Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Sitrep - 17 Feb, 2016

A meeting in Munich between the major powers of the Syrian civil war managed to negotiate a ceasefire, set to begin February 19. The US and Russia led the talks, but Syrian President Bashar al Assad can count them as an overall win. Neither ISIS nor the other jihadist groups were invited, and the vast majority of the rebel factions had no representation either.

The ceasefire’s effect will be limited because it consolidates the gains made by regime forces over the past few weeks. Russia will also retain its freedom to conduct airstrikes. Regime forces surround the northern city of Aleppo while pressing rebel forces in other locations. The ceasefire will strengthen the regime’s position and fails to compel him to negotiate further.

Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates also announced their intention to send ground troops into Syria to “forcibly remove” Mr Assad from power if the ceasefire collapses. The three have since tempered this threat after Russian officials warned such an action might start a “world war”.

Riyadh’s bellicosity outweighs its true military strength. Of the four major power in the region (Israel, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia) it is the weakest and already overstretched by military commitments in Yemen. Saudi Arabian strike aircraft and special forces have been prepositioned in southern Turkey, but any sufficient ground invasion will be impossible without US and Turkish support.

A special ASEAN summit this week in California is encouraging deeper integration between the South East Asian nations and the evolution of trade ties. The US is approaching the summit as a reinvigoration of its cooling “Asia Pivot” strategy. Both the recently concluded Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal and China’s provocations provide this impetus.

The US wishes to avoid a direct diplomatic spat with China over the latter’s South China Sea adventures, preferring to utilise the vehicle of a multi-national body such as ASEAN instead. The feeling is mutual among members which also feel threatened by China. However, whether ASEAN can provide the necessary cooperation will depend on more than a common adversary.

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