Protect and strike

by alexandre.comeau-vermeersch on September 2, 2013 - 11:17pm

I have always been interested in international politics. When I read an article describing the recent events in Syria (, I felt obligated to critically analyse it from an ethical point of view. As of August 31th, an alleged chemical strike that killed hundreds of civilians in the city of Damascus, Syria, is still under investigation by UN officials. The US, stating these attacks were commanded by Syria’s current government, are considering taking hostile actions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a response to using these weapons.

The possible implications of such a course of actions raises an interesting question: Would a powerful country, US for this instance, be fundamentally obligated to intervene in a foreign country accused of using chemical weapons?

            Many details must be taken in consideration in order to discuss the subject. For example, UN weapons inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have just left the country with the evidence collected from the area and have yet to analyse it before submitting an official report. However, US spokesman stated this report “cannot provide any information that the US […] does not already have”.

The Secretary of State, John Kerry argued that “History will judge us extraordinarily harshly if we turn a blind eye”, possibly referencing international criticism the US has received following Rwanda’s genocide regarding their insufficient actions in the African country. On this matter, I think the differences between the two cases are too great to be a significant comparison. Moreover, pro-intervention supporters believe that if the international community was to stand by and watch as chemical weapons are used openly on civilian populations, it would give a green signal to other tyrannical government and leaders that they can perform whatever atrocities they like. As a superpower, the US must take the lead and deliver the first blow, but wouldn’t this also mean that any country can take military actions freely in an adjacent smaller country on the premise that its government is committing atrocities? They are in a precarious position because they had already announced they would react offensively if they found incriminating evidence pointing to the use of chemical weapons. Some people fear that inaction will cripple the country’s credibility on the international scale, an argument that is much more appealing to the general American population as opposed to the rest of the world.

Similar to the intervention in Iraq, media coverage and its desired effect is capital if military strikes are to be performed. I believe, however, that it also exposes how US plans on dealing with the international community because, as Mr. Kerry fails to remind us, attacking Al-Assad’s troops without UN’s approval constitutes a breach in international laws. To prevent another Iraq, many believe the US must not enter Syria alone, and after the Great Britain has retracted from this plan, the Americans should not be interfering Syria, a position that I agree with, but that is highly subject to change in the following days. Other consequences of American missiles in Syrian ground would e collateral damage. I find hypocritical for a country to claim to be protecting the population by bringing missiles with them.

In which circumstances are we allowed to take arms in order to protect a foreign civilian population? Would passivity have more repercussions than reaction?

Additional Sources :