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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Syria: Who’s in and who’s out?

Plenty to ponder over Syria
Following the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad’s regime in Syria, the stakes have been raised. But as the calls for international military intervention grows louder, how have Europe’s various players been lining up? Well, the EU is certainly not “speaking with one voice.” Somehow neither the Lisbon Treaty, nor the EEAS nor the arrival of Cathy Ashton has managed to magically replace 28 individual foreign policies with a single EU one. (We remain shocked!)

So when it comes to Syria, there are now three key questions for the member states: whether to take part in military action; whether to back military action without necessarily taking part and, crucially, whether to do either of these two without a UN mandate. The last is obviously key as Russia is liley to veto any UN resolution with teeth, and has already made it clear it would consider any intervention without a UN mandate a "crude violation of international law".  

So far, we count three EU countries that have signalled willingness to participate militarily even if a UN mandate isn't forthcoming – the UK, France and DenmarkFrance and the UK - that between them account for most of the EU's military spending - are as usual the key players in the EU when matters are moved into the domain of hard power. David Cameron will today present a draft resolution proposing action against Assad's regime in the UN Security Council "authorising necessary measures to protect civilians" in Syria. Writing in the Telegraph today, British Foreign Minister William Hague argues that:
“this is the moment for democratic nations to live up to their values…We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons in the 21st century to go unchallenged. That would send a signal to the Syrian regime that they will never face any consequences for their actions, no matter how barbarous."
Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande said yesterday that “France is ready to punish those who took the heinous decision to gas innocents," while French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius told Europe 1 radio on Monday: "The only option that I am ruling out is to do nothing." 

Both, it would appear, very much keep the option open to press ahead without the UN. 

Germany is more hesitant. There is virtually zero chance of Berlin playing a major part in any military operation of any sort. The question is - and this is what the German debate is centred around - will it back military action without a UN resolution. Remember, Germany ended up on the same side as Russia and China - against the UK and France - in abstaining on a UN Security Council vote on Libya back in 2011. However, this move was also triggered a domestic and international political backlash, which the Germans haven't forgotten. The country's Foreign Ministry has welcomed the UK's motion at the UN.
And there's no lack of scepticism. Phillipp Missfelder, the foreign affairs spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party, said that,"The [German] army has, through its current international operations, already reached the breaking point," and that military action without a UN mandate is "hard to imagine." However, interestingly, fellow CDU MP Ruprecht Polenz, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bundestag, said that military action against Syria without a UN mandate could be "legitimate", citing Kosovo as a precedence, adding that the use of chemical weapons was a "serious, brutal taboo, which may not remain without consequences”. However, he stopped short of explicitly calling for German involvement. 

The SPD's chairman Sigmar Gabriel has suggested that German involvement should be limited to the diplomatic front, specifically that Chancellor Merkel ought to fly to Moscow to convince Russian President Putin to change his policy.

According to Number 10, Chancellor Merkel and David Cameron discussed the situation and “agreed that such an attack demanded a firm response from the international community.” (Not that this fairly generic statement tells us much.) Germany clearly remains nervous about foreign policy meddling. 

So far Italy is leaning back too. "Italy will not take part in any military solutions without a UN Security Council mandate," according to its Foreign Minister Emma Bonino. "Even the option of a limited intervention risks becoming unlimited," said Bonino, adding that Italy was "already stretched and even over-stretched" militarily in other parts of the world.

Despite Poland's support for the EU developing a stronger and more coherent military presence, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk confirmed today that “Poland does not envisage taking part in a military intervention in Syria. In any form.”

Like many others, Spain 
hasn't yet made up its mind but it is sticking to the hope of a UN resolution. Deputy Secretary General of the Partido Popular, Carlos Floriano, said Wednesday, that the Government will decide its stance “[once it is] aware perfectly of every detail." Meanwhile the Spanish Foreign Ministry said it hoped the UN Security Council “can make decisions that comply with international law.” 

Of the smaller countries, "non-aligned" Sweden is as usual calling  for “the broadest international support possible” but leaving it open how to approach a US/UK/France led operation absent a UN solution. Fellow "non alinged" country Austria is also staying quiet. Portugal says it won’t comment on potential action, with the Ministry of Foreign affairs simply issuing the generic statement that “it is in close coordination with its partners and allies.”

NATO-member Denmark, on the other hand, yesterday signalled that it’s willing to take part in military action even absent a UN-solution, with a series of pretty robust statements from senior Danish politicians. According to an opinion poll published today, 64% of Danes are opposed to such a move, however. 

Greece is likely to come under pressure to open up its strategically important bases to the US but ANSA quotes Greek officials as saying they have themselves “ruled out the possibility of active military involvement”. 

So what about the EU institutions themselves?  We 
wouldn't want to forget those. They are sticking to the ‘UN Security Council’ line. As Baroness Ashton said on Monday, "Of course the Security Council is extremely important in this. It is the role of the Security Council to look and see how the international community can and should respond."

With Hermann van Rompuy, President of the European Council, also urging similar action on Syria via the UN Security Council, this begs the question, what happens if that isn't forthcoming and the UK/France and US continue to push for military action? This then has the potential to become one of the biggest foreign policy clashes between the UK/France and Brussels since the new EU foreign policy architecture was put into place.


Rik said...

Another case of Punch and Judy trying to play international statesmen.

1. The respective populations are clearly not buying Iraq style rhetoric anymore. And as with several other accounts the Euro and immigration to name a few if this ends bad, bills will have to be paid at election time.
Even now there is hardly popular support, even less for outside the UN. And it likley only will get worse when things end up without direct success.

2. Syria has all in it to become a large Libanon. Groups that are basically hostile to each other living relatively close to each other. Plus because of the secular regime have often moved to the big cities especially Aleppo and Damascus. Not like Iraq with groups geographically more split.

This looks more like Iraq than Libya and with more groups involved and living closer to each other as well.
This is not a relatively easy to demarcate frontline this is a Jackson Pollock type one.
Unlikely as well that has 'tribe' will drop Assad unlike Gadaffi. And even if they drop him he will be replaced by like and the fighting will continue.

3. So in a nutshell a civil war but not one that can easily be stopped now it has started. And with lots of downside risk and very little upside.

4. The West has let it chance slipped when it properly started. They might have had the chance to decouple Iran and Libanon. That chance is gone now.

5. Anyway the West under so called leadership from Obozo is messing the MENA relations completely up after the Arab Spring. They have had no major call right and this is likely the next one.
The ball is Iran getting nuclear and they have their eyes everywhere else but not on the ball. To play that game you need Russia and this again is hardly helpful. The only thing that happens on that front is that Putin gets pi$$ed off with every occasion possible.

Hard to see you get the whole EU behind it with it being highly unpopular nearly in every country. And not all governments being on an electoral suicide mission.

Rollo said...

How many times do we go to war to stop Muslim people from killing each other? And what is the result? The ones we are against hate the west; and the ones we help hate the west for helping them.
We armed the Taliban in Afghanistan; we do not want to arm them again in Syria.
But: if you see a weak person being beaten up on the street, and if you can help stop it, and if you can do it in a way that does not make things worse, then a good person should do it and not walk by. Targetted strikes on artillery pieces, for example?

sceptic said...

And the EU wants a european army ?
In the event of any action soldiers of countries A,B,C...they can take part, D,E,F... they cant, G & H will provide logistics, X,Y,Z haven't made their minds up..
That sounds like another eu fiasco.