Syria could unite Russia and China against the U.S.

June 8, 2012

International

Syria could unite Russia and China against the U.S.
 
 
By Dmitri Trenin
Bloomberg
 
 
The massacre of more than 100 men, women and children at Houla has buried the peace plan for Syria promoted by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Soon, the regime and its opponents will get to fight out their civil war unobstructed.
 
When that happens, Syria will present the U.S. and Russia with choices that have implications far beyond the fate of a single Middle Eastern dictator, including stronger Russia-China cooperation to counter U.S. foreign policies.
 
It’s a defining aspect of the Syrian conflict that it has split the international community, especially the U.S. and Russia, making it difficult to force any solution on the warring parties. Americans see Russia as supporting a last, fellow authoritarian ally in the Middle East. Russians retort that U.S. policy toward Syria is all about changing the regime in Damascus, because it’s allied with Tehran, and that the U.S. never tried to make Annan’s peace initiative work.
 
Each accuses the other of allowing violence in pursuit of larger geopolitical goals, regardless of the human cost. The atrocities at Houla merely raised the temperature of that dispute.
 
In the days after the massacre, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin made it clear to European counterparts that his opposition to foreign military intervention in Syria was as strong as ever. This has put Russia on a potential collision course with the U.S., should President Barack Obama decide — against his own best judgment — to authorize military action in Syria.
 
Turning Point
That scenario no longer looks as unlikely as it once did. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton has already talked about Obama reaching his Bosnia moment. The U.S. election is mainly about jobs and the economy, but there is only so much passivity that a White House incumbent can afford when faced with an acute humanitarian crisis. Once the Annan plan is pronounced dead, Syria’s civil war will gain in intensity. Arms shipments to the opposition will increase and military advisers from Arab and other countries will probably follow. As the death toll accelerates, calls for international military intervention may become irresistible.
 
A U.S.-backed military intervention would lead to a deep rupture with the leadership in Moscow. Russia wouldn’t try to stand in the way militarily, but it might well be driven to forge a stronger strategic partnership with China, which also opposes foreign military interventions in the Middle East and has joined Russia in vetoing UN Security Council resolutions on Syria.
 
China has been ambivalent in the past about Russian overtures to ally against the U.S., but that’s changing due to concerns over the implications of Obama’s pivot to Asia. There have recently been calls from within the Chinese military for an alliance with Russia to stand up to the U.S. pressure. China’s political leadership, for the time being, remains skeptical, and so does Putin. But in Moscow, too, there’s a pro-China lobby, and Western intervention in Syria could provide the catalyst for a strategic rebalancing, with wide-ranging implications for the U.S.
 
Putin has been in Beijing this week to meet Chinese leaders, including at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security and development arrangement focused on Central Asia. (In a coincidence of scheduling, Hillary Clinton was meeting some of her allies on the Syrian issue in Istanbul at the same time.) How to handle Syria, Iran and the U.S. were topics for discussion in Beijing.
 
Russia’s Bind
Putin has vowed that Syria will not be another Libya, and it won’t be: Russia will block any UN Security Council resolution that authorizes the use of force in Syria. Nor will Russia support economic sanctions. Yet the Russian government finds itself in a bind. Its calculation that Assad would prevail over the opposition, Bahrain-style, woefully overlooked the external dimension to the Syrian drama. Now it’s accused of protecting the “butcher of Damascus,” while China withdraws into its shell. To the leaders of the Kremlin, this looks unfair.
 
To start with, Russia doesn’t count Assad as an ally — he’s merely a business client. Russia did lean on Assad, persuading him to agree first to an Arab League mission, and then the Annan plan. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Putin is losing the argument internationally. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, hinted after the Houla massacre that the U.S. might go outside the Security Council to take tougher action, thus circumventing the Russian and Chinese vetoes.
 
What can Russia do? There are just two options. One is to stick to the current approach. This won’t stop foreign involvement outside the UN, nor civil war, but Russia would be able to denounce interference in Syria as illegitimate and watch the resulting mess from the sidelines. That mess would be huge and many outsiders who venture into the Syrian conflict may emerge bruised. Still, Russia would suffer reputational damage and would pay a price for being on the wrong side of history, especially if Assad were to fall.
 
The alternative would be based on an idea recently invoked by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, namely that in civil conflicts, the incumbent government bears a much larger responsibility than its opponents do. Had he really wanted a peace settlement, Assad might have used Russia to help him arrange for a political transition in Syria. Instead, he used Russia as a cover for stalling on peace and expanding a war against his people. He has therefore failed in his responsibility.
 
Lavrov and most recently his deputy, Gennady Gatilov, have said they would be willing to accept a solution that involves Assad’s departure, so long as that doesn’t involve a foreign military intervention. This is, potentially, a point of convergence between the U.S. and Russia.
 
Inviting Blowback
U.S. leaders should hold back from approving any military action. Beyond the many risks on the ground, the U.S. would invite blowback in the form of deeper rifts with Russia and China in priority areas such as pressuring Iran over its nuclear program. China and Russia might also be motivated to overcome their differences and breathe real muscle into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, turning it into a counterpart to NATO.
 
Instead, the U.S. should make it clear to Russia that it doesn’t foresee military intervention or forced regime change in Syria, and that it would lean heavily on the opposition in Syria to agree to talks and a political transition with the regime in Damascus, though not with Assad.
 
Russia, for its part, should tell Assad: Your time is up, we will no longer ship arms to a government involved in a civil war, and the only thing we can do for you now is to help negotiate your safe passage out of the country. Letting go of Assad at this point, while encouraging members of the Syrian military not implicated in atrocities to take over and open talks with the opposition, would not plunge Syria into a civil war — that has already begun. What it might do is shorten the conflict and save lives. If lives are more important than regimes — and they are — then this is the path to follow.
 
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-06-07/syria-could-unite-russia-and-china-against-the-u-s-.html
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June 8, 2012

France plans Friends of Syria meet, rejects Iran

Reuters

PARIS – France will host a meeting on July 6 of countries that back the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but said on Thursday it would not include Iran in attempts to resolve the worsening crisis.
 
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that, with world powers seeking a way to stop the bloodshed in the uprising against Assad, Paris would host a third “Friends of Syria” meeting with the aim of supporting the opposition and preventing the conflict spreading to neighboring countries.

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Video: Blood & Oil- Hollow Victory

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Video: Syria, the French Mandate and the Presidents since Independence, 1946-2000

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Syria

Gained independence from France on April 17, 1946 from League of Nations mandate under French administration. 

 

Population: 22,530,746 (July 2012 est.)
The country is slightly larger than North Dakota.

 

Administrative divisions:   
14 provinces (muhafazat, singular – muhafazah); Al Hasakah, Al Ladhiqiyah (Latakia), Al Qunaytirah, Ar Raqqah, As Suwayda’, Dar’a, Dayr az Zawr, Dimashq (Damascus), Halab, Hamah, Hims (Homs), Idlib, Rif Dimashq (Damascus Countryside), Tartus

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Military branches:   
Syrian Armed Forces: Syrian Arab Army, Syrian Arab Navy, Syrian Arab Air and Air Defense Forces (includes Air Defense Command) (2008)
 
Military service age and obligation:   
18 years of age for compulsory male military service; conscript service obligation – 18 months; women are not conscripted but may volunteer to serve; re-enlistment obligation 5 years, with retirement after 15 years or age 40 (enlisted) or 20 years or age 45 (NCOs) (2012)
 
Manpower available for military service:   
males age 16-49: 5,889,837
females age 16-49: 5,660,751 (2010 est.)
 
Manpower fit for military service:   
males age 16-49: 5,055,510
females age 16-49: 4,884,151 (2010 est.)
 
Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually:   
male: 256,698
female: 244,712 (2010 est.)

Source: CIA The World Factbook

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Aleppo

Aleppo is the largest city in Syria with over 2.985 million people.

 

Damascus

Damascus is the second largest city in Syria with  2.527 million people and it is the capital of the nation.

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June 7, 2012

Shanghai Cooperation Organization Beijing summit concludes

 

Chinese President Hu Jintao, right, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China Thursday, June 7, 2012. Photo: Mark Ralston, Pool / AP

 

Chinese President Hu Jintao, center, chairs the closing session of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China Thursday, June 7, 2012. Photo: Mark Ralston, Pool / AP

Xinhua

BEIJING– The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) concluded its Beijing summit on Thursday at the Great Hall of the People, with member states agreeing to further cooperation in a variety of fields.

The summit is pivotal for the future development of the SCO, as it is being held at a time when the organization is entering its next decade of existence, said President Hu Jintao when delivering a keynote speech at the summit.

The SCO has achieved remarkable accomplishments in its first 10 years, Hu said. In that time, member states of the SCO have adhered to the “Shanghai Spirit” and signed the Treaty on Long-term Good-neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation.

They have promoted the ideal of lasting peace and friendship, which has been widely accepted and supported by people of all member states, he said, adding that the organization’s international prestige and influence has also grown significantly.

The Chinese president said the international and regional situation has been complex and volatile, thus bringing many uncertainties to the regional situation.

Only when SCO member states enhance cooperation and remain united can they effectively cope with emerging challenges, safeguard regional peace and achieve common development, he said.

Noting that the SCO is standing at a new starting point, Hu said the member states should set a new development goal for the next decade and make detailed plans for implementation so as to ensure the development of the organization, bring substantial benefits to all members and make fresh contributions to peace and stability in the region and around the world.

The president made a four-point proposal for the future development of the organization.

He called on the member states to make joint efforts to build the SCO into a harmonious community, a fortress of regional security and stability and a driving force to boost regional economic development, as well as an effective platform for increasing international exchanges and influence.

He said China is ready to work with all member states to comprehensively carry out the agreements reached at the summit, push forward cooperation within the SCO and jointly contribute to the future development of the organization.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the SCO should enhance security cooperation, deepen economic cooperation, encourage people-to-people exchanges and open itself up to outside parties and international organizations.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and Uzbek President Islam Karimov also addressed the summit on Thursday.

Leaders and officials from the four SCO observer countries of Mongolia, Iran, Pakistan and India, as well as Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, also delivered speeches at the meeting.

SCO Secretary-General Muratbek Imanaliev and officials from the Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure of the SCO (RATS), the United Nations, Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Euroasian Economic Community and Collective Security Treaty Organization also attended the summit.

At the meeting, all participants exchanged views on the Afghanistan conflict and the Iranian nuclear issue.

The SCO decided to grant Afghanistan observer status and accept Turkey as a dialogue partner.

The member states of the SCO adopted 10 agreements on Thursday, including the Declaration on Building a Region with Lasting Peace and Common Prosperity, the Strategic Plan for the Medium-Term Development of the SCO, and the SCO Regulations on Political and Diplomatic Measures and Mechanism of Response to Events Jeopardizing Regional Peace, Security and Stability.

The SCO was founded in Shanghai on June 15, 2001, and currently has six full members — China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The 2013 SCO summit will be held in Kyrgyzstan.

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2012-06/07/c_131638088.htm

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Video: Inside Story – Russia and China: A NATO of the East?

 

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