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View: From Syria, Donald Trump fuels the rise of Russia and China

The Russians, in effect, have become guarantors of peace in the Middle East. The US demonstrates itself to be an untrustworthy ally. The combined effect of both developments is to diminish America’s role as the lynchpin of global stability.

, ET Bureau|
Oct 17, 2019, 06.39 PM IST
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Donald Trump
If Donald Trump were to get a second term, and America First becomes US operational doctrine, Japan would have no choice but to either acquire nuclear weapons or replace the US with China as its protector.
Should India be concerned about Turkey’s invasion of the Syrian territory south of Turkey’s border? While India has criticised Turkey, it is widely seen as retaliation for Turkey’s support at the UN for the Pakistan point of view on Kashmir. But the development has implications that go beyond the Kurds, whose militias are Turkey’s immediate target—far beyond, all the way to China and Japan.

The Kurdish militias, on whom Turkey has unleashed its army, fought the Islamic State as American allies, and lost over 11,000 soldiers (the US casualty figure in the Syrian civil war is estimated at 8). Now that the war is over and the Islamic State has been routed, US President Trump has decided that he longer wants to station American troops in this distant warzone, and announced their withdrawal. Interpreting this as American acquiescence, Turkey launched an attack against the Kurds in Syria, so as to deny the Kurds within Turkey a territorial nucleus in adjoining Syria of a future Kurdistan that incorporates Kurds from Iraq and Iran as well,.

The Turks want to go more than 30 km into Syrian territory and scatter the Kurds from the area under their occupation. During Turkish advance and Kurdish retreat, many Islamic State prisoners kept captive by the Kurds have escaped. They could regroup with others dispersed across Iraq and Syria.

The Kurds have reached out to the Bashar al-Assad regime of Syria for protection from Turkish forces. Russia, whose air power and support on the ground helped Assad win the civil war, and has good relations with Turkey, to whom it sold the same advanced missile defence system, S400, whose sale to India might result in the US putting sanctions on India, is keen to prevent any direct engagement between Assad’s troops and the Turks.

The Russians, in effect, have become guarantors of peace in the Middle East. The US demonstrates itself to be an untrustworthy ally. The combined effect of both developments is to diminish America’s role as the lynchpin of global stability.

This will have far-reaching consequences. Take, for example, Japan. The country has the technological capability and the economic heft to have its own nuclear deterrence. However, both the pacific constitution the US wrote for it during Gen MacArthur’s stewardship of the country after Japan’s defeat in World War II, and popular abhorrence of nuclear weapons, induced by the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, combine to make Japan place its trust in the guarantee of protection offered by the US, rather than in a nuclear arsenal of its own, for defence against a potential nuclear-armed aggressor.

Suppose Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds persuades the Japanese that the US could think ‘America First’ in case of an attack by North Korea, China or Russia, and abandon its obligation to come to Japan’s aid, it would be forced to rethink its options.

North Korea’s Rocketman has been firing missiles into the sea that separates Korea from Japan, which the Japanese and its western allies call the Sea of Japan, to the annoyance of the Koreans, who call it the East Sea. The US has done little about these missile tests that rack nerves in Japan and South Korea, except to demonstrate an eagerness on its President’s part to strike some deal of appeasement with North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un.

If Trump were to get a second term, and America First becomes US operational doctrine, Japan would have no choice but to either acquire nuclear weapons or replace the US with China as its protector. South Korea would also be under similar pressure.

Trump’s betrayal of America’s Kurdish allies is not just about a few thousand Kurds getting killed and a Kurdish nation getting aborted, but also about a realignment of the balance among the world’s major powers. Russia is an immediate beneficiary, with Iran, as Assad’s backer, also securing a larger say in the Middle East. Eventually, the move would further feed China’s rise. And that has implications for India.

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