Intervention in Syria : international peace or escalating conflict?

Léa Pelard reports on the conflict in Syria in the wake of air strikes from the United States, United Kingdom and France. 

The United States, France and the United Kingdom launched 105 missiles on three targeted Syrian chemical weapons facilities on the 14th of April. The intervention, which didn’t claim any human casualties, came in retaliation for a chemical attack on civilians possibly conducted by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, killing more than 70 people and wounding hundreds others.

Three of the five United Nations Security Council countries simultaneously targeted a scientific research center, used in the production of weapons, and two chemical weapons facilities. One of the two was used for the production of sarin gas, which is an illegal colorless and odorless agent leading to death by asphyxiation.

Leonie O’Dowd, a volunteer working for the Irish Syria Solidarity Movement, told that “the Assad regime is slaughtering civilians day and night with starvation, deprivation of medical care, barrel bombs, incendiaries, shelling, bunker buster bombs and gas. The strikes give the message that this slaughter can’t continue.”

The Irish Syria Solidarity Movement call for “severest possible financial sanctions against the wealthy war criminals of the Assad, Russian and Iranian regimes.” The word wealthy is used in reference to the United Nations humanitarian aid delivered to regime held areas, which has ” the effect of supporting the Assad war economy” , she adds.

Hours before the coordinated strikes, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres expressed his concerns about Syria’s situation threatening that it may lead “to a full-blown military escalation”.

Talking about Syria, Guterres added that “we have witnessed systematic violations of international humanitarian law, international human rights law, and international law tout court — in utter disregard of the letter and spirit of the United Nations Charter.”

The United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons led an investigation which held the Syrian government forces responsible for three chlorine gas attacks in 2014 and 2015 in Syria.

Guterres explained that he was disappointed by the fact that the Security Council couldn’t agree on a mechanism “to attribute responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria”, following the end of the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism.

However, he believes that the solution to Syria’s situation isn’t military. He stated: “The solution must be political through the Geneva intra-Syrian talks, as stipulated in resolution 2254 of the Security Council, in line with the consistent efforts of my Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura.”

Shortly after the intervention, the Syrian government posted on Twitter “Honorable souls cannot be humiliated.”

In a statement released by the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the coordinated military strikes in Syria as an “act of aggression” and denied evidence of a chemical weapons attack in Douma. Russia has been Syria’s ally for a long time, as “Syria serves as an important access point to the Mediterranean Sea for Russian ships and a hub for Russia in the Middle East”, reports ABC news.

Prime Minister of England Theresa May addressed the Parliament two days after its country’s intervention in Syria and stated : “This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change. It is about a limited and targeted strike that does not further escalate tensions in the region and that does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.” She added that ”the reports of this attack are consistent with previous regime attacks,” referring to the 2013 chemical attack in Ghouta killing more than 800 people.

President Donald Trump said in an official statement that the coordinated strikes with the United Kingdom and France aim to “establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons. “We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron said that he “ordered the French armed forces to intervene” after a “red line set by France” on the use of chemical weapons had been crossed.

The three allies have been criticized for not asking their own Parliament before their action. Did they legally have to?

In the United Kingdom, the government doesn’t have any legal obligation to ask Parliament for permission before any military intervention. However, it was customary to consult Parliament since 2003 and the controversial engagement of London in the war in Iraq.

In France, the government has up to three days after the start of a military intervention to inform the Parliament. A debate will then take place, but in no case a vote will be held. However, if the operation last more than four months, the government need to ask the Parliament for its extension, which can decide to grant it or not.

The American system has some similarities to the French one. The government doesn’t have to consult Congress before taking any military action, but has 48 hours to notify it. This measure exists since 1973 and the implementation of the War Powers Act. If the intervention lasts more than sixty days, the President will need Congressional approval to pursue it.

The US, France and the UK intervened without the United Nations permission. The Russian Federation asked the Security Council to condemn the intervention, which rejected the proposal.

O’Dowd, in reference to humanitarian aid in Syria, said: “We ask the Irish government to examine how Irish aid is distributed.”

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