Con Coughlin wildly overreacts to the news that Britain has effectively halted the shipment of Russian helicopters to Syria by cancelling the ship’s insurance:
But the more serious aspect of Britain’s action over the Alaed is that the first step towards military intervention in the Syrian crisis has been taken. The cancellation of the Alaed’s insurance policy might represent a classic example of the application of “soft power”, but it could easily lead to the need for the commitment of more tangible resources, such as the deployment of a military force to protect Syrian civilians from attack and the enforcement of other humanitarian considerations.
This isn’t true. This is most likely a one-time episode focused on a publicized shipment. It would be very difficult for this to lead to a significant military commitment in Syria by Britain or any other Western government. Preventing arms shipments from reaching the Assad regime in this way makes it less likely that Western governments will feel obliged to become more involved in the conflict.
Elsewhere in the article, Coughlin speculates about Western naval interdiction of Russian arms shipments, which is a reminder of how insane so much of the loose talk of military action related to Syria really is:
The next time a Russian cargo ship attempts to deliver arms to Syria it is likely to be escorted by a Russian war ship. And what will Britain do then? Send for the Royal Navy? I don’t think so, not least because our Navy has been pared down to such a level that I doubt we would have any ships available for the task.
The Americans, of course, with their vastly superior naval forces, might be tempted to intervene, but by doing so they will be running the risk of provoking a conflict with Russia.
There will be many in Washington, such as Republican Senator John McCain, who would back such action on the grounds that the Russian navy is no match for the mighty U.S. fleet.
No, there won’t be “many in Washington” in favor of attacking Russian naval vessels in order to block weapons going to Syria. McCain might favor doing it, but then that would be one more argument for why it is a bad idea. There is not much appetite in Washington for indirect involvement in Syria’s conflict, so just imagine how little interest there is in risking war with Russia over arms sales in a conflict in which America has nothing at stake. It’s this sort of thinking that can help turn fairly contained local wars into international conflagrations.