German Foreign Minister Opposes Sending Arms to Rebels in Syria


Credit: Dirk Vorderstraße/wikimedia

Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to the Middle East today for talks on setting up a Syria peace conference that will bring together representatives from the Assad regime and its opposition.

Last week Kerry said that he was "hopeful" that the Russian-American plan for a peace conference would be implemented. The French government has said that they will not participate in any peace conference that includes Iran, one of the Assad regime's closest allies. France's opposition to Iran's inclusion in any possible conference could derail the conference given that Russia would like Iran to be part of any peace conference.

The U.K. and France are pushing for the European Union's arms embargo on Syria to be lifted, thereby making it easier to arm Assad's opposition. While the British and French might be advocating for more direct intervention in Syria the German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who opposed having German troops participate in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon and deploying the German military as part of the intervention in Libya, has expressed doubt that a military plan in Syria would establish lasting peace. 

From an interview Westerwelle did with Der Spiegel:

SPIEGEL: The opposition wants weapons.

Westerwelle: We have to answer two questions: Will fewer people die if more weapons are sent to Syria? And can it be ensured that these weapons do not end up in the hands of extremists, terrorists and jihadists, for whom Damascus is merely a staging post on the road to Jerusalem?

SPIEGEL: Those forces have already been armed.

Westerwelle: Let's assume a modern antiaircraft system falls into the hands of anti-Semitic jihadists or a terrorist group like the Al-Nusra brigades. What would that mean for civil aviation in the region, and for Israel's security? There are also no easy answers to the question of arms shipments.

SPIEGEL: France and Great Britain now have a different response to this question than Germany.

Westerwelle: I respect that, because I can understand the motives. If our friends stick to their position, the European Union arms embargo will expire this month. Then we will have to ensure that the program of sanctions against the regime continues to apply in other ways.

Westerwelle's concerns are well founded. Al Qaeda in Iraq is becoming more involved in the Syrian civil war and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah are also fighting in the conflict, but on the side of the Assad regime. If weapons were sent into the conflict it would be impossible to ensure that they wouldn't end up in the hands of terrorist organizations on either side.

However, it is hard to see how effective the "program of sanctions against the regime" would be if the E.U. embargo on sending arms to Syria were lifted. If the embargo remains, something move that looks increasingly unlikely, it will be interesting to see what European politicians who advocate for intervention begin recommending.