Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Syria: The Serbian option and the political chess-game | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

The scenes of killings and destruction coming out from Syria, and the images of refugees fleeing battles, are frustrating and saddening, particularly in light of the international paralysis towards the crisis in Syria, which the al-Assad regime has taken as a green-light to escalate its military campaign against the uprising. The regime seems indifferent to the rising death toll and the massive destruction caused by its military ordinances, using these to target civilians rather than to recapture the occupied Golan Heights, despite its slogans of resistance. These scenes of deplorable conditions in Syria, armies being misused to oppress their own people and the exploitation of Arab bloodshed are more than enough to get the blood boiling; however this is not counting the frustrating political chess-game that is being played over Syria and this crisis.

Let us look at, for example, the position taken by NATO, which announced that it would not intervene in Syria even if a UN resolution is issued in this regard. Or let us look at the fierce criticism levelled by Washington, London and Paris towards Russia and China for using their veto to obstruct the issuance of a Security Council resolution endorsing the Arab League initiative on Syria. If the Russian – Chinese veto was interpreted as a green light by the Syrian regime to escalate its military assaults on cities and citizens, then the statement by NATO Secretary-General [Anders Fogh Rasmussen] will also have served to reassure the Syrian regime that the most it will face is sanctions, denouncement and condemnation, and that the Syrian president will neither face the same fate as the Gaddafi regime or Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

The NATO Secretary-General’s position was not discordant, rather this was in harmony with the stances adopted by the majority of Western capitals, including Washington and London, which are both leading the campaign of denouncement against al-Assad and calling for sanctions on his regime, but have nevertheless ruled out military intervention. Indeed they have even objected to the idea of arming the Syrian opposition on the pretext that this would result in more weapons being involved in the confrontation and would not necessarily lead to the overthrow of the Syrian regime which possesses an immense arsenal of weapons, something that ensures the balance of power is in its favour. These Western capitals have also warned that the situation in Syria may possibly slide towards civil war should arms flow to these opposition groups, which the west persists in saying are not unified and incapable of active coordination and effective arms control in a manner that would reassure all components of Syrian society.

Arguments such as this fail to provide a solution for the Syrian people who continue to suffer under the regime’s escalating suppression. Indeed, arguments such as this appear weak and meaningless when we hear Washington speaking of Iran’s escalating support of the al-Assad regime, assisting Damascus to quell the uprisings that is threatening its rule. This is not to mention the reports of Russian arms arriving in Damascus. Will we continue to allow this regime to enjoy the support of its allies, whilst we prevent support from reaching the Syrian opposition, all the while killing of Syrian civilians and destruction of Syrian cities remains on-going?

When Western states, mainly the US, Britain and France, sought to topple the Gaddafi regime, they did not object to the Libyan opposition being armed, indeed they led the NATO operations to destroy Gaddafi’s battalions, as well as providing material support and assistance to the Libyan revolution, thereby enabling the toppling of the Gaddafi regime. Some people may argue that Western states had played up the UN Security Council resolution on Libya, using this as a cover for the NATO air strikes; however the Security Council has failed to issue any resolution on the Syrian crisis thanks to Russia and China’s veto. In fact, the Western campaign against Moscow and Beijing is part of the political tug-of-war over international interests. This is because even if the positions of the two sides differ in terms of motives and objectives, both sides ultimately reject the option of military intervention in the Syrian crisis. Washington and London do not want military intervention, perhaps because they are taking Israel’s interests into consideration and are concerned about its fears of possible security unrest along its border with Syria. As for Russia and China, they feel deceived by the [Security Council] resolution on Libya, which the West used as a cover for its military campaign, whilst they also do not want to appear powerless before the West on the international arena. In this regard, we must indicate that Moscow’s claim that it is against using the UN as a tool to intervene in the internal affairs of countries for the sake of regime change is nothing more than political rhetoric. This is because Moscow previously and continues to interfere in the internal affairs of its neighbouring countries, carry out military and security operations in some of these countries and even taking action to topple their regimes.

The Western campaign against the stances adopted by Russia and China on Syria – and their veto of the UN Security Council resolution – was not free from political exploitation, for this campaign is intended to place all the blame for the international paralyses on these two countries, hence holding them solely accountable for obstructing solutions to the Syrian crisis. This, however, is meant to draw the world’s attention away from the fact that the Western states’ position has also contributed to increasing the Syrian people’s sufferings, particularly as when Damascus hears explicit statements rejecting military intervention and the arming of the opposition, this encourages it to escalate its military campaign. If the West really wanted to intervene, it would not have allowed the Russian-Chinese veto to prevent it, as it did when it intervened in the crisis of what was then Yugoslavia. In March 1999, the US, Britain and France carried out a three-month aerial campaign against the Serbian President Milosevic’s regime, without needing a Security Council resolution, as Russia and China had also rejected military intervention in that case. Washington, London and Paris justified the NATO operations as humanitarian intervention to prevent the crimes of forced expulsion and ethnic cleansing against Kosovo’s Albanian community. This forced the Milosevic regime to end its military operations and withdraw its troops from Kosovo. The NATO operations continued until Milosevic was forced to withdraw, and nevertheless, he was not safe from legal pursuit on charges of committing war crimes. He faced international boycott and pressure that caused large-scale demonstrations to be renewed until he was eventually toppled from power and was handed in to the International Criminal Court in The Hague; he died in prison before his trial concluded.

This is the game of interests, the international political chess-game, which the Syrian people today are paying the price for. It has allowed the Syrian regime to continue to massacre its own people whilst the word is reluctant to arm the Syrian opposition and unable to prevent the killing and destruction.