Military solutions and Syria
|Monday, 2. September 2013 1 comment(s)||
Senior Research Fellow - The Global Security research programme
With his deep knowledge of Finnish history, Minister Tuomioja is certainly aware of the potential for a clear victory on the battlefield to end the military portion of a conflict, opening up the possibility of a political reconciliation and rebuilding.
Finland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja has updated his blog, providing a glimpse into his thoughts surrounding Syria. On the surface the arguments and reasoning presented by Minister Tuomioja are sound: Proof of chemical weapons usage, particularly what and by who is of fundamental importance, prior to any action. He goes on to argue that "Everything that now will happen has to be evaluated in the first hand on the basis on whether it will strengthen and speed or weaken and slow the possibilities for a political solution. There is no military solution either from inside or outside Syria that could stop the sufferings of the Syrian people….” Though this sounds eminently reasonable, it is instructive to look at the statements in some greater detail.
The argument that any action should be considered in the light of how they "strengthen and speed or weaken and slow the possibilities of a political solution” presupposes that we can know what repercussions any given action may have. Especially in the Middle East, anyone having this level of clairvoyance is not borne out by history. What the sentence really points to is Minister Tuomioja’s view that military activity should be avoided because he does not believe that military force in general leads to sustainable solutions. This has become a fashionable statement among some politicians and analysts. This pedigree does not make it any truer.
With his deep knowledge of Finnish history, Minister Tuomioja is certainly aware of the potential for a clear victory on the battlefield to end the military portion of a conflict, opening up the possibility of a political reconciliation and rebuilding. In 1918 (only a few months after independence from Russia) the Finnish Whites overwhelmed the Reds, with external assistance. Clearly the situation in Syria is more complex, but the Finnish Civil War fought over some four bloody months in 1918 provides an example of how a clear military victory can in time produce a stable political outcome. Obviously the prison camps where thousands of Reds died do not yet have a parallel in Syria (though the conditions in refugee camps may not be so far removed) but certainly the large scale executions do. Were any side to become clearly militarily superior in Syria, it is however unclear what the path would be to a political agreement accepted by all sides; alleviating the destabilizing effects of continuing bombings (like the ones occurring in Iraq on a weekly basis). In Finland an external threat and war a few decades later, the 1939 Winter War against the Soviet Union, provided a unifying force for the former domestic adversaries – a prospect which I am sure many citizens in the Middle East would be happy to avoid.
Minister Tuomoja clearly feels Finland should be ready to contribute both to a potential future "strong UN peace-keeping operation” in Syria. Any such UN operation would most likely operate under a Chapter 7 mandate. It is unclear whether he thinks Finnish troops should be contributed in a situation where there is no guarantee that hostilities have ended. Without a clear military victory by one side it is likely that no political agreement will satisfy all involved actors and convince them to forgo parallel military and political activities – too many potential spoilers. Such a scenario would expose Finnish troops to increased risks in the form of suicide bombings, among other things. The question Finnish politicians would then have to consider is whether the actual operation would look more like Congo, Iraq or Afghanistan than Lebanon – all places where "there is no military solution”, but the political process has shown to be severely lacking.
Texts reflect the opinions of the individual authors