UNSC Approves Resolution on Syria: Russia, US Make Strides in Boosting Cooperation in Middle East (II)
Andrei AKULOV | 21.12.2015 | OPINION

UNSC Approves Resolution on Syria: Russia, US Make Strides in Boosting Cooperation in Middle East (II)

See Part I

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-California) believes US double standards towards Russia and refusal to work with President Putin in the Middle East and elsewhere have resulted in an Islamist takeover in Libya and bloodshed in Syria. «The double standard that we have been judging Russia with, and basing our policy on that double standard, has caused us great harm», Rohrabacher said at a hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. 

«Had we been working with the Russians all along in good faith, I believe the situation in the Middle East would have been totally different, and better, more stable».

«The double standard that we’ve been judging Russia… is just overwhelming», Rohrabacher said. Noting that he had taken great pride in fighting against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, he said that Russians had expected to be treated as friends after the conflict ended, but were only met with more hostility. He also pointed out that the US had turned down a Russian proposal to broker a compromise end to the civil war in Syria years ago because of this hostility. Now that Syria has «totally gone to hell, we still can’t get ourselves to try to look at Putin as a possible partner in cooperation to make things better», Rohrabacher stressed. 

«I believe it is our hostility to Russia that prevented us from creating a policy that would create a more stable Middle East», the congressman said.

When Rohrabacher asked why exactly that might be a US goal to begin with, Anne Patterson, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, replied that Washington was protecting a «national security interest» because the situation in Syria affected the security of US allies – Israel, the Gulf Arab states, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

«By dealing with Putin instead of trying to demonize him, perhaps we could have had have more stability in Syria and our friends would be actually better off, than the current policy of ‘whatever we do, don’t work with Russia, and get rid of Assad’», Rohrabacher retorted. His testimony provides a clue to understanding why the Russia-US dialogue on international security has been, to great extent, stalled to complicate the situation in many areas and regions. 

The adoption of the UN resolution on Syria is a long-awaited breakthrough against the background of Russia - US discourse being in shambles. In fact, the United States is NATO’s leading member-state, so the channels of military cooperation between the United States and the alliance’s other countries, on the one hand, and Russia, on the other, are totally frozen. Though not formally abolished, the Russia-NATO Council does not work. The alliance’s activity on Russia’s borders has been growing with retaliation on the part of Moscow to follow. The tensions are running high. Any incident, like the interception of plane may entail a tragic mistake. For the purpose of preventing the risk no matter what the circumstances could be (for instance, the two coalitions conducting their separate campaigns in Syria), the USSR and the US back in 1972 signed an inter-government agreement On The Prevention of Incidents On And Over the High Seas, which set a code of conduct both parties should abide by in case of direct contact. However that agreement applied mostly to ships, while these days military planes get involved ever more often. In the case of the both coalitions, air forces carry out the brunt of missions in Syria. To ward off threats it would be expedient to restore the operation of consultative groups of Russia and NATO in the spirit of the 1972 convention for exchanging information about flights by military planes and voyages by naval ships in the Mediterranean (and elsewhere). Against the backdrop of the explosive situation in the Middle East military cooperation should be restored on the pragmatic basis. The need for interaction stems from the common threats to international security, such as the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation, terrorism, local crises, and the disastrous effects of the Arab Spring chain of government coups. No single state will be able to cope with these challenges on its own, so military cooperation between Russia and the US just has no alternative.

So far, Russia has justified blocking any type of international action besides talking as defending the norm of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states (except at the request of their leaders or with Security Council approval.) The United States has countered that the responsibility to protect civilians is part of what makes a sovereign legitimate and the international community worthy of that name (the responsibility to protect). 

But nobody wants to live in a world where either principle always trumps the other, but the current situation violates both principles and many other values. Looks like the time to change the focus of conversation.

The United States and Russia have a common interest in defeating the Islamic State and promoting an end to the conflict and chaos in Syria, and the U.S. and Russian militaries have a specific interest in cooperating to deconflict their respective military operations in and over the country. 

With Russia’s military deployments to Syria as part of separate coalition and US current strategy of conducting airstrikes and supporting moderate rebel groups having failed, the White House has little choice but to engage. Whether the US likes it or not, Russia is an increasingly important player in Syria, and any political solution will have to take account its interests. What Moscow cares about is preserving the Syrian state structure, which, it argues, the U.S. failed to do in Iraq and Libya. The facts on the ground have demonstrated that the Syrian President has much more support than the US believed he did. 

This presents the US with a clear choice: continue to support relatively weak opposition forces with support from key regional allies or work together with Russia in an effort to build a unified coalition to fight the Islamic State and give less priority to ousting Assad. The current policy approach has not yet succeeded after almost five years. The alternative would make the administration confront significant political opposition inside the country and likely from some U.S. allies. But successful U.S.-Russia cooperation could substantially alter the dynamics of the fight against the Islamic State and, hopefully, accelerate its defeat. This cooperation could include some form of coordination of international air strikes with ground operations as well as joint U.S.-Russia efforts to persuade other regional states to participate in the fight and to facilitate talks between the Syrian government and non-Islamic State opposition forces.

The UN resolution provides a solid ground for launching the process. 

The agreements on Syria’s chemical weapons and Iran’s nuclear program have demonstrated that the both parties can do it. If there is a will, there is a way. Russia and the USA can negotiate win-win solutions for their countries on issues of high importance for not only the U.S. and Russia, but also the entire international community, despite all the hindrances on the way.

There is another sign to show the trend is positive. President Barack Obama urged Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call on Dec. 18 to "deescalate tensions" with Iraq by continuing to withdraw Turkish forces from northern Iraq, the White House said in a statement.

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After all, Russian, U.S., European, Iranian, Saudi, Chinese and Indian interests are on the same side against an enemy that threatens all of them. Everyone agrees that IS must be defeated, even though they disagree on how to do it. We may never see the Syria we once knew. It will have to be put together again in a wholly new way. But the only way to do it is through negotiations among the various Syrian players (except those excluded by the UN), with the assistance of the international community, including Russia, Arab states and the West. Priority should be given to Syria people. They are the ones to decide their fate. All are interested in doing away with the IS that now controls large swathes of eastern Syria. This is not the time to snipe at each other, this is the time to save Syria and reach the common goal. As much as divided they were, Russia and the US managed to convince the Syrian the chemical weapons. It actually happened. They can do the right thing now.

On Dec. 18, a very important event made the world much safer. It is a big stride in the right direction to make the Middle East actors see light at the end of the tunnel. Russia and the US are among those who gained much.

Tags: UN  Middle East  Russia  Syria  US 

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