Friday, 4 April 2014

Syria and the Ukraine

Or more specifically, has the wests reaction to Syria had an influence on Russias response to the evolving situation in Ukraine?

When the British parliament voted to reject military action in Syria, which subsequently caused a pause for thought in the US, this gave Russia the breathing space to negotiate a deal which allowed Assad to remain untouched in Syria while agreeing to dispose of his chemical weapons.

At the time I was in favour of action against Syria, one of the main reasons being because I felt that to do nothing would send the wrong message to other nations that the west was good at talking about outrage but would not lift a finger to actually intervene and make good on their threats, unless the target was somewhere like Libya where the risks were appreciably lower than in Syria.

Looking at Putins actions over the Ukraine, could this line of thinking have proved right? Russia moved relatively swiftly once Yanukovych fell and with a bold move secured the Crimean peninsula. The question has to be asked; would they have been so bold if NATO had taken action over Syria?

They might have. Sevastopol is a key Russian naval base and the fear that it might have been over run by a new Ukrainian government was a strong motive to prod Russia into action. But you do have to wonder whether a tougher stance by the US, UK and others over Syria might have made Putin think twice about making such an overt move to protect his interests. 

What's more problematic now is this; how has the cumulative effect of western approaches to Syria and Ukraine affected global impressions of western commitment?

The world is still an unstable place, just as it always has been and just as - in all probability - it likely will always be. The danger is that many leaders around the world are developing the impression that the US and the UK have lost the will to act when necessary. 

Saddam Hussein was probably one of the more notorious prior doubters of US desire to get involved in foreign escapades. We know that one of the considerations he balanced up before invading Kuwait in 1990 was whether America would take action. He calculated - incorrectly as it turned out - that the  American public would not accept such an adventure in the Middle East, and that as such no President would authorise such action. 

His thinking on this subject was driven by the American withdrawal from Vietnam, or more specifically the American publics' response to the Vietnam war. And now here we find ourselves, just a few years removed from the withdrawal from Iraq, on the verge of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and having seemingly backed down and shied away on both the Syria and Ukraine issues due to Russian pressure.

The message this sends can only be negative. You have to wonder whether countries like China, Iran, Venezuela and/or others might be tempted to do something stupid, emboldened by perceived weakness in the Whitehouse and in Westminster.

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