Putin just forced NATO into Syria’s civil war

In 1983, Adam Osborne excitedly announced the successor to his company’s groundbreaking Osborne One computer.  The new machine would be faster and better than its predecessor when it started rolling off the production lines in only six months time.

Distributors took note and immediately cancelled all their orders for the old machines, which would soon become obsolete. Osborne Computer Corporation was thrown into a sudden cash flow crisis, and went bankrupt before the new models were built.

Business school students know this cautionary tale as the ‘Osborne Effect’.

Future students of international relations might well end up learning about the ‘Putin Effect’.

On Monday, the EU announced that it would lift its embargo on supplying arms to rebels fighting the Syrian government, but the UK, which had led the push, would not be starting shipments immediately.

On Thursday, Russia responded by promising to ‘stop Western hotheads’ by arming Syria with its S300 anti-aircraft system.

Syria’s President Assad was reported as stating the anti-aircraft missiles had already arrived, and then the report was quickly retracted. But the damage was done. Announcing that an anti-aircraft defense had been deployed in Syria might have deterred a NATO attack, but announcing the intention to deploy one in the future only encourages NATO to get its attack in first.

The S300 system will make it harder for NATO forces to impose a ‘no-fly’ zone in Syria, but NATO has already defeated the same system: The Russians sold the same system to Gaddafi in 2010. And we all know how well that worked out for him.

Deploying the system and making it operational will take several months, and would give Syria the ability to shoot down planes in Israel.  As you can imagine, Israel has been making warning noises about not allowing the missiles to fall into the hands of Hezbollah, but it is difficult to imagine, considering the missiles’ range includes Israel, that the Israelis would let the missiles fall into the hands of Syria either.

It is tempting to construct some conspiratorial explanation for Putin’s petulant action. Perhaps Putin has decided to cut his losses on the Assad regime and hopes NATO will bring a swift end. But I suspect it is simply a blunder. Since 1979, the Kremlin has managed to pick the losing side in every international conflict it has been involved in. They should realize that Assad is doomed, but contrary to Ehud Barak, I bet they don’t.

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