Middle East

Syria: Iran and Russia's 'Non-Interference'

Syrians in Istanbul, Turkey, protest the regime of Bashar Assad in front of the Syrian consulate on Dec. 2, 2011. (Photo: homeros, Shutterstock.com)

"We oppose interference within countries such as Syria. The change must be done by the Syrian government," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbah Saleh said recently. Russia has also taken a stance of non-interference.

Syria's militancy against the protesters now seems to have overcome any form of political expression beyond fighting, defying compliance to peace plans and internal rationale. Yet the broader reality is that Syria is a member of a system, the international state system. As the crisis has affected neighboring states, systemic actions are surely validated, logical and vital to stabilise Syria's political system. In this respect, both Russia and Iran could be key in addressing a root cause to the crisis.

Pumped-up regime

The military might of the Syrian government is at the very least fuelling the conflict. The Assad regime's power seems to preclude anything beyond lip service to international peace plans. Over time the militarization of the Syrian government has foreclosed on elections and developing a better constitutional framework. The regime has apparently reached "rogue" proportions within the framework of the state system, and what generally constitutes a raison d'état and security for the state's citizens.

"National sovereignty is not a licence to massacre people," U.S. President Obama said last week about the Assad regime. The systemic norms of human rights apparently no longer factor to the Assad government, while the opposition movement is being accused of terrorism tactics. Western politicians now see President Assad as unfit to fulfill any political promises to resolve the conflict. Evidently he doesn't want to cede power, with or without an election. "I think Bashar al-Assad is tricking us. He is pretending to accept Kofi Annan's six-point plan while at the same time still using force," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé told reporters in Paris.

Russia and Iran

Without systemic accord, disempowering Syria's military dictatorship is evidently unfeasible. Without Iranian and Russian compliance there's insufficient geopolitical strength for an arms embargo. A core reason why dictatorships such as Assad's keep arising is the manifestation of unchecked military power. It's not just a question of nuclear power. That's the tip of the iceberg of insatiable military power, many of which bedevil the international system. Preventing rogue governments takes systemic measures, especially within regional frameworks. And while progressive regulative authority is forming within Europe and Asia, the European Union and ASEAN have yet to regulate state defense industries and overcome the strategic machinations the free market nature of this industry promulgates between states. That's still a major U.N. failing. And its cause concerns major-power alliances in the Middle East. Iran and Russia's current stance on Syria embodies all that.

Their recent pronouncements on Syrian violence alongside their own industrial defense practices with the regime seems standard procedure when it comes to relations between Middle Eastern states and major powers. The United States and Israel is a long-standing example. And over the decades Syria has become the latest great consequence of such procedure within international relations. Once it was Iraq, to which the United States sold defense systems resulting in manifest warfare and a rogue regime. Now it's Syria, aided and abetted by Russia and Iran. From whatever part of the world, the transfer of weapons to states in the Middle East has produced problematic consequences one way or another for all. The importance of developing systemic measures in the Middle East on the defense industries of all states can no longer be understated. This region after all is proving the most problematic for the global control of nuclear weapons.

Generally speaking, Iran and Russia's stance to an arms embargo against a rogue regime would impact their credibility with international agreements. Iranian and Russian actions reflect on their international responsibilities as members of the state system. At the very least, their credibility on "non-intervention" within the affairs of another state, and the "state rights" of Syrian citizens, is rendered questionable.

Both Russia and Iran are regular suppliers of arms to the Syrian regime. Syria has just signed contracts for 24 Russian MiG-29M/M2 fighter jets and 8 Buk-M2E air defense systems, with Bastion anti-ship missile systems armed with SS-N-26 Yakhont supersonic cruise missiles in the pipeline. Syria is Russia's biggest defense customer. The European Union may well have a resolution out against Russian exports of military apparel to Damascus, but would Russia comply? It doesn't look like it. They won't even come to the table on air corridors for humanitarian purposes.

Problematic as that is, the issue of Iranian arms exports to Syria seems more sensitive. It highlights the consequences of applying international law as it currently stands, against a state's nuclear industry. For decades, using international law against questionable state militarization and industrial practices has drawn a self-perpetuating cycle: U.N. resolutions and sanctions resulting in the state's segregation, pursuant poverty and prospective military intervention. All of which inevitably provokes an increase in strategic relations, defense industries and warfare. The process apparently ups the ante between the state and the system rather than progress political cohesion, collective security and arms control—not to mention the likelihood of more military dictatorships.

Arms embargo and sanctions

"The Iranians are already there," Senator McCain recently said about Syria. "They're already there. All reports confirm that. They're already supplying arms and equipment to Bashar Assad, as are the Russians supplying arms, so right now it's an asymmetric situation with Bashar Assad receiving equipment and actual physical help from Iran, Russia—and the Syrian rebels not receiving equal assistance, certainly not very much."

Similar concerns were raised by Britain. At the meeting monitoring U.N. sanctions against Iran on its nuclear program, Deputy U.S. Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo pointed out that "a majority of the violations reported to the committee involved illicit transfers of arms and related material from Iran to Syria, where the Assad regime is using them to violently repress the Syrian people."

Is it any wonder when Iran doesn't agree with the sanctions in the first place? Cutting off avenues of revenue and ostracizing the state is one thing. Doing so under the banner of Iran's theocratic rival Israel is worse. "The Islamic Republic will defend Syria because of its support for the resistance front against the Zionist regime [Israel], and is vehemently opposed to any intervention by foreign forces in Syrian internal affairs," Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said.

Adding fuel to the affront would be the prospect of the United States selling weapons to Syria, albeit to those opposing Assad's regime. It makes a mockery of democratic processes and especially the veritable arms embargo to the tune of a U.S. profit margin.

U.S. strategic machinations and Iran

This seems to be the quandary now facing the international community. There's always a fine line over what constitutes state interference embodying the strategic machinations of major powers. Analysts point to U.S. strategists seeking a regime in Syria not aligned with Iran. Some even suggest Syria is shaping up as the latest theater of war through which to fight a proxy one against Iran by the West. Right or wrong, it all detracts from the region's geopolitical development, which is increasingly vital for global accord on greater arms control and generally sustainable security. Iran is essential in this respect. Iran not only comprises a history of regional import but is forging major inroads into broad-ranging political cohesion in the Middle and Far East, the geopolitical relevance of which cannot be dismissed by cold-war reasoning.

Even with its domestic problems and despite public pronouncements to the contrary, according to Reva Bhalla of the global intelligence company Stratfor, both Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad conclude that Assad's regime can't be rescued. The Ayatollah, for one, doesn't seem committed to preserving an Assad-led regime. Indeed, "a vacuum of government is not acceptable," said Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbah Saleh.

A military dictatorship is apparently no government.

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