Wednesday, August 28, 2013

West Debates Legal Rationale for Syria Strike

August 28, 2013(7star news)LONDON — As they move toward military action in Syria, possibly within days and presumably without the backing of a United Nations Security Council resolution, the United States, Britain and France find themselves enmeshed in a debate over practical and moral questions regarding the necessity of a solid legal rationale for armed intervention.

The issue is suffused with memories of the march to war in Iraq more than a decade ago and the later discovery that Saddam Hussein did not possess the banned weapons programs used as justification for that invasion.

In this case, it largely comes down to a question of whether the Western allies can assemble a sufficiently broad coalition of support for their action, given that many experts say that existing treaties, laws and precedents do not offer a simple or clear-cut case for a military strike against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and his forces.

The situation with Syria differs in many fundamental ways from Iraq. American, British and French officials have emphasized that any strike on Syria will be punitive, short-term and not aimed directly, at least, to oust Mr. Assad.

But as with the prelude to the war in Iraq, there is also concern that any operation not look like a purely Western affair, and that any "coalition of the willing" include Arab countries, not just Muslim Turkey.

Concern about domestic and international pressure to show legal authority or international backing or both helps explain why Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain insisted on going to the Security Council on Wednesday with a request for a resolution — despite the opposition to such a step from Russia, and probably China — and why he promised Parliament a second vote on authorizing military action.

The rush for allies, said Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based research group, is one way the West is "compensating for being on shaky legal ground" without a Security Council resolution.

To cite the 1925 Geneva Protocol banning chemical weapons, as the British and French do, is legally tenuous, since it has no enforcement provisions and has never been employed to justify a strike, he said. And Syria never signed the 1993 follow-up Chemical Weapons Convention.

Another alternative is the newer doctrine of "responsibility to protect," derived from the Clinton administration's invocation 14 years ago of "humanitarian intervention" to justify its bombing campaign to halt Serbia's ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. But employing the "responsibility" doctrine, Mr. Joshi said, "raises the question of why now, and why chemical weapons have triggered it."

So those seeking to strike Syria must balance between a chemical convention that does not entail force and the responsibility to protect doctrine, which does, but "takes them away from their stated rationale," he said.

Although President Obama has not yet made clear his own intentions, French and British officials suggest that an intensive missile attack on Syrian government and military installations and airfields, even of short duration, could not only degrade Syria's ability to deploy chemical weapons but also encourage Mr. Assad to join in serious negotiations in Geneva to find a political solution to the long conflict.

They also note that there is likely to be considerable support from Sunni countries in the Middle East that see the civil war in Syria as a proxy for the struggle between Iran and themselves, and between themselves and Sunni Islamic radicalism.

"Because so many countries are lined up against the Syrian regime, the question is not how many countries will support the operation, but how many will be able to actively contribute to it," Mr. Joshi said. "It was easier in Libya, with uncontested airspace. But given the short duration of such an action, none of this makes much difference from the diplomatic point of view."

François Heisbourg, a defense expert at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris, said he was not particularly concerned about the complications.

"In strictly legal terms the case for this one won't be great, but as in Kosovo, the law will have to fit the action," he said. "But unlike Kosovo, this is not going to war versus Bashar or regime change. It's a one-off strike, with older legal precedents in humanitarian interventions."

As important, he said, is upholding the norm against the use of chemical weapons, which even the Russians have supported, endorsing Mr. Obama's "red line" last year.

As for the coalition, it is likely to symbolic, given that only a few nations in the world are able to participate with cruise missiles.
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