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Why throwing more arms at Syria is not the solution

An S-300 system holds four missiles and can fire two at a time.

An S-300 system holds four missiles and can fire two at a time.

On 2 April 2013, 154 nations voted to adopt an Arms Trade Treaty. One of the Treaty’s key aims is to prevent the transfer of weapons to states where there is a substantial risk that they will be used in serious violation of international humanitarian or human rights laws. There can be no doubt that such violations are taking place in Syria, yet today it has been reported that Russia has fulfilled a contract to supply S-300 air defence missile systems to the Assad regime.

Why would Russia, in defiance of the West, go through with a deal to supply an administration that is so obviously iniquitous?  The Russian psyche is at play here. Having faced three major invasions from the West between 1812 and 1941, the need to maintain secure borders is paramount. And if Assad’s secular rule is replaced by Islamic Fundamentalism, such security can no longer be assured.

Will the possession of S-300s help Assad to overcome the rebels? Hardly. The Syrian government already has total air superiority. So far as combating the rebels is concerned, the system is irrelevant. The only conceivable use of the S-300 is to deter Western states, and Israel, who are currently pressing for a no-fly zone, or threatening ‘surgical strikes’.

So what is the likely outcome? The S-300 is undoubtedly a sophisticated weapon system, but it is not invulnerable. Its presence in Syria will present a red rag to a bull – particularly to Israel, who will see it as a direct challenge. Israel has already pledged to take preventive action, seeing a future Syrian S-300 as a “game-changing” threat to its own air space, as well as to the relative free rein with which it now overflies its northern foe as well as neighboring Lebanon.

In the meantime, the transfer of the S-300s will give the green light for the UK and France to start arming the rebel ‘moderates’ – essentially, those groups that are not aligned with al Qaeda. But while such groups may be moderate in terms of their religious affiliations, no side seems capable of any moderation when it comes to refraining from committing atrocities.

In terms of arming the rebels, the weapons that would be of most use are shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, in order to attack Assad’s jets and helicopters. A long-standing concern in the West has been the spectre of such missiles falling into Jihadist hands, and being used to bring down civilian airliners. Once the West starts channelling these weapons into Syria, surely this is only a matter of time?

However the world’s governments choose to deal with the worsening situation in Syria, throwing more arms at it is not the solution.

AOAV has prepared a fact sheet on the S-300 system. Please download it here: S-300 Fact Sheet