Escalation is likely to beget escalationby Tim Eaton / October 13, 2016 / Leave a comment
Boris Johnson rounded on Russia in this week’s parliamentary debate on Syria. The Foreign Secretary backed French calls for Russia to be referred to the International Criminal Court for its bombing campaign in Aleppo. This was a largely symbolic move, much like his encouragement of the protests outside the Russian embassy. But Johnson also struck a realistic tone on the proposal to establish a “no-fly zone” to put an end to the bombing campaign. “We cannot commit to a no-fly zone unless we are prepared to confront and perhaps shoot down planes or helicopters that violate that zone,” said Johnson.
In the same debate, his fellow Conservative Andrew Mitchell, a former international development secretary, argued for a no-fly zone. “No one wants to shoot down a Russian plane,” Mitchell told the BBC, “But what we do say is that the international community has an avowed responsibility to protect and that protection must be exerted. If that means confronting Russian air power defensively… then we should do that.”
The contrasting tones of Mitchell and Johnson illustrate the debates taking place on both sides of the Atlantic. What can the UK, the US and their allies do in the face of Russian intransigence? The answer seems to lie in Washington rather than Whitehall. Some have suggested that Russia must pay a price for its actions. But how? Reports have circulated that the US may drop its opposition to providing rebels with portable surface-to-air missile systems, which would give them the ability to shoot down aircraft. But others point to the risks—these systems could end up in the hands of terrorist groups, or be used to shoot down coalition aircraft also in Syrian airspace. Another option would be a strike on a Syrian regime base as a deterrent against further action. But what then happens if the Russians and the regime respond in kind by carpet-bombing another city?
Escalation is likely to beget counter-escalation. And the US and its allies have illustrated that they are not willing to back strong words with strong action, concluding that this will only make the conflict more violent. A no-fly zone sounds like a benign concept, but it would represent…