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Thursday, June 22, 2017, 09:27 (GMT+7)
Syrian conflict and competition among major powers

The political crisis in Syria has lasted for more than 6 years and shown no signs of being ended. It is believed that one of the main reasons for the issue is the fierce geopolitical competition among major powers, first and foremost the U.S. and Western countries vs Russia and China.

A focus for geopolitical competition among major powers both inside and outside the region

Syria holds a position of importance to the world’s modern politics. Economically, the country possesses valuable natural resources and serves as the centre of the whole Arab oil and gas pipeline of thousands of kilometres, not to mention its world-top oil reserves in the Mediterranean Sea. Militarily, Syria’s coastline is the potential place to build military ports and bases for the navies in the Mediterranean Sea. Politically, Syria is an important ally of Russia and Iran which have also been the focus of a no-less-intense geopolitical competition for many years.

Occupying such an important position, Syria has fallen into a spiral of geopolitical competition at regional and global level. Regionally, Syria has become a centre that draws 5 countries, including Israel, Arab Saudi, Iran, Qatar and Turkey pursuing the ambition to take the leadership role in the Middle East. While Iran, an ally of Syria, manages to support it in the struggle to protect its territorial integrity and national sovereignty, the rest advocate overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad and making Damascus their ally against Iran. Globally, it is the competition between the U.S., NATO, and its allied countries and Russia and China. The two-level spiral has changed Syria’s crisis, which was initially seen as a result of the “Arab Spring”, into a war of various forms. President al-Assad ever stated that the crisis in Syria was not a civil war at all, and that his country was fighting against a war on terror launched by “opposition forces” in cooperation with terrorist organizations, economically, politically and militarily supported by external major powers.

Syrian Democratic Forces supported by the US have been besieging Raqqa city since November 2016 (photo: Reuters)

The US strategic considerations in Syria’s conflict

It should be noted that the US is now conducting a global geopolitical war to seize natural resources, especially the fuel. In this regard, the war to gain control of oil and gas in the Eurasia is taking place fiercely. The US effort to take control of the world’s oil is intimately linked with the position of United Stated Dollar (USD) as it is the only country in the world which guarantees the value of its currency by the total of the world’s oil reserves, not by the total of national assets like the others. Once the US loses control of the world’s oil reserves, it will not be able to guarantee the value of the USD. Therefore, the wars launched by the US after the end of the Cold War all resulted from its ambition to take control of the world’s oil reserves with an important geopolitical belt, namely Greater Middle East, stretching from Africa and Middle East to Central Asia and South Asia, and political upheavals called “Arab Spring” supported by the US aimed to implement this strategy. In this strategy, Syria is among the top targets.

To overthrow President al-Assad’s administration, the US has conducted a compound war with a close combination of diplomatic, economic, political and military measures. Diplomatically, the US has paid special attention to taking advantage of the role of the United Nations Security Council and the United Nations General Assembly to legalize the voice of the so-called “opposition forces” and neutralize the political institution led by President al-Assad. Militarily, the US has used “the opposition” to conduct a “proxy war”. It even planned to adopt another version of Libya military intervention to Syria. However, due to Russia’s support, the US could not terminate President al-Assad’s administration. Alleging that “Syria’s Army used chemical weapons”, the US used dozens of cruise missiles to attack Shayrat airbase of Syria in April 2017. It is believed that the US is directly pursuing a dangerous military confrontation with Russia and Damascus. That also proves that the competition for Syria between the US and Russia has been more apparent and intense.

Russia’s strategy and actions

Since the outbreak of Syria’s crisis, Russia has resolutely defended the principle that no country has the right to intervene in Syria’s internal affairs. According to analysts, the reason is that a part from being a traditional ally of Syria, Russia is the only country having a military base in Syrian port of Tartus. This is an important foundation for Russia to extend its influence over the region and the world. Thus, alongside the sponsorship of Damascus, Russia has to deal with violations of international law against Syria, including several countries’ open support weapons to the “opposition” in Syria to dethrone the constitutional and legitimate Government of Syria.

On September 30th 2015, in response to Syrian Government’s request and on the basis of the UN Security Council’s Resolution on Syria, President Putin mounted a military campaign against terrorism in this country, with the participation of Iran, Iraq, Syria and some other forces to prevent the Government of Damascus from collapsing.

China’s role in Syria’s conflict

Generally, the role of China in Syria’s conflict has not been clear. Understanding the complexity of this conflict, China always holds its principle of staying out of the confrontation. In reaction to political fluctuations of Syria, Beijing often claims that they would not take side. However, basically, China would support Russia in the issue of Syria. For instance, on August 28th 2013, Russia and China vetoed a Draft Resolution of the UN Security Council proposed by the United Kingdom on Syria; even on August 29th 2013, representatives of China and Russia dropped out of the UN Security Council’s Meeting on Syria’s chemical weapons. According to analysts, the reason for that reaction of Russia and China was that the US and its allies crudely intervened in internal affairs of Syria.

As for forces in the conflict of Syria, China advocates negotiation with both the Government and the “opposition”. This is a dual-use policy of Beijing. It clearly understands that extremist Islamic forces fighting for the overthrow of President al-Assad will not bring stability and development to Syria and the region; however, in case these forces defeat the Government of Damascus, China will have to cooperate with them to protect its benefits in “post-al-Assad” period.

To conclude, the conflict in Syria results from both internal disagreement and fierce competition among major powers, particularly the US, the West, and Russia, China. To bring it to an end, there should be cooperation among countries, with a respect for international law and national sovereignty of Syria.

Senior Colonel Le The Mau

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