Foreign Intervention and Interests Opposing Peace in Syria

Recent Syria ceasefire efforts by the U.S. and Russia demonstrate a step in the right direction in ending the bloody five year long conflict, despite many having little faith in them. Firstly, it is not a fully-fledged ceasefire but a temporary pause in the fighting to allow humanitarian supplies into besieged areas. Secondly, it is only a roadmap for implementation, an expression of intent, and several past attempts have failed disastrously.

This article offers reasons as to why certain countries such as Russia, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia may have motives for not applying more effort into truly bringing the war to an end.

The Syrian conflict began in March 2011 and has reportedly claimed the lives of over 250,000 people and displaced 11 million more. Over 4.5 million of the displaced have fled the country, many to neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey; one of the largest refugee exoduses in recent history.

Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan

Zaatari camp in Jordan – In March 2015 the population was estimated at 83,000 refugees

Since the beginning of the civil war being fought between loyal forces to President Assad and those opposed to his rule, foreign powers have been directly or in-directly supporting both sides.

Russia enjoys a historically strong and friendly relationship with Syria symbolized by Russia’s only Mediterranean naval base being located in Syria. Syria is an important Russian arms client, Russia’s seventh largest, and the total value of Russia’s arms trade with Syria during the decade preceding the conflict amounted to around $1.5 billion. Syria purchases modern weaponry and equipment including aircraft combat jets and tactical missile systems essential in its war against the opposition.

In the first three years of the war (2011-13) Assad’s government spent over $980 million on Russian arms, almost two-thirds the amount spent over the entire previous decade. Extremely profitable for the Rosoboronexport Corporation, Russia’s sole state intermediary defence agency that is exclusively entitled to supply the international market with Russian armaments.

Within a year of the conflict erupting, Saudi Arabia began sending arms to the Syrian opposition by the way of allies in Iraq and Lebanon. In April 2013 it was reported that Saudi Arabia was supplying rebels with arms purchased from Croatia. Planeloads of rifles and machine guns left over from the Balkan wars of the 1990’s reportedly left Croatia destined for Syrian rebels.

In May 2015, Turkey and Saudi Arabia were actively supporting hard-line Islamist rebels fighting against Assad’s regime that included al-Qaeda affiliates. This support has most likely continued and intensified over the last nine months.

Homs

Today, large parts of the city of Homs are destroyed or severely damaged

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Russia have never been amicable. In 1938 Saudi Arabia closed its legation in Moscow and did not re-establish relations until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, over fifty years later. Relations were perhaps their worse when Saudi Arabia supported the Mujahideen during the 1980’s Soviet war in Afghanistan; a conflict which cost the lives of as much as 2 million people. Saudi funding was critical in fighting communist governments and political movements in countries such as Egypt, Pakistan and Sudan during the Cold war era. Depriving Russia of influence in the Middle East would maintain historical Saudi attitudes towards Russia.

The beginning of U.S. led air strikes of ISIL targets within Syria, in September 2014, marked an escalation of further foreign intervention. Soon after the strikes the U.S. also began arming rebels that it classified as moderates in order to defeat ISIL. Some of the arms reportedly fell into al-Qaeda hands as soon as they arrived in the country.

Weeks after Russia began launching air strikes on behalf, and as requested by, President Assad in September 2015, Saudi Arabia increased its support to the rebels once more. Modern, high powered weaponry, including U.S. made anti-tank weapons, were now being supplied to the Free Syrian Army, Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest) and others. Major victories were reported by the rebels, credited to these new supplies.

The Syrian government and the main opposition umbrella group have accepted terms to cease hostilities on 27-Feb but existing air campaigns and the exclusion of certain opposition elements jeopardize the deal.  The deal does not apply to the two main rival jihadist groups, IS and al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front.

The Syrian Opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) does not expect the government or Russia to cease hostilities and states both will continue to evade the inevitable by derailing the political process towards peace.

Furthermore, the U.S and its allies want to intensify their air campaign against IS in Syria, what they see as the main threat in the region. Russia will end some of its airstrikes in Syria but terrorist groups would continue to be targeted.

Patrick Chappatte

One thing is certain, the war and its continuation is excellent business for the arms trade. As mentioned, Syria is spending record amounts on Russian arms, almost $1 billion worth in the first three years of the war alone, but this is a fraction of how much Saudi Arabia spends on arm imports.

Saudi Arabia purchases arms from the U.S., U.K, and France primarily and spent over $7 billion between 2013 and 2015. Saudi Arabia is the U.S and the U.K’s largest defence industry client.

Although Russia has larger arms trade clients, such as India, China and Vietnam, Syria is a valued client and Middle Eastern partner. It is curious how very little progress has been made in de-escalating the conflict while Saudi Arabia supplies U.S and U.K arms to the opposition and Assad buys Russian arms. With billions of dollars being spent on arms from Russia, the U.S. and the U.K, might this offer a reason as to why these countries are allowing the conflict in Syria to continue?

The Russian and U.S. led air strikes and bombings in Syria are also profitable for the arms trade. The bombs being dropped by the U.S., the U.K. and France cost approximately $30,000 each. An American Tomahawk missile costs approximately $1.5 million and a Russian supersonic, all-weather bomber aircraft around $24 million.

As long as the conflict continues one thing is guaranteed, defence industry companies such as Russian Rosoboronexport and American Lockheed Martin and Raytheon will continue to profit. In 2015, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon’s combined revenue surpassed $68 billion – more than $6,000 per displaced Syrian.

Foreign intervention will escalate if the last five years are any indication, resulting in further death, destruction and major displacement of the Syrian people.

 

 

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