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U.S. and Russian Interests in the Syrian War

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Syrian war is one of the most devastating crises of the world right now, which has been going on since 2011 and has taken lives of thousands of innocents. What makes it more dangerous is that no efforts have been successful in mediating the conflict between the regime and the rebels. Different states are supporting one side over the other for reasons entirely disconnected from the Syrian people’s cause. Along with the brutal repression of Assad’s regime, various state and non-state actors got involved in it, making it more and more complicated. Even with the involvement of different states to resolve the conflict, the war is still going on and shows no signs of replacement of Assad’s terrorist regime. The Syrian war is not only a civil war, but has also become a religious conflict as well as proxy war between states. It is a part of the Middle East cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The paper discusses about what roles the great powers (Russia and USA) have played in the war keeping in view their own national interests.

Interests Of Russia In Syria

Russia first intervened in Syria in 2015, where it claimed to fight against terrorist organizations like ISIS. But, USA officials state that Russian air strikes were aimed at killing non-IS rebel forces fighting the Assad government. It has provided government troops with air support and weapons and given it diplomatic backing at the UN and in international peace talks. Russia also has troops on the ground.

Old friends

Russia is not a stranger to Syria, rather an important ally of Syria. Even Assads’ father was an important and a really good friend of Russia, so this relation has a little historical context. Russia and Syria maintained close relations with each other from 1970 to 2000, when Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad was in power. In 1980, both the states signed a treaty on military cooperation as well. But some scholars say that Russia doesn’t have a lot to do with Assad, instead it has been supporting Assads regime because it sees the status quo as less chaotic, and the regime change as more dangerous. However, what remains an important interest of Russia in Syria is its aim to maintain an important position in global diplomacy and its place as a legitimate influencer. The overall influence in the region has more to do with Russia than just having a close friendship with some leader.

Containment of USA and NATO

Russia is the only state to intervene militarily in the Syrian civil war outside of the region. Other states that are involved in the conflict belong to the same region, like Iran, Turkey, and KSA. The reasons behind Russia playing an important role in the region are the containment of USA in the Middle East and the lack of a proper USA strategy regarding the conflict. USA’s absence from the conflict or inactive behavior has left a vacuum for Russia to intervene and obtain its interests from the region. Russia also has a geo-strategic creed in Eurasia. The aim of Russia is also to unite the Muslims of central Asia with the Middle East against NATO. Russia’s military has also been facing a downfall for some years, and being militarily present in Syria would help Russia give a signal to the West that its military is still capable. Russia is also fearful of the spread of Islamists Revolution and the West at the same time, which pushed Russia to back its ally strongly. Russia doesn’t want regime change and opposes it because Russia is fearful that the process might reach Moscow and disturb the peace in the region.

Russia’s naval base

One of the objectives of Russia is to prevent the destruction of the Assad regime. That imperiled regime is Russia’s only real ally, and the only remaining partner in the Middle East. Likewise, Tartus is its only military base beyond the territory of the former Soviet Union. It is a Russian naval base that was built in 1971 in Tartus, Syria. According to an analysis by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, it is shown that Russia’s greatest strategic and geopolitical interest in Syria is the use of deep-water port i.e. Tartus port. Tartus is the only naval base which provides Russia a direct access to the Mediterranean Sea and thus its strategic importance cannot be ignored.

USA in Syria

USA intervened into the conflict in 2013, when things started getting worse and different factions and states got involved in the conflict. The conflict became a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and a religious war between al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and ISIS by 2013 and the situation was getting more and more complicated. In 2013, In August 2013, Assad’s regime used the chemical weapons against the rebels which according to Washington killed 1400 people. It was at that time that USA finally made it clear on national television that it would take action against Assad regime to contain his atrocities. Obama said and the researcher quotes, “Men, women and children lying in the rows, killed by poisonous gas, It’s in the national security interests of USA to respond to the Assad’s regimes use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike.”

There were several objectives that USA wanted to achieve in the Syrian conflict. Some of them are Humanitarian based like replacement of terrorist regime of Assad by a legitimate government that is accepted by all, return of refugees to the state, reconstruction after war and to bring peace and prosperity in the region. Other objectives were political, that go in the national interests of USA. They include the two major aims i.e. the neutralization of ISIS and Al-Qaeda, and the containment of Iran and Russia. This is because Syria is an important ally of Iran and Russia, and if Assad’s regime stays in power, it means that Iran’s and Russia’s influence would definitely remain in the region, which USA doesn’t want. Another reason of USA’s intervention is the security interests of USA in the region. Syria is a neighbour of Turkey, which is an ally of NATO. USA has military alliances with Turkey and Israel, and there are fair chances that if the conflict is not contained, these states, being an ally of USA, can draw USA into the conflict. Similarly, Syria has the 4th largest stockpile of chemical weapons, making it the largest in the Middle East, which also worries USA because it has fallen into the hands of the extremists.

Five major threats to the USA from Syria are:

  • The terrorist threat
  • Iran’s advance towards the west
  • Russia’s increasing influence in Syria
  • The refugee crisis due to Syrian civil war
  • Excessive Human rights violation in Syria.

USA provided military aid to the rebels against Assad, and actively supported the Kurds in the region. Washington also provided air support to the Syrian democratic forces, which is an alliance of Arabs and Turks, fighting against ISIS. But when Trump came in power in 2016, he clearly showed that he had no interest in Syria anymore, stating that “Let other people take care of it now.” But when again, in 2017, Assad used the chemical weapons against his population, Trump vowed to respond and within a few days, USA launched an air strike on the Syrian airbase. It was the first time that USA directly launched an attack during the Syrian conflict.

Under Trumps administration, important decisions have been taken regarding Syria. Initially, he stated that he had no interests in Syria and USA should let other states take care of Syria. But then again, in 2017, he launched an airstrike. Then in December 2019, Trumps announced the withdrawal of troops from Syria leaving behind the Kurdish forces alone. This withdrawal has been controversial because USA was protecting the Kurdish forces in Syria against Turkey’s attacks, and Kurds have been fighting along with USA to fight the ISIS. The withdrawal of troops means that Kurds are left there for the Turkish forces. Although the withdrawal of troops was controversial; but Trump received a lot of approval and appreciation in USA for this decision. A lot of troops have left the state but a number of them are still in Syria for various purposes.

Conclusion

Syrian War has been going on for a decade. Unlike the uprising in other states, the Syrian uprising has taken a shape of the civil war, with different religious, ethnic, and political groups involved. The war has not only become a struggle for dominance between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but also a proxy war between USA and Russia. The fall of Assad regime seems difficult since Assad has direct support from Russia and indirect support from China. USA also has not been very active in taking a serious action against Assad, since their top most priority in Syria was ISIS. However, the use of chemical weapons against the civilians by Assad is still a major concern for the International community. States have undoubtedly got themselves involved in the war, but their intervention seems to be the means of fulfillment of their own national interests, rather than protecting the rebels from the terrorist rule of Assad. The conflict is important because its outcome can reshape the Arab Middle East. Russia tried its best to help its only ally left in the Middle East and USA has been trying to not make it happen. The long going war is expected to continue as long as Assad remains in power and his fall continues to be illusive since he is backed strongly by Iran and Russia.

Nageen Ashraf is a student of Bachelors in “Defense and Diplomatic studies” at Fatima Jinnah Women University.

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Middle East

Process to draft Syria constitution begins this week

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The process of drafting a new constitution for Syria will begin this week, the UN Special Envoy for the country, Geir Pedersen, said on Sunday at a press conference in Geneva.

Mr. Pedersen was speaking following a meeting with the government and opposition co-chairs of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, who have agreed to start the process for constitutional reform.

The members of its so-called “small body”, tasked with preparing and drafting the Constitution, are in the Swiss city for their sixth round of talks in two years, which begin on Monday. 

Their last meeting, held in January, ended without progress, and the UN envoy has been negotiating between the parties on a way forward.

“The two Co-Chairs now agree that we will not only prepare for constitutional reform, but we will prepare and start drafting for constitutional reform,” Mr. Pedersen told journalists.

“So, the new thing this week is that we will actually be starting a drafting process for constitutional reform in Syria.”

The UN continues to support efforts towards a Syrian-owned and led political solution to end more than a decade of war that has killed upwards of 350,000 people and left 13 million in need of humanitarian aid.

An important contribution

The Syrian Constitutional Committee was formed in 2019, comprising 150 men and women, with the Government, the opposition and civil society each nominating 50 people.

This larger group established the 45-member small body, which consists of 15 representatives from each of the three sectors.

For the first time ever, committee co-chairs Ahmad Kuzbari, the Syrian government representative, and Hadi al-Bahra, from the opposition side, met together with Mr. Pedersen on Sunday morning. 

He described it as “a substantial and frank discussion on how we are to proceed with the constitutional reform and indeed in detail how we are planning for the week ahead of us.”

Mr. Pedersen told journalists that while the Syrian Constitutional Committee is an important contribution to the political process, “the committee in itself will not be able to solve the Syrian crisis, so we need to come together, with serious work, on the Constitutional Committee, but also address the other aspects of the Syrian crisis.”

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Middle East

North Africa: Is Algeria Weaponizing Airspace and Natural Gas?

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In a series of shocking and unintelligible decisions, the Algerian Government closed its airspace to Moroccan military and civilian aircraft on September 22, 2021, banned French military planes from using its airspace on October 3rd, and decided not to renew the contract relative to the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline, which goes through Morocco and has been up and running since 1996–a contract that comes to end on October 31.

In the case of Morocco, Algeria advanced ‘provocations and hostile’ actions as a reason to shut airspace and end the pipeline contract, a claim that has yet to be substantiated with evidence. Whereas in the case of France, Algeria got angry regarding visa restrictions and comments by French President Emmanuel Macron on the Algerian military grip on power and whether the North African country was a nation prior to French colonization in 1830.

Tensions for decades

Algeria has had continued tensions with Morocco for decades, over border issues and over the Western Sahara, a territory claimed by Morocco as part of its historical territorial unity, but contested by Algeria which supports an alleged liberation movement that desperately fights for independence since the 1970s.

With France, the relation is even more complex and plagued with memories of colonial exactions and liberation and post-colonial traumas, passions and injuries. France and Algeria have therefore developed, over the post-independence decades, a love-hate attitude that quite often mars otherwise strong economic and social relations.

Algeria has often reacted to the two countries’ alleged ‘misbehavior’ by closing borders –as is the case with Morocco since 1994—or calling its ambassadors for consultations, or even cutting diplomatic relations, as just happened in August when it cut ties with its western neighbor.

But it is the first-time Algeria resorts to the weaponization of energy and airspace. “Weaponization” is a term used in geostrategy to mean the use of goods and commodities, that are mainly destined for civilian use and are beneficial for international trade and the welfare of nations, for geostrategic, political and even military gains. As such “weaponization” is contrary to the spirit of free trade, open borders, and solidarity among nations, values that are at the core of common international action and positive globalization.

What happened?

Some observers advance continued domestic political and social unrest in Algeria, whereby thousands of Algerians have been taking to the streets for years to demand regime-change and profound political and economic reforms. Instead of positively responding to the demands of Algerians, the government is probably looking for desperate ways to divert attention and cerate foreign enemies as sources of domestic woes. Morocco and France qualify perfectly for the role of national scapegoats.

It may be true also that in the case of Morocco, Algeria is getting nervous at its seeing its Western neighbor become a main trade and investment partner in Africa, a role it can levy to develop diplomatic clout regarding the Western Sahara issue. Algeria has been looking for ways to curb Morocco’s growing influence in Africa for years. A pro-Algerian German expert, by the name of Isabelle Werenfels, a senior fellow in the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, even recommended to the EU to put a halt to Morocco’s pace and economic clout so that Algeria could catch up. Weaponization may be a desperate attempt to hurt the Moroccan economy and curb its dynamism, especially in Africa.

The impact of Algeria’s weaponization of energy and airspace on the Moroccan economy is minimal and on French military presence in Mali is close to insignificant; however, it shows how far a country that has failed to administer the right reforms and to transfer power to democratically elected civilians can go.

In a region, that is beleaguered by threats and challenges of terrorism, organized crime, youth bulge, illegal migration and climate change, you would expect countries like Algeria, with its geographic extension and oil wealth, to be a beacon of peace and cooperation. Weaponization in international relations is inacceptable as it reminds us of an age when bullying and blackmail between nations, was the norm. The people of the two countries, which share the same history, language and ethnic fabric, will need natural gas and unrestricted travel to prosper and grow and overcome adversity; using energy and airspace as weapons is at odds with the dreams of millions of young people in Algeria and Morocco that aspire for a brighter future in an otherwise gloomy economic landscape. Please don’t shatter those dreams!

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Middle East

Breaking The Line of the Israel-Palestine Conflict

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The conflict between Israel-Palestine is a prolonged conflict and has become a major problem, especially in the Middle East region.

A series of ceasefires and peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine that occurred repeatedly did not really “normalize” the relationship between the two parties.

In order to end the conflict, a number of parties consider that the two-state solution is the best approach to create two independent and coexistent states. Although a number of other parties disagreed with the proposal, and instead proposed a one-state solution, combining Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip into one big state.

Throughout the period of stalemate reaching an ideal solution, the construction and expansion of settlements carried out illegally by Israel in the Palestinian territories, especially the West Bank and East Jerusalem, also continued without stopping and actually made the prospect of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis increasingly eroded, and this could jeopardize any solutions.

The attempted forced eviction in the Sheikh Jarrah district, which became one of the sources of the conflict in May 2021, for example, is an example of how Israel has designed a system to be able to change the demographics of its territory by continuing to annex or “occupy” extensively in the East Jerusalem area. This is also done in other areas, including the West Bank.

In fact, Israel’s “occupation” of the eastern part of Jerusalem which began at the end of the 1967 war, is an act that has never received international recognition.

This is also confirmed in a number of resolutions issued by the UN Security Council Numbers 242, 252, 267, 298, 476, 478, 672, 681, 692, 726, 799, 2334 and also United Nations General Assembly Resolutions Number 2253, 55/130, 60/104, 70/89, 71/96, A/72/L.11 and A/ES-10/L.22 and supported by the Advisory Opinion issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2004 on Legal Consequences of The Construction of A Wall in The Occupied Palestine Territory which states that East Jerusalem is part of the Palestinian territories under Israeli “occupation”.

1 or 2 country solution

Back to the issue of the two-state solution or the one-state solution that the author mentioned earlier. The author considers that the one-state solution does not seem to be the right choice.

Facts on the ground show how Israel has implemented a policy of “apartheid” that is so harsh against Palestinians. so that the one-state solution will further legitimize the policy and make Israel more dominant. In addition, there is another consideration that cannot be ignored that Israel and Palestine are 2 parties with very different and conflicting political and cultural identities that are difficult to reconcile.

Meanwhile, the idea of ​​a two-state solution is an idea that is also difficult to implement. Because the idea still seems too abstract, especially on one thing that is very fundamental and becomes the core of the Israel-Palestine conflict, namely the “division” of territory between Israel and Palestine.

This is also what makes it difficult for Israel-Palestine to be able to break the line of conflict between them and repeatedly put them back into the status quo which is not a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The status quo, is in fact a way for Israel to continue to “annex” more Palestinian territories by establishing widespread and systematic illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Today, more than 600,000 Israeli settlers now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In fact, a number of resolutions issued by the UN Security Council have explicitly and explicitly called for Israel to end the expansion of Israeli settlement construction in the occupied territory and require recognition of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of the region.

Thus, all efforts and actions of Israel both legislatively and administratively that can cause changes in the status and demographic composition in East Jerusalem and the West Bank must continue to be condemned. Because this is a violation of the provisions of international law.

Fundamental thing

To find a solution to the conflict, it is necessary to look back at the core of the conflict that the author has mentioned earlier, and the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to encourage Israel to immediately end the “occupation” that it began in 1967, and return the settlements to the pre-Islamic borders 1967 In accordance with UN Security Council resolution No. 242.

But the question is, who can stop the illegal Israeli settlements in the East Jerusalem and West Bank areas that violate the Palestinian territories?

In this condition, international political will is needed from countries in the world, to continue to urge Israel to comply with the provisions of international law, international humanitarian law, international human rights law and also the UN Security Council Resolutions.

At the same time, the international community must be able to encourage the United Nations, especially the United Nations Security Council, as the organ that has the main responsibility for maintaining and creating world peace and security based on Article 24 of the United Nations Charter to take constructive and effective steps in order to enforce all United Nations Resolutions, and dare to sanction violations committed by Israel, and also ensure that Palestinian rights are important to protect.

So, do not let this weak enforcement of international law become an external factor that also “perpetuates” the cycle of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It will demonstrate that John Austin was correct when he stated that international law is only positive morality and not real law.

And in the end, the most fundamental thing is that the blockade, illegal development, violence, and violations of international law must end. Because the ceasefire in the Israel-Palestine conflict is only a temporary solution to the conflict.

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