Relative Evidentiary Standards?Posted: April 24, 2013
Am I the only one who sees in the US official position on allegations by Israel and others of chemical weapons use in Syria, quite a different approach than the one the US has taken regarding allegations by Israel and others of a nuclear weapons program in Iran? There was a very good story on NPR about the allegations concerning CW use in Syria this morning (see here) and of course it’s in other news outlets as well (see here).
The US seems to be requiring “conclusive evidence” of the use of CW in Syria before it will consider that its “red line” (where did this recently ubiquitous phrase come from anyway?) regarding Syrian use of WMD has been crossed, requiring the US to intervene in a significant way in the country’s bloody civil war. The standard being required by the US appears to be much higher than that required by Israel and also by France and the UK, who all appear convinced that CW have been used by the government in Syria against opposition forces. In this Reuters piece, there is speculation that the US is trying to learn from its mistakes in the lead up to the Iraq war in 2003 regarding intelligence and the presence of WMD. Some of that may be going on. But I can’t help thinking that what’s really going on here primarily is that, unlike the Iraq case in 2003, and unlike the Iran nuclear case, the US really does not want to get involved seriously in Syria, and so is moving the goalposts of evidentiary standard regarding WMD in this case so that they are unlikely ever to be met – intentionally.
I mean, think about all the US has done to Iran on the basis of nothing near “conclusive evidence” of an Iranian nuclear weapons program – in fact on the basis of no real evidence at all, and in the face of the US intelligence community saying Iran DOESN’T have a NW program. And yet the US has imposed crippling sanctions on Iran and has exerted every ounce of compulsory pressure it can muster on the basis of this lack of evidence.
What I’m saying is that the standard of evidence for the presence of WMD in the Iran case, the Syria case, and the Iraq case in US policy, seem very relative and circumstantial, and have much more to do with whether the US wants, for political, ideological, and self-interested reasons, to get involved in a specific situation, than it does with a consistent, law-based approach to dealing with suspected proliferation cases.
This shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise – its really just mirroring US policy in other areas, for example in humanitarian intervention. It’s common knowledge that the standard for serious US involvement in cases of humanitarian suffering has much more to do with the region where it is occurring, exactly who it is happening to, and what US economic and security interests will be served through getting involved, than it has to do with a consistent and genuine concern with humanitarian suffering. See the Kosovo case versus the Rwanda and Sudan cases.