BBC Gavin Hewitt: Syria Crisis Response Test for Europe

Novinite Insider » EXPERT VOICES | August 27, 2013, Tuesday // 12:02| Views: | Comments: 2
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Bulgaria: BBC Gavin Hewitt: Syria Crisis Response Test for Europe Gavin Hewitt, BBC Europe editor. Photo by BBC

By Gavin Hewitt, BBC Europe editor

Over Syria no Western power wishes to intervene, but the rhetoric points to some kind of military response to last week's attacks.

In the world of hard power the old question of who to call in Europe does not surface.

At the weekend US President Barack Obama spoke to UK Prime Minister David Cameron for 40 minutes and then the French president. Only the British and the French have the means and the will to join in a military operation.

But this time the Germans, too, have had a phone call. Recently, the United States has been quietly urging and nudging the Germans to assume a greater leadership role in global affairs.
In the past in Europe the prospect of military action has caused division.

France and Germany opposed the invasion of Iraq. Whilst France and Britain led the campaign against Gaddafi's forces in Libya, the Germans abstained at the UN over intervention. France and Germany differed over Mali.

This time, too, there were some early differences. The French were quick to demand "consequences" for the Assad regime. The German foreign minister said "before speaking of consequences we must first have clarification".

Even so Europe's big three nations may reach agreement over Syria.

Legacy of Iraq

French President Francois Hollande has indicated he would support "targeted military intervention", with a strong hint it will come this week.

Steffen Seibert, the spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said the chemical attack "is a serious breach of the international convention, which categorically bans the use of these weapons. It must be punished; it cannot remain without consequences".

Initially Berlin had been more cautious, wanting proof not just of a chemical attack but of finding the regime's fingerprints on the operation. There is, however, a gradual recognition that absolute proof may be impossible, although Washington is likely to present fresh evidence of the regime's role later this week.

In these circumstances the EU as an institution struggles to have a voice. As Catherine Ashton, its foreign policy chief, acknowledged, it is difficult for the bloc of 28 members to reach a "joint conclusion".

Some in Europe will bristle at the fact that once again - at a critical moment in international affairs - the EU's role is limited.

Catherine Ashton did underline that it was "extremely important" to get the support of the UN Security Council. That view will get wide support in Europe but in reality it will be extremely difficult to get UN agreement with Russia opposing any outside military action.

Much more likely is for any intervention to be justified legally on humanitarian grounds or by the breach of international conventions on chemical weapons.

The truth is the legacy of Iraq has been hanging over Syria and its civil war.

It is not forgotten that UN inspectors wanted more time to discover whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

President Obama has been reluctant to play the role of the world's policeman.

But in Syria 110,000 people have been killed, double that number have been wounded and there are four to five million refugees.

And the civil war is beginning to draw in neighbouring countries.

There are many in Washington who believe that American inaction has emboldened Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But President Obama had said that the use of chemical weapons would be a game changer and so US credibility is on the line.

Diplomacy may still have a role but all the planning is on how to punish the Assad regime and how to put down a marker that the use of chemical weapons carries consequences.

These days will test Europe; what role will Germany play in any operation? How much support will the Americans get in Europe?

In the midst of all this, the Syrian president reminded Western nations of their recent history.

"Yes, it is true, the great powers can wage wars," he said, "but can they win them?"

The Americans and their allies are not out to wage war but can they carry out a limited operation that deters leaders like President Assad in the future?

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» To the forumComments (2)
malak petko - 29 Aug 2013 // 21:53:29

USA acts as a vassal to the Saudi Kings!
If Mark Twain is revived in his grave and informed that the USA’s president kisses the hand of a Saudi monarch he will turn in his grave. If he is informed that the USA uses its power to destroy the secular Arab states and to install on their place societies governed by the sharia law he will probably decide to die again.
He would not understand how reinstalling the sharia societies, and in fact uniting the Arab world on entirely religious principle …serves USA ….
Mark Twain described the Arabs and their culture in his collection “Innocents abroad” very clearly. He would be appalled in what USA is doing now. I do not understand how the casualties of the Eleven of 11 September would understand it too.
How this “most free” Christian country evolved into puppet of rich petrodollar kings it is partial mystery.
He has to know that the USA administration is infiltrated with Arab financial interest, so USA simply acts as a servant to the Arab billionaires.
But still strange!!!!!!. Is this country so week, so ignorant and so demoralized so it is incapable to foresee the dangers of its actions???
How destroying secular state and reviving the sharia Islamic states helps USA and its people I do not understand!!!!!! It certainly does not help the Christan secular states of Europe!!
It will actually create new religious empire…with its emissaries acting as advisers or even presidents of USA. I cant see bright future for Israel too. Saladin destroyed the Jerusalem kingdom, because he united the Arabs!!! Secular Syria cannot unite the Arabs. But sharia based religious empire like the Caliphate or the Ottoman empires will wipe out Israel by a single word of its leader.

sa-sha - 28 Aug 2013 // 10:47:56

"Over Syria no Western power wishes to intervene, but the rhetoric points to some kind of military response to last week's attacks"------Hey, BBC expert Gavin, "military response to WHOSE last week's attacks"? Or everything is clear for You already, as well as for USA, GB and France' leaders? Look, Your colleague (BBC security correspondent Frank Garnder, as well as many other experts from different countries) doubts that it was Assad:“Firstly, the timing is odd, bordering on suspicious. Why would the Assad government, which has recently been retaking ground from the rebels, carry out a chemical attack while UN weapons inspectors are in the country?” Another expert, Swedish diplomat and former UN weapons inspector Rolf Ekeus stated to Reuters:“It would be very peculiar if it was the government to do this at the exact moment the international inspectors come into the country”.........And further, dear BBC expert, You thoroughly avoid the key question: why not to wait till the conclusion of the experts' team which work right now in Syria? May be because the reply is obvious: "Over Syria Western powers-USA&Co- wish to intervene!". And if so, then they DO NOT need at all the experts' conclusions, right, expert Gavin?

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