Air strikes on Syria damage hopes for peace

By Li Haidong Source:Global Times Published: 2018/4/16 21:13:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

People are wondering why the US, Britain and France launched air strikes on Syria Saturday last week.

First, the West cannot accept the rising status of Russia and Iran as they support the Bashar al-Assad government. The situation inside Syria has developed in a direction favorable to the government and a political solution. That is not what the West hoped to see, as it will harm the security of Israel, a US ally, and drag the West into a negative position in Syria and even the Middle East. The West tried to undermine the Assad government's military strength via military actions, to undo the government's efforts at reestablishing power and to halt the trend that was benefiting their rivals Russia and Iran.

Second, political needs prompt the three countries to initiate strikes on Syria. The US midterm elections will be held in November. Republicans and Democrats have both started to ballyhoo for action. President Donald Trump, mired in Russiagate and an affair with a porn star, desperately hopes strikes can shift the public focus from these scandals toward a kinder image of him protecting women and children from chemical attacks and the US exerting strong leadership in regional issues. Due to the recent Skripal poisoning incident, public doubts have arisen in Theresa May government's capacity to safeguard British national security. May wants to boost people's confidence in the government by joining in the military action. French President Emmanuel Macron also faced domestic social and political conundrums. He intended to take advantage of the operation to increase his domestic approval rate.

Third, although there is no clear evidence proving the relationship between the chemical attacks and the Assad government, news and reports in Western newspapers instigated public support for the military action. What effects will joint strikes have?

They will worsen the Syrian crisis and increase instability of the surrounding areas. Seven years of conflict in Syria have left more than 350,000 people dead and millions of refugees homeless. The strikes this time undermined the endeavors of moving Syria back toward peace.

Opposition forces and terrorist organizations like Islamic State which were previously marginalized and defeated will again become active in the fight against the government, causing more deaths and refugees. This will not only spell riots inside Syria but also worsen the refugee issue in Europe.

The United Nations' authority and credibility in solving international disputes will be damaged. The air strikes launched on Syria without discussion and authorization by the United Nations reveal that the UN can do nothing to stop major powers like the US, UK and France from using force on another nation.

It will make people worry about the stability of the current global order. And it will be a task for most member states of the UN to work out how to improve the UN's function of protecting global peace and preventing big powers from bypassing the UN and harming regional security.

The Middle East will get messier. The Syrian civil war vividly shows the extreme complexity of the conflicts for regional hegemony and confrontations among major powers. That Saudi Arabia and Iran seek regional dominance and united some countries in participating in the civil war makes the situation in Syria more complicated. Out of geopolitical competition, big powers like the US and Russia continuously deepen their involvement in the war and so aggravate the issue.

The strikes will downgrade the damaged relationship between the US and Russia to a frozen one. The two countries have different stances and interests over the establishment of a framework for the Middle East. They stand quite opposite in that the US supports Israel and Saudi Arabia while Russia backs Iran and the Syrian regime. The US cannot bear an increase in Russia's influence on Syrian domestic affairs. The strikes are nearly a showdown and the US-Russia relationship will continue deteriorating in the future.

Military means cannot solve any problem and will only hinder a solution to the Syrian issue. To end the war, we should go back to exploring political and diplomatic means and provide the UN with more powerful functions.

The author is a professor with the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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