situation in Syria is not an option; and Europe must be aware that the Syrian crisis will affect it whether the situation remains unchanged or not. If there are no risk-free solutions, the blockage of the humanitarian convoys cannot continue. Unfortunately, until now, the West did not seem to want use means of pressure susceptible to influence the Russian president. With the US being wary about the Middle East and facing electoral campaign, it is time now for Europe to assume its responsibilities.

[1] Bremmer, I., 2016, « US has a weak hand in Syria », The Time, Consulté le 14/10/2016 sur http://time.com/4512785/us-has-weak-hand-syria-russia-knows-it/

[2] le pays y possède une base navale importante

[3] Garfinkel, A., 2005, « PUTIN, OBAMA, AND THE MIDDLE EAST », Foreign Policy Research Institute, Consulté sur: http://www.fpri.org/docs/garfinkle_-_putin_obama_and_the_me.pdf

[4] Paris, G., 2016, « La politique syrienne de Barack Obama contestée », Le Monde, consulté le 14/10/2016  sur http://www.lemonde.fr/ameriques/article/2016/06/20/la-politique-syrienne-de-barack-obama-contestee_4954062_3222.html

[5] Moritanos, M., 2015, « Guerre en Syrie, réfugiés… Et l’Europe ne fait rien ? Elle a perdu son coeur et son âme », l’Obs, consulté le 14/10/2016 sur http://leplus.nouvelobs.com/contribution/1435176-guerre-en-syrie-refugies-et-l-europe-ne-fait-rien-elle-a-perdu-son-coeur-et-son-ame.html

[6] Miller, D., 2016, « A Striking Protest of Obama’s Syria Policy–and Why It Won’t Change Anything », The Washington Post, consulté le 14/10/2016 sur http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2016/06/17/a-striking-protest-of-obamas-syria-policy-and-why-it-wont-change-anything/

[7] Steele, J., 2016, « A no-fly zone for Aleppo risks a war that could engulf us all », The Guardian, consulté le 14/10/2016 sur https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/12/no-fly-zone-aleppo-war-russia-syria

[8] Steele, J., 2016, « A no-fly zone for Aleppo risks a war that could engulf us all », The Guardian, consulté le 14/10/2016 sur https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/12/no-fly-zone-aleppo-war-russia-syria

[9] « De nouvelles sanctions envisagée par les Occidentaux contre Russie et Syrie », Euronews,Consulté le 16/10/16 sur http://fr.euronews.com/2016/10/16/de-nouvelles-sanctions-envisagees-par-les-occidentaux-contre-russie-et-syrie

[10] Massiot, A., 2016, « Bombardements sur Alep : des crimes pour quels châtiments ? », Libération, Consulté le 16/10/2016 sur  http://www.liberation.fr/planete/2016/10/10/bombardements-sur-alep-des-crimes-pour-quels-chatiments_1521060