Thursday, September 24, 2015


"Russia is to deploy 2,000 military personnel to its new air base near the Syrian port city of Latakia, signalling the scale of Moscow’s involvement in the war-torn country. The deployment “forms the first phase of the mission there”, according to an adviser on Syria policy in Moscow. The force will include fighter aircraft crews, engineers and troops to secure the facility, said another person briefed on the matter. The pair declined to confirm whether Moscow had sent surface-to-air missiles and fighter jets, as alleged by Washington at the weekend. But Russian and western military experts said surface-to-air missiles were an integral part of the defences of any air base. The comments are unlikely to allay fears in the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), that Russia’s military involvement in Syria could escalate the country’s bloody civil war or risk incidents between Russian and other forces active in the country."
Kathrin Hille and John Reed, "Russia to deploy 2,000 in Syria air base mission’s ‘first phase’". The Financial Times. 22 September 2015, in
"The use or threat of limited naval force, otherwise than as an act of war, in order to secure advantage or to avert loss, either in the furtherance of an international dispute or else against foreign nationals within the territory or the jurisdiction of their own state".
Sir James Cable. Gunboat diplomacy, 1919-1991: political applications of limited naval force. (1971), p.10-15 and passim.
"In May 1911 the French occupied Fez, the most important city; it was certain that the French would take Morocco before the had paid a price for it to Germany; and the failure of the schemes for compensation seemed to confirm his fears....Therefore he had only to take a firm line and France would pay; then opinion in both countries would be satisfied, and a lasting reconciliation would follow. On 21 June he told Jules Cambon [French Ambassador in Berlin] that Germany must be compensated: 'bring us something back from Paris'. In the Bismarkian manner, he imagined that the French would yield only to threats. In his own words: 'it is necessary to thump the table. However the only object of this is to make the French negotiate'. On 1 July the German gunboat Panther anchored in the south Moroccan harbor of Agadir".
A. J. P. Taylor. The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848-1918. (1954), pp. 466-467.
It is with grave and utter reluctance that one disagrees with someone as knowledgeable and experienced in the annuals of diplomacy and diplomatic history as Sir James Cable, but in the case of the etymological origins of the term 'gunboat diplomacy', then my case is clear. Strictly speaking, 'gunboat diplomacy' is not the bombardment of coastal towns and cities in the Palmerstonian, 19th century manner, but something a bit different as in the case of the Agadir Crisis of 1911, wherein the term actually originated. Where the German Foreign Office employed a simple gunboat to give public evidence of German demands for compensation from France over the latter's forthcoming occupation of Morocco 1. In the current case of the Russia's policy in Syria, it is obvious (or seems obvious to me) that what Grazhdanin Putin is aiming for is not an overt military intervention, which would endeavor by itself to prop up the Assad Regime. Which may or may not be crumbling 2. Albeit, if a very very limited Russian contribution to the ongoing intervention of Hezbollah and the regime in Persia, had a positive effect on the battlefield, all the better no doubt from Moskva's perspective. What Moskva is aiming at I would instead argue is three fold: a) establish a gage, a forfeit, so to speak so that if indeed the Assad is crumbling, then Russia will endeavor to establish its foothold on the parts of the Syrian corpse that it covets; b) more important to try by its overt presence (if for the most part militarily inconsequential presence to date), to coral the Western powers and in particular the Americans to join Russia, in an anti-ISIS crusade. Which would faute de mieux, also help to prevent the collapse of the Assad Regime; c) to bring Russia out of the diplomatic doghouse which its policies in the past twenty-months in Ukraine has consigned it to, by allying with the Western powers in the Near East. The latter two aspects of the policy it seems to me is the heart of what Putin and his clique are aiming at. Since in all seriousness, the number of Russian ground forces (less than one-thousand if one means fighting foot soldiers strictly speaking) in Syria at present cannot by a simple lack of numbers, enable Moskva to turn the tide and help the Assad Regime to survive, must less win its war against his opponents (ISIS and others). Even, if all those thousand troops were special forces and or shock troops. Unless Putin were to seriously pursue a va banque policy of large-scale military intervention in Syria, Russian forces mere presence in Syria cannot by any means have a significant effect in the conflict 3. However, if Putin were to parlay the presence of Russian forces in Syria into a lever to obtain a repositioning of Western policy in the conflict, then would Russian intervention could be said to have changed the dynamics of the civil war in Syria. As per the possibilities of the latter, that is matter which at present is not entirely clear. I for one, have always viewed the regime of Assad Fils, to be a lesser evil given who his successors among the opposition might be. And nothing in the past two to three years has caused me to change my mind about the matter. Hopefully, the Americans and their allies will see things in the same light in the near future.
1. See the following for an outline of the crisis, in: Taylor, op. cit., pp. 465-473. For a complete, if albeit 'old-fashioned', diplomatic history of the crisis, see: Irma Barlow. The Agadir Crisis. (1940).
2. Andrew Osborn, "Syrian army reversals spook Kremlin into hasty military build-up". Reuters. 18 September 2015, in
3. As per the premier American military analyst, Anthony Cordesman, Russian forces have (so far) constructed facilities to house up to 3,500, with so far only 200 marines stationed in Syria as of this week. With up to forty armored vehicles of various types. Notwithstanding a more voluminous air and sea arm, the above assets are not nearly enough to win the war for Assad. See: Anthony Cordesman, "Russia in Syria: Hybrid Political Warfare". Center for Strategic And International Studies. 23 September 2015, in


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