SYRIA, WHAT NEXT?
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
29 May 13. It was hardly surprising that President Obama should have welcomed British and French led moves reversing EU policy banning the provision of weapons to Syrian rebels. While EU policy reversal changes little with the exception perhaps that Brussels loses some credibility to act as peacemaker the point is that it does send a very important and powerful message to the Assad regime – listen to the Syrian people and accept the need for change!
Having now agreed to change its policy stance it is not the intention that any EU member state will supply arms ahead of a final review planned to take place after the Geneva-2 conference on Syria has concluded. Nevertheless, despite differences of opinion in Brussels the diplomatic message being sent by the EU to the Assad regime is loud and clear – should they continue to fail to accept the will of the people for change then the EU is prepared to consider supplying arms to those who are justifiably fighting for freedom and who it deems are deserving of support.
British Foreign Secretary, William Hague and his French counterpart Laurent Fabius have done well to shift Brussels opinion. Even if in reality no arms end up being supplied to opponents of the Syrian regime by the EU previous Syria policy made little sense. The Anglo/French objective in seeking to change EU policy on Syria was to send a strong diplomatic message to the Syrian regime of its need to accept change if the bloodshed and destruction is to be ended.
Separate UN missions aside, perhaps the only visible chance left for change and agreement to occur would be at the Syria-2 Conference to be held in Geneva during July. Here, assuming they attend, the Assad regime together with various Syrian factions and a host of other nations in support of one or other side will attempt to find some kind of solution. Chances of success are remote and with Russia standing firmly beside the Assad regime and having actively encouraging Iran to also join in talks those hoping for a successful outcome in Geneva-2 are most likely in a substantial minority.
The planned Geneva-2 talks will be a decisive factor for deciding what happens next. At the very least they should bring some of the warring factions to the same table. Russia, the US, France and the UK all have an important role to play here and while the EU can continue an attempt to act as peacemaker it is relatively powerless as an ambivalent political unit to bring about change.
Britain, France and the US continue to have stature but we must recognise that they too are powerless to intervene in quite the same way that they had done in Libya. Back then there was no international opposition to what they had each done to bring about change in Libya. But with Russia backing the Syrian regime and Iran seemingly standing alongside it seems to me that Britain and France are powerless to do anything more than to act in anything other than diplomatic and humanitarian roles.
Syria is a large country and in this civil war there are a great many different political and religious factions involved. Solving the crisis in Syria may well take a decade or even a generation and more and the only thing that we can be certain of is that during the process a great many more lives will be lost.
Whether Syria is the powder-keg for the rest of the Middle East area to implode is far too early to say but experienced observers will take the view that what happens in Syria could well have a serious bearing on the future direction of Israel, Lebanon, Palestinian and Iranian politics.
The odds of success at Geneva-2 are certainly not encouraging. In recent weeks Russia appears to have stepped up the supply of weapons including anti-aircraft guns to the Assad regime and threatening to supply missile based systems. Arguably even if Geneva-2 can provide some kind of breathing space in the slaughter and