We’re all trying to sort through the reports and evidence about the use of chemical weapons, specifically sarin gas, in Syria, allegedly by Syrian government forces.  A lot is being said about whether the evidence of use is persuasive, and if so what sort of use it likely was/is – i.e. intentional use by government forces, an accident, etc.

I thought I’d chime in on the question of international law relevant to the use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces, if that is indeed what has occurred. Chemical weapons possession and use is comprehensively regulated and essentially prohibited by the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which is a masterwork of treaty drafting and construction. See Chapter 2 in my 2009 book for a thorough explication of the CWC.  

The CWC built upon the 1925 Geneva Gas Protocol, which proscribed the use of chemical and biological weapons in war.

Specifically on the use of CW, Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, of which Syria is a party, prohibits the use in armed conflict of weapons “of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.”

Syria is not a party to the CWC. However, it is beyond doubt that the essential prohibitions contained in the CWC regarding both possession and use of CW, have passed into customary international law, and are thus binding on all states, including Syria.  Syria is, though, a party to the 1925 Geneva Gas Protocol, so there is no question that Syria is bound by both conventional and customary international law to not use CW in war.  I have seen it written that the 1925 Geneva Protocol “implicitly, does not cover internal or civil conflicts.” I actually don’t think that’s accurate, given later developments in the law of armed conflict, in which the essential rules of the LOAC have been understood to have both passed into customary law, and to apply to both international armed conflicts and non-international armed conflicts.

In a case like Syria, where we are undoubtedly dealing with a non-international armed conflict, the essential rules of the LOAC apply, and this includes the 1925 Geneva Protocol as well as Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions.  These conventions and the parallel customary international law attached to them, very clearly prohibit the use of chemical weapons during armed conflict.  So I think there is no doubt that, if indeed chemical weapons have been utilized by Syrian government forces, Syria has violated the law of armed conflict.

So where does that take us? Well, as we all know, President Obama has said that the use of CW in Syria would be a “game changer” and would cross a “red line” (a whole new vocabulary we seem to be working with here!).  This raises the question, why would the use of CW by the Syrian regime be such a game changer and cross such a red line, when we’ve been watching the regime slaughter its people with conventional weapons for years?  This is a good question. I think it’s best answered by Max Fisher in the New York Times:  

[T]he reason is about more than just Syria: it’s about every war that comes after, about what kind of warfare the world is willing to allow, about preserving the small but crucial gains we’ve made over the last century in constraining warfare in its most terrible forms.

One of the few positive outcomes of World War I was the Geneva Protocol of 1925, in which world leaders agreed that they would no longer use chemical or biological weapons. They wanted to change not just international law but international norms, both of which were further codified by the 1972 biological weapons convention and the 1993 chemical weapons convention. The idea was that war, sadly, is going to happen. But if we can all agree not to use chemical weapons, warfare will be less terrible.

It’s largely worked: With a few notable exceptions, the taboo against chemical weapons has held up. Even in some of the most vicious conflicts of the past few decades, otherwise ruthless armies and rebels have largely refrained from using chemical weapons. That’s a remarkable achievement and one of the world’s few successes in constraining warfare. Keeping Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s regime from breaking the chemical weapons taboo is about more than just what happens in Syria: It’s about maintaining the international norm against chemical warfare, about ensuring that present and future wars will not redeploy the awful chemical weapons that made the First World War so much worse than it would have otherwise been.

I agree with Fisher that this is a norm worth supporting. But from a legal perspective, just because CW are used in a non-international armed conflict like Syria, it doesn’t automatically give third states a legal justification for intervening in the conflict to stop their use. That may sound ridiculous to the non-lawyers out there. But international law still stakes Westphalian sovereignty very seriously, and does not permit interventions into sovereign states’ territory without a legal justification that can form an exception to the U.N. Charter’s broad prohibition on international uses of force in Article 2(4).

Over at Opinio Juris, there are a couple of thoughtful pieces by Julian Ku and Deborah Pearlstein on this subject of on what international legal justification an intervention into Syria by the US could be based. Julian particularly references an earlier post of his, and links to responses to that post by Daniel Bethlehem and Ashley Deeks. I encourage readers to view these posts, as they will give you the contours of the legal debate.

I personally am not very persuaded by either Bethlehem’s or Deeks’ legal justifications for a US intervention, even if CW have been unlawfully used by the Syrian regime.  I share Julian’s essential skepticism that such an international use of force would be lawful.

That being said, I’ve thought for some time now that more should be done by the US to support the Syrian opposition forces against the Assad government forces. From supplies of both food and military materiel, to the establishment of no-fly zones enforced by US aircraft, I would support any and all such measures that wouldn’t put US boots on the ground, but would significantly support the opposition in Syria. I know there are a lot of problems with identifying who the opposition is, and a lot of concern about what comes next after Assad falls. But it seems to me that the opposition, even with its fractures, appears to represent the Syrian people much better than the Assad government ever has. And if the regime is now using chemical weapons against the opposition and civilians, I don’t think that the US can sit by any longer and watch this humanitarian tragedy unfold.

As usual, I’m trying to separate what I think the correct analysis of the lex lata is, from what I think should actually be done in the situation. I don’t like fudging the law to support what I think should be done. Here, I think the law is against outside intervention by the US, even if CW have been used. But I don’t think that should be the only factor in considering whether humanity and morality dictate action.

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30 Comments on “”

  1. Johnboy says:

    DJ: …”to the establishment of no-fly zones enforced by US aircraft,”….

    Dan, isn’t that just as much an “intervention” against Syria’s “Westphalian sovereignty” as putting boots on the ground?

    After all, nobody had any reason to concern themselves with notions regarding “airspace” back in 1648, but we most certainly do now consider that ever country has sovereign rights in the airspace that lies above its territory.

    So advocating that a foreign state insist that a country can’t fly its own aircraft inside its own airspace seems to me to be a mighty big infringement on that country’s sovereign perogatives.

  2. Don Bacon says:

    There are other factors than doing what is legal?
    –Are we a nation of factors, or of law?
    The opposition represents the Syrian people?
    –Then why did the US label the primary opposition –Jabhat al-Nusra — as terrorists?

    And in recent news, assertions of chemical weapon use in Syria by Western and Israeli officials citing photos, sporadic shelling and traces of toxins do not meet the standard of proof needed for a U.N. team of experts waiting to gather their own field evidence. . .
    http://ca.reuters.com/article/topNews/idCABRE93P0UG20130426

    . . .which may not happen because Syria doesn’t trust the UN. (go figure)

  3. Rene says:

    I’m really amazed at the fact that you (and many others) view the Syrian conflict as a fight between a brutal regime that slaughters its own people and an opposition that’s representing a genuine armed rebellion by the Syrian people against their government.

    I mean, really?! The Qataris and Saudis and the Turks keep pouring arms in, keep allowing radical Muslims from all over the world in, in order to remove Assad. Never mind that this pouring in of arms was exactly what escalated the conflict to this notoriously gruesome level. And why did they escalate that (with Western blessing)? Because the West (or the Arab monarchies, for that matter) have made it a precondition that Assad cannot be part of any political negotiation. He must step down or fight. And why is that? Because we don’t like him; because he supports Hezbollah and Iran; and because we don’t like them. Why? Because they don’t allow us to consolidate our hegemony. Simple as that.

    The only sane thing to do over the past two years was to deescalate, to stop the flow of arms, to find a political solution. Heck, Germans understood this! All along it has been our zealous emphasis on the ‘Assad MUST go’ motto that has created a civil war. Don’t we see this?

    How would we react if Iran started to arm Bahrain’s Shi’is? Or Saudi Arabia’s Shi’is? If they created a rebellion? Would the Saudis sit there and do nothing, or would they come down on the rebels with all their might and heart and kill as many as they could?

    I’m not justifying Assad; to hell with him and his men. But he was an established government and we wanted to undermine it, by hook or by crook, without caring how our actions would affect the Syrian people. Exactly like when we impose sanctions. “It’s the dictator who is to blame, for if he backs down, we would remove the sanctions.” Similar logic.

  4. Jay says:

    Dear Dan,

    Let’s not forget that a mere 10 years ago we violated international law by invading Iraq!

    Although I completely agree with the CW treaty ban and its stipulations and amendments, I have to add that I have a very jaded view regarding the folks that are jumping on the wagon. Some of these same folk comfortably observed Saddam gas Iranians for months without raising a pen – never mind creating a storm. According to NYT, US military was on site after one of Saddam’s gas attack in the south of Iran on a peninsula in Iraqi territory – but, not a peep. I find their cry for helping Syrian people and their heightened concerns about international law and such rather self-serving and hollow.

    The point being – just because there are accusations being thrown around does not mean any of these accusation – coming from any of the usual suspect sources – has any legitimacy.

    If and when there is clear substantiated and documented evidence definitively implicating the deliberate use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government – I will join you on calling for the regime’s removal. By the same token, if and when the Syrian opposition uses chemical weapons – I suggest that you join in and ask for the immediate dismantling and removal of the opposition forces from the Syrian territory.

    I will not belabor the point others have already raised – that this is a manufactured rebellion.

  5. Don Bacon says:

    The US use of white phosphorous on people in Fallujah, Iraq and a similar CCW violation by Israel in Gaza were not “game-changers.” for the great powers that be, and they were signatories to the convention which Syria is not to the CW. Whiskey Papa is terrible stuff.

    And not being a lawyer the “passed into customary international law” applying to US enemy Syria will escape my negative opinion.

  6. yousaf says:

    I think de-escalation is the only way.

    I fully support food aid, tents, clothes, water, medicine, doctors, schools etc. — the more the better. And actual stuff not fungible money.

    I do not support any military involvement. I think we should call on our tyrant Gulf allies to stop pouring arms in also.

    We should sit down in a secret meeting with Iran and call on them to stop supporting the regime, if we do same with rebels.

    When both sides know they will not be supported they will have no alternative but political compromise.

    BTW, There are much worse atrocities going on in Congo: not sure where the outrage on that went?

    • Dan Joyner says:

      I just wanted to engage a bit more with someone who is actually reasonable and thoughtful about this issue – Yousaf. I’m certainly no expert on Syrian politics or history. But as with any ME country, they are both very complicated, and picking good guys and bad guys, and even knowing who best represents the majority of the population, is a tricky business. To me it seems that Assad and his family and cronies are generally speaking bad guys – oppressive dictators with no intention of allowing serious reforms for the benefit of most Syrians – and there has been for a long time a movement among the Syrian people wanting reform, but they could never get any real traction because of the oppression of the Assads. When the Arab Spring happened, things reached a fever pitch in Syria as elsewhere, and the reform movement thought its time had come. But Assad, instead of seeing the writing on the wall and behaving like a human being, decided to brutally crack down on the opposition forces, in order to save his hold on power. It seems that it was at this point that elements of the opposition, and I know the opposition is very fractured with alot of different groups with different interests and ideologies, went militarized and started openly fighting against the regime. Some began to be backed by outside forces who for different reasons chose them as their horse to bet on. And now there is a very complex array of opposition forces, ranging from those who want peaceful democratic reforms, to those who want the overthrow of Assad by military force and the installation of a fundamentalist Islamic government. Looking from the outside, it is hard to know who exactly to root for. And I know that there’s already alot of foreign involvement.

      My only interest is in the Syrian people being protected from abuse, and in the end being able to essentially control their own destiny through a government that best represents what they want, while protecting religious and ethnic minorities within Syria. How exactly that should be done is the twenty million dollar question. I have said that I would support limited military intervention by the West in order to protect Syrian civilians, support opposition forces generally (broad spectrum), and stop the worst excesses of violence by the government against opposition forces and civilians. I definitely don’t support a full invasion by Western forces, and I don’t think the West should assume the role of nation builder as we have tried to do in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ongoing Arab Spring presents alot of complex and difficult choices about whether and to what extent and in what way the rest of the world should try to get involved. I think it all comes down to the principles underlying our policies. I don’t think we should be getting involved in order to advance American interests in the region, or Israeli interests, or any other outside interests. I think we should only get involved in order to protect civilians and try to help the people achieve the kind of government they want, while protecting minorities. Following those principles, if limited intervention is necessary, then I would likely support it. Will mistakes be made? Probably.

  7. “From supplies of both food and military materiel, to the establishment of no-fly zones enforced by US aircraft, I would support any and all such measures that wouldn’t put US boots on the ground, but would significantly support the opposition in Syria.”

    First of all, the GOAL of ANY military intervention by the US in Syria would not be to “support the opposition” – most of whom are Al Qaeda-related jihadists. The GOAL would not even be to overthrow the Assad regime, although I don’t think the US would mind that at all.

    The GOAL would be to enable the US, NATO and Israel to degrade both Syria and Hizballah in Lebanon as effective actors in an IRAN war. This is the ENTIRE geopolitical purpose of the Syria crisis. The Saudis and Qatar have their own motivations, most of which are anti-Shia, but the US, NATO and Israel have their own motivations, all of which are aimed at Iran.

    “But it seems to me that the opposition, even with its fractures, appears to represent the Syrian people much better than the Assad government ever has. ”

    In fact, they don’t. As far as I know, a still very large – perhaps majority – segment of the Syrian population supports the Assad regime, out of fear of the Islamist insurgents if nothing else.

    I think, Dan, that YOU need to think your position through more thoroughly, based on on a more thorough appreciation of what is actually going on both inside and outside Syria. The situation is FAR MORE than a simple “civil war” between the people and the Syrian government.

    Don’t make the mistake Juan Cole made of becoming a “humanitarian interventionist” with regard to Syria as he did Libya. He lost all credibility in my view by doing so given the resulting outcome in Libya and the destabilization of the area.

  8. Not to mention that in my view the likelihood that Syria actually used chemical weapons is almost certainly nil. The accusations come from the most unreliable possible sources, i.,e., the insurgents, the US and Israel. Given the level of lies about the Iran nuclear program, how anyone can consider the accusation against Syria as worthy of serious consideration is beyond me, absent real evidence provided by unbiased parties.

  9. Colonel Pat Lang had this to say over on his site:

    -Syria . So now we have the emergence of supposed proof of Assad’s government being in violation of the self assigned “red line” of poison gas use against the rebels. Let’s see the proof. Let’s see and hear something beyond Andrea Mitchell beating her drum for war. This is especially important on this day when the arch deceiver (or buffoon) is fawned over at his presidential library. He still does not admit that his administration chose to believe fabricated information in the matter of Iraq’s posession of nuclear weapons and poison gas. Now we have Obama and his Sancho Panza man (Biden) walking the American people toward war in Syria in pursuit of god knows what interest of the US. Don’t think for a minute that a “no fly zone” over Syria is anythng but war against the Syrian government. There would be massive movement of air assets to Turkey, Israel and Jordan. There would be sufficient air to air combat to destroy the Syrian Air Force. There would be Search Air Rescue operations in Syria for downed air crew. And at the end there would be a Saudi satellite jihadi state in Syria. We should be trusting about this?

  10. Dan Joyner says:

    Ok guys, I’ve let everyone have their say, and its clear that alot of you don’t like my thoughts about intervention in Syria, just like you didn’t like my thoughts about intervention in North Korea.

    Some of you appear to be in the camp that, if its a violation of international law to intervene, then states absolutely should abide by that obligation and not intervene. I can certainly understand that perspective, and I used to be more like that myself. My first article was on humanitarian intervention, and thats essentially the position I took. I suppose over time I’ve evolved in my thinking particularly about the jus ad bellum, or use of force law. Again, if you would read the last chapter in my 2009 book, or my article in the George Washington International Law Review, which is basically the same thing, you would see that I have tried to explain my position in a very theoretical and comprehensive way. What it boils down to though is something like this. I think that states should abide by international law, even when it is in their short term self-interest not to do so, in every area of international law except for the jus ad bellum. And if you look at the empirical record, you will see that there is a very high degree of compliance with international law by states in all of these other areas, including in cases where states perceive that their short term interests are not served by this compliance. Thats because, among other reasons, they see their long term interests as being best served by upholding the relevant rules and regimes of international law. The big difference in the jus ad bellum area is that states are much less willing to sacrifice their short term interests in favor of their long terms interests, if sacrificing those short term interests is likely to come at an unacceptably high cost – for example allowing a crazy, unpredictable, threatening regime like NK to have NW on missiles. Or allowing humanitarian debacles to continue like in Syria. When states perceive that the short term compliance costs are too high to justify compliance, then they are rationally likely not to comply. And I think its both rational and reasonable for them to make this decision in those circumstances. Thats why in my book and article I said that in the jus ad bellum area there is currently a serious gap between law and reality that has to be addressed. In my opinion, international law at its current evolutionary stage simply doesnt have the tools and normative underpinning to effectively regulate in the area of international uses of force. Thats why I take the view that we should be honest about the limits of international law, and not fudge legal analysis to make it say what we want it to say, but at the same time we should understand that states must reasonably act at odds with the jus ad bellum at times.

    Now, when it is legitimate to do that, I think, has to be considered on a case by case basis. You will look in vain for anyone who was and still is more opposed to the Iraq war 2003, and to the war in Afghanistan after the initial strike against AQ, than me. As readers of this blog will certainly know, I am also very opposed to the use of military force against Iran under current circumstances. I have voiced my support for interventions in Syria and North Korea, because I think that the particular circumstances of those cases argue for this, notwithstanding the potential disharmony of such actions with the international lex lata of the jus ad bellum. If it helps, one should remember that, absent new treaties, the only way that international law can change over time is through the evolution of customary international law, and this is exactly what such data points of disharmony with the lex lata could over time produce, if they are handled correctly, and if other states embrace the new rule. So we dont have to look at every act that is in disharmony with the lex lata as simply a violation of law. It can in fact be a quite lawful instance of state practice and opinio juris in attempted evolution of the law.

    There are others of you who, frankly, have always seemed to me to be fairly crazy conspiracy theorists. I can’t really offer you any explanation that you will be persuaded by. I guess you like what I have to say as long as it fits your views about how Iran should be left alone, but when you think I side with the western military industrial complex on any issue, you automatically shut down what you think is your open minded liberalness. Its a free country and you can think and say what you want. But I think you need to open your minds a little, and take a break from whatever prime directive you’re getting from radical, conspiracy theory blogs, and just try to think rigorously and reasonably about international relations and the place of international law in it.

    • Jay says:

      Dan,

      Admittedly, in so far as average behavior of state actors is concerned, you correctly point out a record of compliance with international norms. And, you correctly point out the limitation of current law w.r.t outliers – what you exemplified with NK as the crazy, unpredictable, ….

      Where I see your analysis as falling short is w.r.t addressing other kinds of outliers – for example, imperial and elitist unipolar powers who wish to remake the world. Historical record to draw an empirical observation from is lacking since global unipolar power differences of the magnitude we have experienced in the past twenty or so years is unprecedented – or at least an extreme outlier.

      Such outliers will have no qualms manufacturing evidence – you perhaps have pointed to examples of this yourself. One does not need to resort to conspiracy theories to accomodate such realities that we have all experienced – and, it is, borrowing your words, fairly crazy, to write off opposing views with the broad brush of conspiracy theories. Some are, but others, as we have found out, for example with the WMD in Iraq, are not!

      The pragmatic question you must answer within your framework is this: how does one deal with the humanitarian disaster in Syria without rewarding those who manufactured the disaster.

      Any evolution of normative international framework that would reward the “disaster makers” is bound to lead to undesirable, perhaps disastrous results in the future. It seems self-evident that any intervention must be to the benefit of the Syrian people alone and not to the reward either side of the conflict. Regrettably, recent history in this regard tends to be less comforting in my view.

      • Dan Joyner says:

        Thanks for your reasonable critique. As I said, I have been 100% on board from the beginning with all of the criticisms of US policy and action regarding Iraq, and I agree that that war, and the need for it that was sold to the world, were indeed manufactured by the US government at the time. And I also agree that this should be a cautionary tale for future analysis. But I also think that the legacy of Iraq can be taken to extreme in analysis. Just because the USG messed up so badly in that situation, doesn’t mean that it is behind every future crisis in the ME and elsewhere, pulling the strings like a puppeteer and manufacturing everything. This kind of thought that I regularly hear from some of the commenters on this blog reminds me of the movie “So I Married an Axe Murderer” and Mike Myers’ portrayal of the old Scottish father who thinks that the Queen, the Gettys, the Vatican, the Rothchilds, and Colonel Sanders are behind everything that happens in the world. Not everything is some big conspiracy, manufactured by outside actors. As non-titillating as it may be, sometimes things are actually as they appear, and frequently governments actually do what they say they’re doing in international relations.

      • Rene says:

        I don’t think it takes imagination to say that the West and Arab monarchies are fueling the Syrian conflict, and that a big part of their interest lies in “bleeding Iran dry,” as an Arab diplomat put it recently. Kofi Annan brokered a ceasefire deal which deescalated the conflict, though admittedly it didn’t stop it completely. When Russia was saying “good! at least now things are better,” the West/Arab axis couldn’t wait to declare the ceasefire dead on the pretext that neither side had *completely* fulfilled the conditions.

        I’m not saying the conflict was entirely created by outside actors. The seeds were certainly there, and the crackdown certainly contributed to escalation. But foreign powers played a crucial role in helping the seeds germinate, and in this they didn’t show any respect for human life in Syria.

    • fafnir says:

      Hopefully Mr Joyner after you have intervened in syria and dprk you will intervene in israel a country armed with wmd and ruled by a very unpredictable and even a little crazy bibi netanyahu,that has shown itself to be aggressive and unpredictable and whos treatment of the palestinians is beyond obscene,next of course would be the liberation of tibet,after all why should they continue to suffer if the people in syria and the dprk are going to be “liberated”.Personally I think both the dprk and israel are dangerous but I dont think both are crazy unless its crazy like a foxThe problem with intervening in one is that you really then have to intervene in all otherwise you`re just playing favorites

  11. Cyrus says:

    The problem with justifying interference is that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If the US can do it, so can Russia and Iran and … Then we end up with escalation and eventual confrontation. Of coyrse realistially speaking, I think the norm of non-intervention is pretty exaggerated anyway and countries do get involved regardless of the legal issues, so this is a moot point.

  12. Johnboy says:

    On the point of conspiracy theories, it might be a good idea for everyone to read Jeffrey Lewis views over at armscontrolwonk.

    He has no time whatsoever with conspiracy theories, but on the issue of this accusation of sarin gas use he is, to say the least, very sceptical.

    After all, as he points out the US Army exposed its own soldiers to sarin gas in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, so evidence that some Syrians show exposure to sarin gas isn’t *actually* the slam-dunk that some people appear to believe.

    And Robert Fisk over at the Independent points out that the first videos of the frothing-at-the-mouth victims were actually aired on Syrian state TV i.e. they were from victims of REBEL use of chemical weapons.

    To me this current accusation looks very, very manufactured, and their overriding purpose is to shanghai Obama into a military intervention inside Syria; an intervention he does not want to embark on.

    If that’s the aim – and does anyone really deny it? – then it doesn’t require a conspiracy theory to come to the conclusion that lies, damned lies and statistics are going to be the order of the day.

    Personally, I think this latest accusation fails the sniff test (sorry, bad taste, I know…).

    As in:
    1) Why would Assad deploy chemical weapons UNLESS it is a game-changer for him?
    2) How can it be a game-changer when he has only employed those weapons in small amounts and in limited areas?

    Point (1) and (2) means that to fire off chemical weapons in isolated instances is to take terrible risks for no material benefit.

    He’s not stupid, so why would he even consider doing that?

    • Dan Joyner says:

      I actually agree with you here Johnboy that it doesnt make sense for Assad to have used CW. He surely would have known what a seriously bad move it would be internationally, and from the information we have so far, the deployment, if it was a deployment, was limited, which also doesnt make sense. It seems to me that if he was at such a desperate point that he would consider using CW, he would do it in a big way in order to achieve the terroristic effects on the opposition and civilian populace. Do note that in my post I was noncommittal on the question of whether in fact CW have been used in Syria, and its because of these questions and the ones Lewis raises. Lewis and others in the comments to his piece, talk about accidental uses of CW, and this actually makes more sense to me on the information we have so far than deliberate use by the regime. I do of course think that we should get to the bottom of the issue before deciding to take any serious intervention measures. Now, exactly what the standard of evidence should be is something I wrote about in a post last week. And I do think people like Lewis are willing to accept different standards of evidence, depending in large part on their own predisposed opinion about the target country – i.e. whether the regime are baddies, and whether taking them out would be in the interests of the US.

      • Johnboy says:

        While I have doubts regarding both Jeffrey Lewis’ impartiality and consistency (something about which he is overly sensitive, to say the least) I think he sets the bar just about right regarding these accusations.

        Mind you, Jeffrey Lewis isn’t exactly sticking his neck out by demanding a higher standard of evidence on THIS particular occasion. After all, it’s pretty obvious that the Obama Administration wants that bar set very high so that it has an excuse NOT to intervene.

        So he is saying things that the Administration wants said, and that certainly doesn’t hurt his career prospects……

  13. Don Bacon says:

    On Thursday the UN Security Council passed a resolution on Mali, where as in Syria an al-Qaeda affiliate is militarily active against the state.
    UNSC Resolution 2100 (excerpt)

    . . .Demands that all rebel armed groups in Mali put aside their arms and cease hostilities immediately and urges all such parties in Mali who have cut off all ties with terrorist organizations such as AQIM, MUJAO, Ansar Eddine and associated terrorist groups . . .

    http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/minusma/documents/mali%20_2100_E_.pdf
    So in Mali the UNSC has acted, as it should, under international law, to protect the state and make demands of terrorists that they lay down their arms.
    In Syria the UNSC has done the opposite.
    Why? One reason only — Syria is a close ally of Iran.
    That isn’t the way the UNSC should act, acting in Syria as a US puppet against Iran (yet again, as with illegal sanctions).
    Syria is aware of the UNSC bias, so the letter that the UNSC Security-General has recently sent to President Assad, requesting “unconditional and unfettered access” for chemical weapon investigators, probably won’t be considered favorably. We’ll soon see.

    • Fiorangela says:

      Syria’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Bashar Ja’afari, discloses that Syria had requested UN Secretary General to investigate use of chemical weapons in Syria.

  14. Dan Joyner says:

    SEE MY RESPONSE TO YOUSAF A BIT UP THE LINE. I’LL JUST REPRINT IT HERE:

    I just wanted to engage a bit more with someone who is actually reasonable and thoughtful about this issue – Yousaf. I’m certainly no expert on Syrian politics or history. But as with any ME country, they are both very complicated, and picking good guys and bad guys, and even knowing who best represents the majority of the population, is a tricky business. To me it seems that Assad and his family and cronies are generally speaking bad guys – oppressive dictators with no intention of allowing serious reforms for the benefit of most Syrians – and there has been for a long time a movement among the Syrian people wanting reform, but they could never get any real traction because of the oppression of the Assads. When the Arab Spring happened, things reached a fever pitch in Syria as elsewhere, and the reform movement thought its time had come. But Assad, instead of seeing the writing on the wall and behaving like a human being, decided to brutally crack down on the opposition forces, in order to save his hold on power. It seems that it was at this point that elements of the opposition, and I know the opposition is very fractured with alot of different groups with different interests and ideologies, went militarized and started openly fighting against the regime. Some began to be backed by outside forces who for different reasons chose them as their horse to bet on. And now there is a very complex array of opposition forces, ranging from those who want peaceful democratic reforms, to those who want the overthrow of Assad by military force and the installation of a fundamentalist Islamic government. Looking from the outside, it is hard to know who exactly to root for. And I know that there’s already alot of foreign involvement.

    My only interest is in the Syrian people being protected from abuse, and in the end being able to essentially control their own destiny through a government that best represents what they want, while protecting religious and ethnic minorities within Syria. How exactly that should be done is the twenty million dollar question. I have said that I would support limited military intervention by the West in order to protect Syrian civilians, support opposition forces generally (broad spectrum), and stop the worst excesses of violence by the government against opposition forces and civilians. I definitely don’t support a full invasion by Western forces, and I don’t think the West should assume the role of nation builder as we have tried to do in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ongoing Arab Spring presents alot of complex and difficult choices about whether and to what extent and in what way the rest of the world should try to get involved. I think it all comes down to the principles underlying our policies. I don’t think we should be getting involved in order to advance American interests in the region, or Israeli interests, or any other outside interests. I think we should only get involved in order to protect civilians and try to help the people achieve the kind of government they want, while protecting minorities. Following those principles, if limited intervention is necessary, then I would likely support it. Will mistakes be made? Probably.

    • yousaf says:

      Dan,

      At a meta-level, I don’t see why to intervene here to protect civilians and not, e.g., in the Congo? Besides the fact that Congo gets less cable TV traffic.

      I don’t question your intentions which are admirable — to reduce civilian casualties. I just don’t see it getting done via any limited means, realistically. One could think of a force to keep Govt and rebels apart — but this would be a huge operation and any Western Forces would come under fire from radical members of the rebels, I think.

      I think starving both sides of arms — to the extent possible — will force a political solution that will not be liked by either side, but which is the only way forward, in my view.

      To begin to do that, I’d suggest a secret meeting with Iran to agree that both sides (and Gulf nations) will stop/reduce flow of military aid. And one could think of a massive Red Cross operation (which hopefully neither side will attack) that could force a wedge between the fighting fronts and physically separate them, Can’t say I have the solution, but I think it’s pretty clear that a lot of the nasty elements of the rebels are coming over from the last place we militarily intervened in: Iraq. (Which BTW looks like descending into civil war too….)

      So, one “Mission Accomplished” at a time.

      • Dan Joyner says:

        Those are fair points. And it is always a problem to choose places to intervene. There will always have to be judgments made, because practically speaking to intervene everywhere for humanitarian reasons would be impossible. In trying to marry principle and practicality in an concededly imperfect way, in a case like Syria where you have an active opposition, and where intervention from the West could therefore be undertaken with RELATIVELY low resource commitment and lives endangered, I think the arguments for intervention become more supportable. Thats not to say that principle doesnt demand intervention in other cases just as much. But again, principle just realistically has to be paired with some practicality. All that being said, though, I take your points about what good a Western intervention could actually accomplish on the ground. And its also true that our interventions have a track record of not helping civilians all that much in the end (e.g. Kosovo, Iraq), and in many ways making things worse.

      • yousaf says:

        I think a huge partly “human shield” Red Cross operation could be launched, including everyone in Congress who is advocating for going in: let them go in first as humanitarian workers between the two warring sides.

  15. David Krupp says:

    Should the League of Nations have intervened in Ethiopia when Mussolini invaded using poison gas or Japan invaded Manchuria? YES!
    We should ask the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution allowing all member states to use military force to stop the Syrian regime from using poison gas to commit mass murder. When Russia and or China veto the resolution it will expose them to the world as supporters of the use of poison gas.
    We should only use our military forces against the Syrian regime if we have the support of NATO.

  16. […] chemical weapons. Syria’s mere possession and even production of chemical weapons is probably unlawful, although given that it is one of five countries in the world (along with North Korea, Angola, […]

  17. […] of such a strike is in full frenzy–and Arms Control Law has participated in this debate earlier and over the past few […]


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