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Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Red lines crossed – Send in the troops, now!



It was long overdue, the red line have been crossed several times now it has been confirmed. According to very recent reports by UN Inspectors, the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own population and above all against the rebels, resulting in an imminent launch of an allied military mission to counter-fight the persistent atrocities. The US and its allies (the UK, Turkey, and most likely France) are ready to strike, evidently within the next few days, with limited and targeted air strikes.

The decision was late, very late indeed. With the civil war in Syria dragging on for more than two years, and humanitarian disaster going beyond imagination, it is now a question of speed and determination to launch effective a military action that ensures a significant impact against the Assad regime. For the US, it would be the third theatre after Afghanistan and Iraq. Regarding this, the Obama Administration is determined to leave it to a limited commitment, without deploying ground troops.


Ignore the UN and don’t feel bad about it
The international community is desperately yelling for an international and collective mission in Syria, but strictly under UN Mandate and unanimous consent of the UN Security Council. This, however, is unlikely to happen. Russia and China have repeatedly blocked any sanctions against the Assad regime proposed by the UN Security Council, and they will never agree on a military operation under US leadership. From the current perspective, it seems to be unreasonable and morally even irresponsible to keep on blocking vital and necessary decisions when action is desperately needed.

The thing is that the UN has, notoriously, failed to implement necessary decisions or sanctions over the past few years, especially regarding its sustainable long-term impacts. Libya is stuck in a post-war chaos, and for Syria it fails to come up with a mandate. In the view of the disclosures of the use of chemical weapons, the so called red lines that have been drawn by the US have been crossed several times already. Now, the US and its allies are well advised to finally take some action, even if it means to ignore the UN – for the sake of the Syrian people.


Causa Kosovo as legitimation for Syria
If we look back to the Kosovo War in 1999, NATO has launched targeted air strikes against Serbian troops without UN Mandate, for humanitarian reasons in order to avoid the continuation of ethnic cleansing. In the end the conflict was terminated and the military objectives were achieved, with UN recognition and legitimation provided ex-post.

For Syria, the situation is per se not very different, but the circumstances are.


Who’s really going to prevent it?
Russia and China have been providing arms to the Assad regime and will most likely continue to do so. Syria is slowly but steadily turning into a proxy war, just as it was during the Cold War in Korea, Vietnam, or Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. The question is how Russia and China will react when the US and its allies starts striking Syria, even if it’s only a limited operation and exclusively limited to air strikes as such.

The truth is that China’s or Russia’s instruments here are limited. They will veto any decision in the UN Security Council, for sure, but that’s basically it. Neither Moscow, not Beijing will take much further steps to prevent the US from actually launching air strikes, at least not through an own direct intervention.

Nevertheless, the risk is given that the entire conflict might spread on the entire Middle East. Above all, Israel is the actor that is most concerned about any escalation of the conflict. With Iran in the background and waiting for a chance to jump to the stage, Israel will be determined not only to prevent any further spread of violence in the region, or even intervention by Iran itself, but also to take own measures in order to safeguard its own security perceptions. However, a direct or even indirect involvement might have severe effects. Still, the risk is given.


And Germany? Still at the side-line
As ever, Germany is reluctant to take any clear position, except for an immediate rejection of any military action. The current German government insists on an international and collective decision by the UN, but a recent comment in German television provided that not even Chancellor Angela Merkel has a clear and concise opinion on a possible military strike on Syria.

Germany, however, is in a middle of a more urgent dilemma. With three weeks until the general elections, none of the parties wants to take a clear position on the Syria case – neither the ruling CDU-FDP coalition under Merkel, nor the SPD under Merkel’s main rival Peer Steinbrück. Both know that any too precise statement or position might cost them the elections on 22 September 2013. War, or even talking about war, is the ultimate vote killer. More dramatically, Germany continues to neglect and ignore its own role in foreign policy and its own potential and leaving European security leadership to the UK and France.

No one can and may expect a quick decision by Germany, at least not before the end of the elections. Also, Germany is not in the position to make any decisions, and some foreign policy analysts even miss the days under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder when Germany took a brave move to stand against the Bush Administration and against the Iraq war. Sadly, Foreign Policy is not a number one policy field anymore, at least not in the current government.


Short or long?
Military strategists, analysts and policy makers anticipate a rather short intervention, using limited air strikes as an instrument to force Assad for negotiations with the rebels and to end the conflict peacefully. Therefore, air strikes can have a strong effect for further negotiations.
However, the Assad regime already announced strong resistance at all costs – the same rhetoric as used by the Hussein regime in Iraq, ironically just ten years ago. So, the world should prepare for a long-term commitment, even after military action.
Also, the international community should consider a fuller scale operation using limited ground troops to give it a stronger and sustainable impact.
For now, air strikes should do the job – hopefully.

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