Is Syria the New Afghanistan?Posted: July 3, 2012
The crisis in Syria continues unabated as the international community fails to present a united front. Russia and China are still standing in the way of an armed intervention by the UN; each possessing one of the five all-important vetoes. The situation has grown ever more dramatic since the relationship between President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and Turkey has deteriorated, with Syria shooting down a Turkish jet. Since then Turkey has mustered aircraft along the border the two countries share.
In previous posts parallels have been drawn between the uprising in Syria and the, arguably, successful revolution in Libya last year. The similarity is obvious: people of both countries were swept up in the Arab Spring and were absorbed into a violent, protracted, civil war. While this is true I argue that this is perhaps not the most significant comparison that can be made. I am talking, here, about Afghanistan. Not, however, modern day Afghanistan.
Both the government and the Rebels appear to have nation states lining up behind them. While the support from these nation states cannot yet be said to be game-changing, it could well be in future. Russia appears willing to sell Syria arms despite the conflict, a recent shipment of Soviet-era attack helicopters bound for Syria failed to leave British waters, and remains against a UN intervention. Meanwhile the West is coming closer and closer to a Libya-style intervention: arming the rebels but sending no ground troops.
Does this all sound familiar? Russia taking one side and the West another over the conflict in a single country? Indeed it does. Afghanistan. 1979-1989. At the height of the Cold War America and the Soviet Union faced each other across the tough battlefield of Afghanistan. The USSR invaded Afghanistan, and the American government armed the Mujahideen in retaliation. I am not insinuating that the Free Syrian Army would turn into the equivalent of the modern-day Taliban, as the Mujahideen did, but the analogy still fits. America and Russia will never go to war with each other directly unless they have no other choice, no other shred of possibility for any other option. The result, as in the Cold War, would be mutually assured destruction. But that doesn’t mean they won’t fight another proxy war, this time in Syria.
This may never happen. In fact it’s unlikely so long as Russia don’t want to directly oppose the West, and that is still the case. For all its obstruction to the notion of UN intervention, Russia is likely to, as in Libya, eventually bow to the wishes of the UN by abstaining. However I would imagine that this time, with the special relationship between Russia and Syria, Russia may ask for something from the UN in return for their abstention in a future vote on intervention. With Syria, once one of the more stable powers in the Middle East, now in a state of civil war, who knows what will happen. As always, keep an eye on the news.