Talk to Al Jazeera

Peter Singer: A moral case for intervention?

The controversial philosopher shares his views on the use of chemical weapons and a military strike on Syria.

The US looks as though it may be on the verge of military action in the Middle East once again.

Really what we need to see in Syria is an end to the war and if a military intervention could rapidly end the war and achieve a civilian regime that would try to heal the country, I would be all in favour of that, but ... it's very difficult to see how that would happen in Syria now.

by Peter Singer, philosopher

This time the target will be Damascus, Syria’s capital, rather than Baghdad.

But one decade on, protests are under way and the same legal debate is raging.
Is the US right to ignore the deeply divided UN Security Council? And would a war without its authorisation be illegal under international law?
US President Barack Obama is making a moral argument – saying a red line has been crossed – that the use of chemical weapons on August 21 violated a norm of humanity.
Among the world’s contemporary experts in philosophy, one man’s work stands out.
Professor Peter Singer, a philosopher at Princeton University, does not use the dry academic language of his peers.

Instead he has provided clear, yet controversial answers on moral issues like euthanasia, bio-ethics, animal rights and global poverty.
Talk to Al Jazeera met one of the world’s best known philosophers to talk about, among other issues, the use chemical weapons in Syria and the moral case for military intervention.

“War is always, should be always the last resort and the question is whether that is really the case here. And there’s a further question that you always have to ask and that is: Will the consequences of going to war be better than the alternatives? You could say if the evidence is compelling … that the Assad regime used chemical weapons – then you might say there’s no other way of preventing him doing that again … other than showing him that there are very serious consequences, which really means going to war in some way with him.

And I think there is a good argument for saying that we have a ban on the use of chemical weapons and if that ban is to mean something then people who violate it have to feel the consequences. But the question is: Can the consequences be limited to Assad and his regime or are they also going to affect other people who are innocent of the use of chemical weapons and who will be affected by the strikes …? So that’s the real danger.”

Peter Singer, philosopher