By APD writer Dong Yifan
Translated by Ye Shan
On April 14, Britain and France carried out airstrikes on the excuse of the Syrian government forces’ use of chemical weapons, the third time European countries have intervened in the Middle Eastern situation with airstrikes against government forces of a sovereign state since the 2011 air raids in Libya and the French strikes in Syria in 2013.
Airstrikes in syria
The British and French military intervention in Syria were no doubt initiated after considerations, but the military strike is bound to intensify turmoil in Syria and may ultimately undermine Europe's own interests.
The main aim of the British and French air strikes is to consolidate the relationship between the United States and Europe. Since U.S. President Donald Trump came to power, the volatility of relations between the United States and Europe has been largely a matter of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Trump has not been pleased with European countries’ lack of military contribution under the protection of NATO.
With Brexit and military integration led by France, intervention of the two countries has showcased their military strength to the United States, getting more attention from Trump in terms of security. In addition, Britain has strongly condemned Russia and cozied up to western countries in the poisoning incident of former Russian spy.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has also repeatedly emphasized that the use of chemical weapons by some countries has crossed the bottom line. As news spread that the areas controlled by Syrian opposition forces were attacked by so-called chemical weapons, Britain had no choice but to send troops to support its high-profile stand against chemical weapons.
The west's grip on Syria is another consideration of British and French engagement.
Britain and France has always attached importance to their roles in the Middle East, and the incumbent leaders have continued to do so. French President Emmanuel Macron paid a visit to the Middle East shortly after taking office and tried to coordinate regional hotspot issues. May has also announced that Britain will build a permanent military base in Bahrain and received a visit from Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman to deepen bilateral ties.
These actions reflect the two European countries’ hope to strengthen their roles in the Middle East so as to consolidate their political, economic and security interests in the region, and to become a major stakeholder on the Syrian issue.
However, as the common enemy "the Islamic State" was defeated on the battlefield, the Syrian government forces gained a firm foothold under Russia and Iran's support, while the opposition was greatly weakened.
As the west is increasingly marginalized in the Syrian issue, it is getting increasingly distant from its strategic aim of regime change through civil war. The west needed to intervene in the Syrian war in a cheap and effective way to give their Middle Eastern allies and the Syrian opposition enough support to reverse the current situation. The opposition's alleged chemical attack gave western countries a moral reason to intervene in the Syrian war.
Despite the launch of more than a hundred missiles, there have been no reports of destruction of major government forces targets, and the casualties are limited.
On the one hand, the Syrian government has certain air defense capability with the support of Russia.
On the other hand, it is also indicated the attack was implemented for rather a political purpose than a military one, and the main goal is to release the signal of the west’s powerful return to Syria as an important party. The west hopes to weaken government forces’ strength through airstrikes in order to help the rebels, form a confrontation between Russia and Iran in Syria and reverse the situation that the west has lost control of Syria under Russian military and diplomatic offensive.
From the perspective of Britain and France, the leaders of both countries are also interested in distracting domestic sight through external action.
Britain has reached a periodical agreement with the European Union (EU) on the issue of Brexit, but has remained uncertain on the core issue of future economic and trade relations. By far it is highly likely that Britain cannot hold on to its accesses to the EU for trade and financial services. The British government needs to get rid of condemnation from the Labor Party and anti-Brexit forces. May has also launched the military strike to show her toughness and assertiveness to build a positive image.
Air France flight crew shout slogans as they gather next to the company headquarters during a demonstration in Tremblay-en-France, outside Paris, Wednesday, April 11, 2018. About 30 percent of Air France flights scheduled on Wednesday are expected to be canceled as flight crews and ground staff started a seventh day of strike. / AP Photo
With the ongoing protests of French railway workers against Labor Law reform, a blow to Macron’s ambition to advance a series of reforms, the French president is eager to gain favor and support through external actions as his personal leadership is the key to reforms.
The military action of the United States, Britain and France will inevitably promote escalation of the west and Russia's game in Syria, and the situation in Syria and even the Middle East will remain volatile.
Refugee crises and frequent terrorist attacks in European countries in recent years are closely related to the west’s gross interference in the Middle East and North Africa, promotion of regime change and even military action, which have caused regional disorder and displacement of people and planted hatred against the United States and Europe. Stability and security of Europe depends largely on stability of the Middle East.
If Britain and France continue to follow the United States’ military footsteps, Europe will possibly swallow its own bitterness once again.
Dong Yifan，researcher of APD Institute, is the assistant professor of European Studies Institute, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. His research areas covered European economy, EU integration and China-EU relations.
(ASIA PACIFIC DAILY)