German-born international consultant Cristof Lehmann followed in detail the recent Chinese Communist Party Congress. In an interview with the Tehran Times, he highlights the convergence of positions on the Syrian crisis between Moscow and Beijing. He expects China to unequivocally support the deployment in early 2013 of a United Nations peacekeeping force mainly composed of CSTO troops.
- UN-Arab League Special Envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
Kourosh Ziabari: You have closely followed the political development in China and the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, and the recent political developments in Turkey. What political developments do you expect with regard to the situation in Syria?
Dr. Christof Lehmann:  The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China has embraced a new, highly motivated generation of politicians on all levels of China’s central and regional governments. Political, social and economic reforms will continue but with more prudence and China will work toward a wealth distribution that will bring moderate prosperity also to the not so developed regions. This consolidation provides a strong basis for a more self-confident China which is likely to use the Chinese soft power strategy to assert its policy, also with respect to Syria.
I am confident that China will back Russia at playing a more confident, assertive and responsible role in the Middle East and Syria by supporting Russian initiatives for the deployment of Russian, Armenian and other UN peace keeping forces to Syria in the first or second quarter of 2013.
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urging that the Syrian opposition to abandon its precondition that President Bashar al-Assad step down before any talks can be held on ending the conflict.
I am also rather confident that China will give the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and other important European governments economic incentives to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis. One could compare it with a soft power carrot and stick strategy where the policy of Turkey ultimately is dependent on decisions which are made in Europe and the USA.
Speaking in general terms I am very confident that a peaceful resolution to the crisis is possible as long as the root causes are being addressed and as long as Russia and China maintain a responsible role with regard to preventing further abuse of international law of the kind we have witnessed when NATO overstepped the provisions of UNSC Resolution 1973 (2011) on Libya.
The approach Russia and China have adopted is the approach of international law as a basis for preventing and resolving disputes and conflicts. According to the Charter of the United Nations, the adoption of a resolution of the Security Council requires the concurrent vote of all permanent members. However, since UNSC Resolution 4 (1946) on Spain it has become common practice that an abstention does not prevent the implementation of a resolution even though it has not been formally adopted by a concurrent vote of all permanent Security Council members. This practice was considered as a soft veto, that is, that the nations which did not adopt a resolution would not prevent the others from implementing it, provided that the authorizations granted by the text of the resolution were not significantly overstepped or violated.
When NATO abused UNSC Resolution 1973 (2011) on Libya to become a belligerent party and to bring about regime change in Libya both Russia and China became concerned that the same strategy would be attempted to bring about regime change in Syria. When the two highest ranking NATO commanders prior to NATO’s 25th Summit in Chicago in 2012 wrote that NATO’s intervention in Libya was "a teachable moment and model for future interventions" it became clear for Russia and China that they could not risk that NATO would also abuse a soft veto to initiate an aggression against Syria.
Another important feature in the Russian and Chinese approach to the conflict is that they oppose NATO’s condescending and neo-colonialist approach to national sovereignty. According to the provisions of the Treaty of Westphalia and the Charter of the United Nations it is not allowed to interfere into the internal affairs of sovereign nations. However, constructs such as humanitarian intervention and a responsibility to protect violate both the provisions of the Treaty of Westphalia and the UN Charter. Their adoption was and remains highly controversial and both Russia and China are realizing that NATO will continue to abuse them unless they are opposed at the Security Council.
A very good example for Western neo-colonialist thought is Dr. Henry Kissinger who contemplates whether most Arab countries could at all be protected by the principles of Westphalia. Kissinger speculates that because their borders have been arbitrarily drawn by former colonial powers they are not real nation states and thus they may not fall under the Treaty of Westphalia. Dr. Kissinger however, fails to be consequent in his thinking. Was he consequent he should have said most Arab nations and Israel?
Kourosh Ziabari: Will the U.S., EU, Turkey and the Persian Gulf states of Qatar and Saudi Arabia accept that President Assad should remain in power and it’s an appropriate solution for ending the 19-month-long crisis in the Arab country?
Dr. Christof Lehmann: Since the failure of the Free Syrian Army to secure Aleppo as seat for a transitional government in June and July 2012 both the political and the military foreign backed opposition have fallen literally apart. An attempt to compensate militarily by massively importing Wahabi and Salafi organizations and fighters, many of them with ties to Al-Qaeda, has even made it more difficult to unite a politically or militarily credible foreign backed opposition. The recent meeting in Doha and the establishment of a new political opposition is not much more than a recycling of a failed strategy.
Taking into account that the attempt to build a credible and presentable foreign backed opposition, combined with the fact that we will most likely see increased pressure from China and Russia to begin negotiating and cooperating with the genuine political parties and organizations inside Syria, including the Baath Party and President Assad, I am confident that both the USA, the UK, Germany and eventually also France will have to get involved in real politic and begin working at resolving the crisis rather than aggravating it.
If the USA and NATO accept a peaceful resolution the Persian Gulf states will have to go along. In the end it is mostly a question of a lack of convergence in energy and security needs of two cartels. A resolution to which Europe can agree will most likely also satisfy the needs of the Persian Gulf states.
Kourosh Ziabari: Why Turkey has been siding with the U.S., France and Britain in pressuring the government of President Assad and supporting the Free Syrian Army?
- Dr. Christof Lehmann
Dr. Christof Lehmann: Turkey has been siding with the United States because it was pressured into it. That is, the AKP and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan were more than willing to cooperate, but their cooperation was not possible before they succeeded at arresting and imprisoning more than 29 high ranking military officers and countless members of the opposition. What we witness in Turkey is a de facto coup d’etat supported by the USA and NATO. The comparison with Ottoman ambitions may reflect the delusions of grandeur of Prime Minister Erdogan but not real politic. What we witness in Turkey is an attempt to implement the American Greater Middle East Project which was developed by the RAND Corporation in 1996. That is, the planned balkanization of Turkey into small states along ethnic and religious divisions. That is hardly a basis for a new Ottoman Empire.
Kourosh Ziabari: In one of your articles, you pointed out that the massive rallies in different cities of Turkey on October 29, the national day of independence in the country, angered the government of Erdogan since thousands of people protested at the government’s attempts to join the U.S.-NATO illegal war on Syria. Would you please explain more about that? Is the Turkish public against the government’s position on Syria?
- Anti-war protest in Istanbul
Dr. Christof Lehmann: On 29 October 1924, the Turkish Revolution won over imperialism and its proxies. Since then the day was the most important of all Turkish holidays with millions of people celebrating it in the streets every year. The AKP government of Erdogan outlawed the celebrations, erected police barricades and banned demonstrations. However, millions turned out and removed the police barricades. This year the 29th of October turned into a new revolution against the new imperialism and its proxy, Prime Minister Erdogan. I am confident that the AKP has made a historic mistake by attempting to rewrite Turkey’s history. After this massive humiliation I find it unlikely that the AKP will win another election any time soon.
Kourosh Ziabari: Would you please explain about the role of Salafists in the escalation of conflict in Syria? How have they entered Syria from Saudi Arabia in such great numbers?
- Sheik Adnan Al Arour, spiritual leader of Salafist fighters in Syria (FSA), based in Saudi Arabia.
Dr. Christof Lehmann: Syria experienced a massive influx of Salafist militants after the Free Syrian Army was decisively defeated in its attempt to conquer Aleppo as seat for a transitional government in June and July 2012. The plan was to emulate the strategy that has been used successfully in Libya, where the seat of the transitional government was the Al-Qaeda or LIFG stronghold Benghazi.
The main sponsors of Salafists in terms of finances and weapons are Saudi Arabia and to a lesser degree Qatar. Militants are imported from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Libya, Indonesia and elsewhere. Especially Saudi Arabia is maintaining a world-wide network of Salafist organizations, many of them with ties to the Al-Qaeda network like the HuJI (Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami) in Bangladesh.
These organizations are often funded through charities and supervised through liaisons into the Saudi Ministry of the Interior. The Free Syrian Army never succeeded in establishing a general command and that was its weakness from day one. Since the influx of Salafits we witness calls for the establishment of a Syrian Caliphate while small factions are fighting each other. The common denominator is greed, extremism, money and weapons from abroad.
It is a self defeating strategy because it caused many Free Syrian Army commanders and troops as well as members of the non militant foreign backed opposition and the people of Syria to realign themselves with the Syrian military, the Syrian government and the genuine reform movements in Syria.
Kourosh Ziabari: Somewhere I read you saying that the war on Syria is a war for natural resources, especially the vast gas reserves of Persian Gulf and East Mediterranean. Would you please tell us more about that? Do you want to imply that Syria possesses gas reserves which the regional and foreign opponents of the government of President Assad want to take over on?
Dr. Christof Lehmann: The principle cause of the Syrian crisis is a lack of convergence in the energy and security needs of two cartels. In 2007 major resources of natural gas were discovered in the Persian Gulf between Qatar and Iran and in the Eastern Mediterranean, in the so-called Levanthine Basin. These reserves can cover the consumption of natural gas in the EU and the Middle East for the next 100 – 120 years. There are two proposed pipeline projects or cartels, which are, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia, and to a lesser degree Lebanon and Palestine, and the other consists of Qatar, the EU, Israel, Turkey, Greece, and to a lesser degree the USA.
At the present time Russia provides approximately 22 % of the natural gas that is consumed by the EU. This percentage will increase when the North Sea pipeline from Russia to Germany will go online. Because of the USA’s push for dominance over Russia and China the prospect that Russia also will control the gas supplies from the Middle East and the Mediterranean raises grave security concerns in Europe. That is the main cause for the conflict. However, I believe that a solution can be brokered if Russia and the EU increase their interdependency in economic and political terms.
Kourosh Ziabari: How does Israel benefit from conflict and unrest in Syria? Is it that with the weakening of Syria and the overthrowing of the government of President Assad, it would be more comfortable for Israel to confront Iran and even launch a military strike against Iran?
Dr. Christof Lehmann: Syria is the sole Arab nation which has consequently and consistently supported the Palestinian cause. To weaken Syria would be beneficial for Israel in terms of the Palestinian issue and in terms of weakening Syria militarily and politically. As far as I am informed Israel has plans to permanently annex the occupied Syrian Golan, parts of Southern Lebanon, East Jerusalem and the greater part of the West Bank. Syria is the main obstacle preventing this plan. Israel’s solution for the Palestinian problem would be the establishment of a Hamas controlled Palestinian micro state in the Gaza Strip in the recognition of that state. A weakened Syria and Hezbollah or Lebanon will also make it more feasible for Israel and the USA to attack Iran and thus gain dominance over the oil and gas resources of the entire region.
Tehran Times (Iran)