by Felix F. Seidler, owner of Seidlers Sicherheitspolitik” – the article was first published there.
Much has been written about Western decline. However, the aftermath of an open, concrete Western defeat have rarely been discussed. Even after one year of civil war, Bashar al-Assad, due the support of other autocracies, is still there. So let us take this case to find out what would be the strategic implications of a defeated West.*Stop the domino effect
Tunisia was the trigger of all the evil, so probably the thoughts of many Russian and Chinese strategists. Like domino stones Egypt, Yemen and Libya followed. Bahrain was only stopped by the Saudis. The message spreading around the world seemed to be clear: Every autocracy can be protested out of office when the people just do not give up.
However, Russia and China are seeking for the opposite message. They want the people, primarily their own, to see: Revolutions and enduring Facebook-based protesting can actually fail. Imagine how some Chinese and Russian decision makers worry who could be next, if Assad would be defeated. In addition, the longer the Syrian civil war goes on, the less Russia and China can afford Assad to loose it. Instead, among millions or billions of people, Assad dead or in jail would foster the anti-Sino-Russian “don’t give up and you win against your regime”-message.
From a Western perspective, however, discussing the message would not really matter, if there were military solutions against Assad. However, the rebels can clear, but too often, they cannot hold; they can gain tactical victories, but they are unable to achieve strategic turnarounds. For instance, by using his air force, Assad is still the one to decide the place of action. Continuing outside military support (Iran, Russia) for Assad’s regime compared to the relative weakness of the rebels make it unlikely that Assad will loose the war directly by military means in open combat.
The war Syria will, that is the reason why it takes so long, be lost by the party that gives up first. However, Assad will not give up, because he could see on TV what happened to Slobodan Milošević, Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi. Furthermore, he and his decades governing Alevi minority are aware that they all would be either jailed or killed, if the Assad regime was loosing the war. Hence, they will fight until victory or death. As Assad’s death soon can be ruled out (except by assassination), he will survive and, henceforth, stay in power. If Assad manages to stay alive, defeat the rebels fully or at least force them wide back and gain relative stability and control in and over Syria, then he has won and therefore defeated the West.The West’s worst strategic nightmare
Imagine Assad wins and in Syria endures, after all, a status totally hostile to Western interests, policy and strategy. What would be the consequences for the West and international politics? How would the message look like?
First of all, an Assad victory would mean that the West has definitely lost its ability to create, sustain and execute strategic and political supremacy. Syria governed by Assad after the war would be a status that can hardly be reversed. Instead, some years after the dust of war would have calmed, realpolitik will celebrate a comeback (as it always does) and Western democracies, likely then governed by other leaders, will start to do business with Assad again, either out of opportunities or necessities; as it was done with Gaddafi or Assad’s father. While realpolitik enters the stage, however, behind the scenes everybody will smell the ugly smell of defeat.
Furthermore, the perception among states, which are not involved in Syria itself, has to be considered: With political cover by China and Russia, any autocratic leader can defeat the West and the more China continues to gain power the stronger is a Chinese political cover against the West for other states. Therefore, more countries will lean towards China and Russia; maybe forming some kind of authoritarian axis. The signal, moreover, is clear: an authoritarian axis could either spoil Western approaches, defeat the West to keep a status quo or – that is the new important issue – achieve a status hat the West did try to prevent. Hence, clubs like BRICS will get substance behind symbolism and after the Western wall is finally broken, for sure, “defeating the West policies” will be repeated.Lessons learned, however by the wrong states. What autocracies have to do to implement an anti-Western strategy and/or policy is to show endurance and obtain the cover of at least China or Russia. Thereby, you cannot only prevent or sustain, but rather create a specific status, which may be contrary to Western interests.
Finally, after stopping the domino effect in Syria, the autocracies would decide the place of action; the West would not. Whoever decides, on which theaters the great games go on, has the strategic initiative. Thus, after Assad defeated the West the autocracies may find out that they have far more space to create the coming years, as they would like to do.
*Personal notes of the author
Although reality may (hopefully) disprove my case regarding Syria, nevertheless, the general strategic approach will remain valid. With US and EU running from one (often self-made) nightmare to an other inside their own quagmires, now, the time is about to come when the West will be defeated.
Last but not least, many thanks to two peer reviewers for helpful feedback and comments. However, remaining mistakes are my own.