Proposed Intervention in Syria
There are obvious comparisons between the current considerations being given to intervention in Syria and the previous political processes which led to the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999 and the Western invasion of Iraq in 2003:
- The UN Security Council is unlikely to permit an intervention in Syria, just as it refused to permit the interventions in Kosovo and Iraq. Russia and China would use their vetoes.
- A long-range bombing strike against Syria’s chemical weapons capability is being compared to NATO’s intervention in Kosovo: intended to help civilians, but illegal in international law.
- The Western political rhetoric is about military intervention, not about treating the use of chemical weapons as a crime which could be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court.
- As a result of opposition pressure, the British government is waiting for UN weapons-inspectors to establish the facts – unlike the political impulsiveness of the decision to invade Iraq 10 years ago without waiting for proof of the existence of weapons of mass destruction.
- The American government has talked itself into having to make an intervention in Syria, but there is disagreement about how heavy it should be and it might not be popular.
There would be risks attached to any intervention, especially without UN agreement, but it is reported that “The United States, Britain and France say they can act with or without a U.N. Security Council resolution”. There would be less risk if a reformed UN could prevent a government from harming its own citizens.
A leading article in The New Statesman – http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/08/leader-syria-case-not-proven – argues for a negotiated partition of the country as a non-interventionist option. It might result in less slaughter than other options. It would leave Assad with some power.
A leading article in The Economist – http://www.economist.com/node/21584329 – defends the proposed short sharp US intervention in Syria by arguing that it is necessary to preserve Western credibility. It would not remove Assad and nor would it bring the civil war to an end. President Obama has expressed his desire to intervene, though he is letting the matter be debated in Congress before doing so.
There is another way, also leaving Assad in power. Russia argues that President Assad may not have given the order to use chemical weapons. If that were so, he would ideally use the country’s legal system to swiftly, and very publicly, pursue those who did give the order. This is not practicable in a country at war, but the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was designed for just such a situation: to act when the country cannot credibly do so for itself. The international community should use the ICC to pursue the offenders.
Bombing is not an effective way of prosecuting human rights violations, or of restoring order.