Syria in the era of ‘à la carte’ alliances

Syria in the era of ‘à la carte’ alliances

Even after the reported chemical attack on Aug. 21, the world is as divided as ever on Syria, except on only one point: that ground troops will not go into Syria. 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry assured us last week that a military action in Syria would be limited, short, completely unlike the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions and would not involve any boots on the ground. Following this, President Barack Obama asked the deeply skeptical U.S. Congress for authorization for military action. This put off his decision for more than a week since the Congress is not due back until Sept. 9. This is most probably to buy time since he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin this week at the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg when he might be able to renew diplomatic efforts to end the Syrian conflict by restarting the long-delayed Geneva II talks. 

On the other hand, the Parliament in the United Kingdom, traditionally the U.S.’ most reliable ally, voted against the government on any military action. And the German government declared that it is not considering joining military action ahead of domestic elections. So it remains only France and Turkey who are enthusiastic about joining a military action, even if it is limited. 

There’s no need to mention the ever-docile United Nations and NATO. While the U.N. is as always deadlocked due to the abuse of the permanent members’ veto power in the Security Council, NATO’s new “smart defense” concept also leaves aside the prospect of an intervention. “Smart defense” espouses prioritization, cooperation and the pooling of resources in order to minimize the cost and share the burden in the wake of budgetary restrictions of governments and the lessons taken from Afghanistan and Iraq. As Henry Kissinger once said: “It would be inconceivable that the architects of NATO would have seen as the end result of victory in the Cold War greater diversity within the alliance.”

We are going through a major paradigm shift which signals the end of the post-Cold War era. Traditional alliances are over and the quality of the newly emerging coalitions is dramatically changing. Now that security threats are too numerous, they relate to more countries than ever before. And the disparity in the interests of these countries does shake long-standing alliances. The mission now determines the coalition, not the other way round. Moreover, in this new environment, all you can do is respond. And respond quickly. However, rigid alliances are not designed for quick responses. Finally, the staple of this new era is the apprehension of the limits of the American power and the emergence of regional powers challenging its dominance. This in turn dictates new kinds of coalitions in which each country assumes a different role, contributing in a different way. 

In the era of “à la carte coalitions,” there is no fixed menu at a fixed price anymore. You can only buy what you want. And in such a world, Turkey is more than enthusiastic about backing an intervention in Syria. Here comes my humble suggestion: In an “à la carte” menu, one must be aware of the prices to avoid being overcharged.