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US-Russia differences over Syria overshadow G-20 summit meeting
Publication Date : 08-09-2013
If no military action is taken against Syria, the use of chemical weapons against people—a grave crime—will go unaddressed. However, carrying out military strikes could make the Syrian situation even more chaotic.
During a summit meeting of the Group of 20 developed and developing economies in St. Petersburg, the United States and Russia, which have expressed conflicting views over a possible response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons, tried various ways to obtain backing for their stances from other countries.
US President Barack Obama, who has expressed his determination to carry out limited military strikes against the administration of Syrian President Bashar Assad, called the use of chemical weapons “a tragedy” and a violation of international law.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who acts as Syria’s protector, countered that there is no evidence that Damascus used chemical weapons.
The use of chemical arms is clearly unacceptable on humanitarian grounds. Syria’s civil war has taken more than 100,000 lives, and Assad bears the blame for worsening the strife. The international community should not idly stand by.
However, Obama has struggled to expand support for his position. France is the only major country that has backed a military response to Syria’s behaviour. A joint statement adopted by G-20 leaders did not refer to Syria, and even the prospects of a resolution by the US Congress to authorize the strikes remain uncertain.
Concerns over extremists
This is probably due to the uncertainty about future developments in Syria if military action is taken. A limited military operation could punish Syria for the use of chemical weapons, but it is unlikely to deal a significant blow to the Assad regime. Some are concerned that the military intervention could destabilise the country further if Assad and his loyalists fight back.
The goal of ousting Assad, which Japan, the United States and European countries have sought, is nowhere in sight. As rebels fighting the Assad government remain divided, anti-US Islamist extremists could increase their influence amid the confusion.
How should the international community deal with Syria to solve the problem? The United States has been urged to implement a comprehensive strategy based on both political and military perspectives.
Russia and China have used their vetoes to block UN Security Council resolutions condemning the Assad government. But in the meantime, the countries have failed to propose effective measures to end the Syrian civil war. They should fulfill their international responsibility.
On the sidelines of the G-20 summit, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a meeting with Obama, during which Abe reportedly said, “The use of chemical weapons is far from acceptable.” Abe also told Obama he fully understands the US president’s position on the Syria issue.
Abe’s stance that he would not overlook the use of weapons of mass destruction stands to reason.
Japan faces a threat of nuclear and chemical weapons possessed by North Korea, which has military ties with Syria. A failure by the international community to warn the Assad government against using chemical weapons again could send the wrong message to Pyongyang.
It is vital for Japan to work together with the United States, its only major security ally, and assess changes in the Syrian situation.