Russian Roulette

The East-West Dilemma

US Russia
The Syrian town of Aleppo has been the target of deadly government airstrikes.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    A failure to resolve East-West tensions, and the war in Syria, threaten another world war, the author says.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Russia is supporting pro-government forces in Syria.
    • The Assad government is also being supported by Iran and China.
    • Last week, Russia exited negotiations with the U.S. on the disposal of weapons-grade plutonium, inflaming tensions between the two.
  • Audio

    Audio

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The world is slowly sliding into abyss.

After Russia’s announcement to pull out of a plutonium-disposal treaty with the United States, as well as Washington breaking off negotiations with Moscow on Syria, what’s building up could ultimately lead to the brink of a Third World War.

The West is showing those trapped in the Syrian city of Aleppo that it can’t help them. We are again stunned and powerless witnesses to massive war crimes in the modern world – as before in Rwanda. We are seeing that humanitarianism and human life don’t have the highest priority in the global world order.

There are no more calls to keep working at it. Mr. Putin’s exiting of negotiations with the U.S. on the disposal of weapons-grade plutonium early Tuesday, when coupled with Washington’s new stance on Sryian, risks unleashing a new East-West clash far worse than the Cold War.

It would be a humanitarian catastrophe.

Some say this could be avoided by a morally painful but pragmatic alternative: keeping Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in office. Leave solving Syria to Russia. But this option also contains dangerous possibilities.

Mr. Putin is turning the Syrian war, which is unpopular at home in Russia, into a confrontation of political systems with the West.

Mr. Putin is turning the Syrian war, which is unpopular at home in Russia, into a confrontation of political systems with the West. If the secular and liberal opposition in the Syrian city of Aleppo, left without Western help, is militarily crushed by the Assad regime, the Islamists in the Middle East will become even stronger.

Hate for Western values would be unleashed in even more devastating attacks, and more and more refugees will throng to Europe. This plays right into Mr. Putin’s hands, as he wants to split up the European Union. A weak E.U. lets Russia gain strength. And that’s why the West cannot allow him to continue.

It’s not Russia alone supporting the regime in Syria. The Assad government is also being massively supported by Iran and China. Beijing has agreed to provide military trainers to Mr. Assad’s forces, thus openly putting al-Assad on side with Russia and Iran.

Whoever thinks isolating Russia with even tougher sanctions is enough is living an illusion. An embargo on Arab states and a financial lockout by the West against China, as well as tough sanctions against Iran, would do it. But that’s hardly likely to succeed, considering China’s massive holdings of U.S. government bonds and the Iranian capacity for exporting oil.

An unconditionally tough reaction by the West would also run the risk of pushing us back to the start of the 20th century. The world sleepwalked right into the First World War.

What we need now is a new political beginning with a broad focus. Not only with Russia but more importantly with China as well. Lawmakers must look at Syria not as an isolated incident, but also within the context of the Ukraine crisis and Crimena, and the conflict in the South China Sea.

China and Russia want to become exemplary models of authoritarianism on the global stage. The models of liberal democracy and market economy are at stake.

There is a need for a two-fold strategy of military strength and offers to negotiate for a new global security structure.

Finding the right answer is unbelievably difficult. The wrong one could pave the way to destruction.

 

To contact the author: brueggmann@handelsblatt.com

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