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G 20 under Syrian Shadow
By Dr. Javid Iqbal
Is the world still unipolar geopolitically

As the big and the mighty of global order meet at St. Petersburg, the varied opinion on direct armed intervention in Syria presents a differing global geopolitical perspective. The question is increasingly being asked-is the world still unipolar geopolitically? There is change in the air, America's unipolar status as the only global power that counts might be expiring. Russia is inching closer to its pre 1980-90's status in global power equation, a equation that made up a bipolar word. Russia then was U.S.S.R, the monolithic state that got buried in the dustbin of history. A leaner and lither Russia with an economy recovery of sorts added to her atomic power status seems willing to contend America, where its global interests stand in danger of getting diluted. One such trouble spot is Syria, where Russia is backing the Assad regime, which America wants to do away with. The Russian contention of American position was apparent in St. Petersburg, where the Russians hosted G 20.

Syria is a paradox of sorts. Assad regime ever since it took over the reins of power in 70's of 20th century has been brutally suppressive of dissent. No doubts may be held about that, but to ascribe religious or sectarian motives to suppression of political dissent may not be a realistic assessment. The Baathist regime is a left of the center socialistic regime, with a power structure akin to one party communist regime of yesteryears, still prevalent in some countries. That Assad's are Alwite Shias is incidental. The sect forms about 12 % of Syria's total population. The Sunni opposition to minority Alwite Shia regime might be on genuine grievances; however it should have had the face of forces of democracy fighting a dictatorial regime. Instead a sectarian colouring has made the conflict murky. It has had the effect of rallying minority groups to Assad's cause, the cause of defending a dictatorial regime. Alwite Shias, Christians and other minority groups fear Sunni ascendancy, in case of ouster of Assad regime. Gulf Sheikhdoms, mainly Sunni by financially backing the dissent with western support have advertantly or inadvertently given it the shape of sectarian conflict. Conversely Iran came to Assad's help in a big way, further felling the ranging fire, which has accounted for about hundred thousand lives, the death and destruction multiplies on a daily basis.

Russia though hosting the event in St. Petersburg is holding on to its stated view of no intervention in Syria. That refers to direct intervention; indirect intervention has been going on for long. Sides for and against the regime have been taken, resulting in death and destruction. However the news from St. Petersburg is--don't attack Syria. That is what the world leaders are telling Obama at G20 summit. British PM Cameron says evidence of Sarin gas use in Syria growing; however his hand in joining what is feared--American intervention is tied. House of commons resolution against direct armed intervention has taken care of any British political misdemeanors. Global economy is high on the agenda in St. Petersburg, as is always the case in such summits. There is a change of emphasis however; its effect on fuel prices in case of deepening Middle Easterner involvement is what concerns the G 20 leaders, while as applying the needed correction is usually the prime concern. The U.S. ambassador to UN though insists that by blocking Syria action, Russia is holding Security Council 'hostage'.

While the debate goes on, U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin met at opening of G20 summit in the background of Obama facing growing pressure from world leaders not to launch military strikes in Syria. The summit on the global economy stood eclipsed by the conflict. The Group of 20 (G20) developed and developing economies met in St. Petersburg to try forge a united front on economic growth, trade, banking transparency and fighting tax evasion. G 20 accounts for two thirds of the world's population and 90 percent of its output, hence the decisions taken do count, provided there is uniformity of opinion. That seems to be lacking with differences apparent over issues ranging from the U.S. Federal Reserve's decision to end its program of stimulus for the economy to the civil war in Syria.

It is reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to use the meeting in a seafront tsarist palace to talk Obama out of military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad over a chemical weapons attack which Washington blames on government forces. It is also related that Obama wore a stiff smile as he approached Putin on arrival at the summit and grasped his hand. Putin also maintained a businesslike expression. It was only when they turned to pose for the cameras that Obama broke into a broader grin. China is another major player, Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao reportedly related in a briefing, "Military action would have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price--it will cause a hike in the oil price." Zhu's briefing had the first round at the summit strengthen the hand of Putin as in addition to as China, the European Union lend a helping hand to Russian insistence on no intervention. And another factor in support proved to be the letter of Pope Francis. In a letter for G20 leaders, the Pope urged the leaders to "lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution". He has also invited the 1.2 billion Roman Catholics and people of other faiths to join his in a day of prayer and fasting to end the civil war. European Union leaders generally, apart from France and U.K, usually strong allies of the United States, described the August 21 attack near Damascus, which killed an estimated 1,400 people, as "abhorrent" but added, "There is no military solution to the Syrian conflict."

No intervention talk stays, despite what Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron says. Speaking with the BBC at St. Petersburg, he is reported to have said that Britain has increasing evidence that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons. The evidence against Assad was "growing all the time," so said Cameron, adding, "We have just been looking at some samples taken from Damascus in the Porton Down laboratory in Britain which further shows the use of chemical weapons in that Damascus suburb." Cameron was referring to the alleged chemical weapons attack of August 21st. While the European allies mostly urge hands off policy vis-à-vis armed intervention, France is preparing to join U.S. military action, rallied behind Obama, "We are convinced that if there is no punishment for Mr. Assad, there will be no negotiation," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said before leaving for St. Petersburg. France might have her own priorities, Britain however whatever her level of condemnation of Assad regime might have to hold on to no direct intervention decision of House of Commons.

With all these diverse voices, the fact stays that with the backing by Beijing and Moscow unlikely at the UN Security Council, where both have veto powers, Americans may not get the international consensus working on direct intervention. Obama, it is reported, is seeking the approval of the US Congress for armed intervention. He would do well to hold his hand in absence of UN authorization, leaving aside his personal antipathy to Putin, whom he has described as, "bored kid in the back of the classroom." The bored kid he might be, however with no war scenario much more in focus than pro war, Putin seems to hold the upper hand. Syria is suffering, Bashar Assad however stays to defy detractors, mainly due to changing global power equation, with China-another major player supporting the Russian position. There might be no end to Syrian misery-the death and destruction unless and until there is consensus in the emerging global power equation.

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]

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News Updated at : Sunday, September 8, 2013
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