This essay by John Gray in the New Great Game shines some light on the geopolitical context surrounding the increased stakes that are there with regards 'regime change' in Syria and involve the Great Powers.
'Alongside new sorts of warfare, older kinds of conflict have resumed.
With India and China at odds over Pakistan, Afghanistan and control of
the South China Sea, the world’s rising powers are locked into strategic
competition with one another – and also with the west. Whatever the
upshot of French intervention in Mali, it will not be the last such
neocolonial incursion. Africa is being remilitarised by western powers
in what seems to be a response to China’s economic expansion into the
continent. The case of the Democratic Republic of Congo – where millions
of non-combatants have died as a result of decades-long warfare – shows
the damage this kind of conflict can wreak. The terrifying destructive
potential of nuclear weapons has altered the modes of warfare without
necessarily reducing the human costs of war.
Further afield, significant reserves of natural gas have been
identified off the coasts of Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and Syria, all
already involved in long-running conflicts.
Many will resist the suggestion that the coming century will be
shaped by geopolitical competition. Like Norman Angell, they will insist
that war is no longer a rational method of acquiring resources;
production and trade are so much more efficient. From an economic point
of view this may be true, but it is not economic calculation that determines the behaviour of states.The Gulf war of 1990-91 was a pure resource conflict, and oil was a
vital factor in triggering the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As the polar ice
melts from global warming, the Arctic may become a site in the next
round of the New Great Game. In turn, as changes in the planetary
environment become more disruptive, governments are likely to resort to
geo-engineering and future wars may feature climate modification being
deployed as a weapon. Great powers will co-operate in many areas but
against a background of continued rivalry and heightened risks'.