Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Syria :The Energy Stakes and the Vienna Peace Talks

Crispin Blunt has written in the Guardian, 
“There should be no extension of British military action into Syria unless there is a coherent international strategy that has a realistic chance of defeating Isis and of ending the civil war in Syria.”..Doing something to make ourselves feel better is beside the real point of defeating Isis and ending the Syrian civil war.
True but it would appear to have been part of the drive towards intervention in Iraq on Blair's part in 2003 and, certainly, Cameron's over Libya and Syria back in 2011. Yet, there are other rationales left out by Blunt such as the determination of Britain to align with the Gulf States over Syria due to energy interests and arms deals.

When it comes down to it, there are major geopolitical ambitions and interests at stake that are interconnected with the egos of politicians who have staked their 'credibility' on removing Assad both in France and Britain. In fact, the US is actually more pragmatic than either of the two European military powers.

For the US has shale oil reserves and the EU has valued the overthrow of Assad as a mean to expedite the construction of a Qatar-Turkey gas pipeline. Even if the scale of the conflict, chaos and carnage has set back this ambition, allowing the Russian blocking strategy to prevail is anathema to Britain and France.

Turkey under a re-elected and more authoritarian Erdogan has no reason to climb down over his grand plan to re-ottomanise northern Syria; he has proved able to use Syrian migrants, by allowing and encouraging them to move into Europe, as a a diplomatic bargaining lever with Germany and other EU powers.

Erdogan's cynical tactics have clearly worked spectacularly in goading feeble and guilt ridden Western politicians such as Merkel into further concessions over EU membership and visa reforms. He can be sure that his policy on Syria will be supported as the EU powers prove incapable of managing their borders.

Then Saudi Arabia simply also refuses to budge on not making the overthrow of Assad its main foreign policy goal along with other Gulf states. So it is difficult to see how Cameron would take any diplomatic initiative whatsoever over Syria in order not to affect preferential British trade ties, investments and Qatari LNG supplies.

Cameron is more intent on using Britain's role as a 'Global Player' to tout its firm support for the war against ISIS in such a way as to ingratiate himself with the Gulf states and demonstrate how it is pledged to their defence. Using drones and air power tests out the technology and upgrades Britain's profile as an ally.

As a consequence Cameron need only spout soundbites about the "butcher Assad" and maintain the position he has to go at some hypothetical stage rather than outline a coherent strategy for ending the Syrian Civil War. Syrian lives are balanced off with lucrative interests and the geopolitics of energy flows.

Such interests are seldom mentioned in public because the Syrian war is only portrayed as 'crisis management' and not in terms of old fashioned Great Power politics. The same 'liberal interventionist' tropes are rehashed because 'public diplomacy' in democracies requires that Western ambitions are portrayed as humanitarian.

To an extent this is true, but it means Western policy over Syria is based on selfish greed at one level and on geopolitical wish thinking about there being a third force between Assad and ISIS at another. Greed mixed with guilt is a lethally weak basis for a foreign policy and Erdogan knows how to exploit this.

The European powers have far less influence than is supposed: the idea they have decisive influence over Turkey and other regional players in the Greater Middle East is farcical. EU nations are far too dependent upon energy from outside the EU and the Ukraine crisis has led to a frantic quest for diversification.

The failed geopolitical lunge to drag Ukraine towards both EU and NATO membership, so as to secure Black Sea resources and control over pipeline routes has been matched by Russian determination to block the Qatar-Turkey pipeline and secure Russian influence over Eastern Mediterranean gas flows to the EU.

Ultimately, what happens to bring peace to Syria is going to be decided by Russia, the US, Iran, Turkey and the Gulf States. Britain is unlikely to go too far in opposing Washington but the US itself seems incapable of pursuing a coherent strategy other than containing ISIS thus safeguarding Iraqi oil producing zones.

Ultimately, what happens to bring peace to Syria is going to be decided by Russia, the US, Iran, Turkey and the Gulf States. Britain is unlikely to go too far in opposing Washington and the US itself seems incapable of pursuing a coherent strategy other than containing ISIS, thus safeguarding Iraqi oil producing zones.

While the nuclear deal has given the opportunity for Iran to be involved in peace talks over Syria, it has made Saudi Arabia even more determined to prevent it extending its influence both in Baghdad and Damascus. It is becoming more unstable as it gets dragged further into the Yemen War.

Time is short as if a new Republican administration were to enter the White House in 2016, then it is highly likely it would reaffirm its steadfast alliance with Saudi arabia and even be tempted into a revertion to a 1980s style attempt to back a mujahadeen in Syria against Russia and Assad.

Britain's position in this is more than hopeless: Cameron's government is attached to obsolete geopolitical calculations and ways of thinking and acting that also date back to the 1980s and Cold War stances regarding the supposed benefits of the Saudi alliance and the innate evil of Russia as a Great Power

Unless there is a decicive change with this foreign policy and emphasis on the need for diplomacy, in which the Western states does not treat the Greater Middle East as a theatre in which they alone is the decisive actors, then the stage is set for a potential proxy conflict and widening war of catastrophic proportions.

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