Inside Story

Syria: The drums of war?

We examine whether the West has a mandate for military intervention in Syria.

Last Modified: 28 Aug 2013 09:36
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Weighing up military options against Syria, the United States has given its strongest response yet to a suspected gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians last week.

The White House insists there is little doubt President Bashar al-Assad is responsible, with the US government describing the suspected chemical weapons attack as a "moral obscenity" that is "inexcusable" and "undeniable".    

What is the objective of the intervention of the West? Is it to get rid to Bashar al-Assad? Or is it to help Syrians to achieve democracy and freedom? Or is just because Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons? There should be [an] investigation and tangible evidence that the regime has used chemical weapons; [they should] not base their claims on YouTube videos that have not been verified.”

Halla Diyab, a spokesperson for the Organisation for Freedom and Democracy in Syria

President Barack Obama put his credibility on the line last August when he said the use of chemical weapons in Syria would constitute a red line that would compel an American response. Now Secretary of State John Kerry is making it clear which way the US is leaning.

"What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality. Let me be clear: The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard, it is inexcusable and - despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured - it is undeniable," he declared.

Meanwhile, Walid al-Moallem, Syria's foreign minister, told a news conference on Tuesday that accusations being made against the Syrian government were "categorically false".

"We are all hearing the drums of war being beaten around us. If these countries are willing to launch an aggression or military act against Syria, I believe, the pretext of chemical weapons is false, baseless and groundless. And as I said, I challenge, I dare them to produce any single piece of evidence," he added.

Russia and China have vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions calling for punitive measures against Syria. Going to war without a UN mandate is legally complicated, but it has been done before.

The Obama team is said to be looking at the 1999 NATO air war on Kosovo as a precedent. Back then, the US bypassed the Security Council and sought backing from NATO instead, using the protection of civilians as justification.

NATO assembled a broad-based coalition that provided some legitimacy. If the Americans choose the same route in Syria, they could again look for backing from NATO, and from Arab League countries.

The US administration could also seek a non-binding resolution from the UN General Assembly. It would not carry the same weight as a Security Council resolution, but it could provide international political cover.

So, does the West have a mandate to intervene in Syria? What would an international intervention imply? And is this the right moment for it? 

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, is joined by guests: Mark Kimmitt, the former US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, and a former deputy director for strategy and plans at CENTCOM, the US Central Command; Halla Diyab, a spokesperson for the Organisation for Freedom and Democracy in Syria; and Toby Cadman, an international lawyer with Omnia Strategy, specialising in war crimes and human rights.

" ... We would all prefer that peace comes immediately for Syria, we would all like to see the killing ended. We don’t want to see either Russia, Tehran or Hezbollah become the eventual victors in there, but how much longer will the people of the world stand by while the civilians in Syria, at best, are sent away or, at worst, are slaughtered."

Mark Kimmitt, former US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs


Al Jazeera
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