Home Contact Us  
   

US & South Asia - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#5265, 11 April 2017
 
Trump's Strike Against Syria: International Implications
KP Fabian
Former Indian diplomat, & Professor, Indian Society of International Law
 

Within 63 hours of reports about a chemical weapons attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in the Syrian province of Idlib which killed approximately 80 people including children, on 4 April, US ships in the eastern Mediterranean sent 59 Tomahawk missiles aimed at the Shayrat air base from which, the US claims, the aircraft that carried out the attack took off. The Syrian government has claimed that six soldiers and nine civilians, including four children, were killed by the missiles.

The Pentagon, in accordance with the October 2015 ‘de-confliction’ agreement between the two militaries, had given warning to the Russian military about the attack. No Russian was hurt. It is logical to assume that Russia would have shared the information with Syria in which case it is difficult to explain why the Syrians, especially the children, were in the base or near about. The ‘deconfliction’ agreement to prevent collision between the aircraft of the two sides followed Russia’s military intervention, primarily air attacks, beginning on 30 September 2015.

US President Donald Trump’s action was a surprise as he deviated from his ‘America First’ policy. He had made it clear that it was not Washington's business to get involved in the quarrels elsewhere unless there was a direct threat to the US. The official line is that Trump acted because he was morally outraged when he saw the images of the children in pain.  “No child of God,” he said, “should ever suffer such horror.” However, such outrage alone cannot explain the strike, even given Trump’s reputation to act on instinct.

The key advisers were three generals and, of course, Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The generals are: Defense Secretary Gen (Retd) James Mattis, affectionately known as the Mad Dog among his friends and admirers; US Secretary of Homeland Security, Gen (Retd) John Kelly; and serving general and National Security Adviser, Lt Gen HR McMaster. The advisers would have known that such a strike would have spoilt the chances of ‘re-set’ of relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin that Trump wanted. Trump admires Putin who helped him to get elected by cracking into the emails of the Democratic Party to the embarrassment of the Democrat's presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. Perhaps, the advisers wanted to prevent or at least delay a ‘re-set’.

Moscow’s response was sharp.  It called Trump’s action “an act of aggression against a sovereign state,” and based on “a far-fetched pretext.” It has suspended the ‘deconfliction’ agreement and strengthened air defence in the areas controlled by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Though Russia’s call for an international investigation to determine who carried out the attack is reasonable, it has poorly argued its case to absolve Damascus. The Russian military's Facebook page says that an aerial attack by the Syrian Air Force between 11.30 and 12.30 am (local time) on a rebel ammunition depot that contained chemical weapons might have released the toxic stuff. There is a clear discrepancy in the timing as the chemical weapons attack occurred in the morning around 6.30 am.

The US has accused Russia of incompetence or complicity as it maintains that Assad on his own would not have taken the decision without Russia's consent. That argument is plausible as Assad is virtually on a life-support system provided by Russia and Iran. However, it is difficult to figure out as to why Assad would have chosen to use chemical weapons when he was winning militarily, and especially after the US publicly said that its priority was to go after the Islamic State (IS) and not to topple Assad. Is it possible that Assad got emboldened with such a change in Washington’s position? Only a proper international investigation led by The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) can bring out the facts. Truth is the first casualty in war.

As expected, Washington got support from the West, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, and a few others. China’s reaction was equivocal and Egypt urged Washington and Moscow to work together for a negotiated end to the crisis in Syria.

The key question is what as to the US will do next. Was it a one-off strike not to be repeated unless there is another nerve-agent attack? Or is there a willingness to get engaged in Syria, militarily too, if necessary, and seek an end to the crisis leading to the emergence of a Syria with its territorial integrity restored? One does not know, but it is difficult to believe that Trump will get engaged in Syria in a serious manner, especially given the limits to what the US can do even if it wanted to. If it supplies sophisticated weapons to rebels supported by it, the IS and other rebels might get hold of them eventually. Long drawn-out negotiations carried out by former US President Barack Obama’s then Secretary of State John Kerry with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov proved to be utterly fruitless. It is good that incumbent Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is going ahead with his 12 April visit to Moscow. Perhaps, this shows that Trump has not given up on a ‘re-set’. Will the neo-cons let him?

Trump’s strike is unlikely to be a game-changer; Syria’s agony will, alas, continue. The country is de facto divided and any settlement might make the division virtually de jure. Assad is pursuing a mirage if he plans to recover militarily the territory he has lost.

Though Tillerson has hinted that a similar strike against North Korea is not to be ruled out, the situation there is far more complicated given the risk of the fall out of radiation on South Korea, and not to mention, China’s reaction.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
 
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Indo-Pacific
Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Indus-tan
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within


OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee


 

Browse by Publications

Commentaries 
Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 
China 
Myanmar 
Afghanistan 
Iran 
Pakistan 
India 
J&K  

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Indo-Pak 
Military 
Terrorism 
Naxalite Violence 
Nuclear 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
India-EU: Potential Partners in the Emerging World Order?

Forecast 2017: The Future of the European Union

Where is Egypt Headed?

Syrian Foreign Minister in India: Some Answers, Some Questions

The US, Syria and Iraq: The Success of Airstrikes So Far

Can Iraq's Disintegration be Prevented?

ADD TO:
Blink
Del.icio.us
Digg
Furl
Google
Simpy
Spurl
Y! MyWeb
Facebook
 
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2017
 January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August
 2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010  2009
 2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002  2001
 2000  1999  1998  1997
 
 

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

 
Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2017, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.