The Crisis of Ignorance and Apathy

UNMISS

UN Humanitarian Chief Valarie Amos on visit to South Sudan on Feb. 9, 2015 in UNOCHA

Following a morning when the hype over the Ebola epidemic dominated the headlines, and the airwaves had buzzed with renewed scrutiny of the conflict in Syria, UN Under-secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, Baroness Valerie Amos stopped off in Cardiff to deliver the Welsh Centre for International Affairs 41st anniversary lecture.

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The World Culture of War: Subject to Change?

War Devastates City of Warsaw

The first war on record transpired in 2700 BC, and since then things have largely followed a pattern. Countless wars have occurred, each accompanied by numerous atrocities of their own. Each side chaperoned by a sense of moral high ground and military abundance.

Fighting is everywhere. Some have argued it is a mind-set, a human condition that one can do nothing about. From that bloke down the pub that is missing a few teeth to two kids in the playground jumping on each other, it is largely a world in which there is little respite from violence.

This is indeed reflected by international relations past and present.  With so many countries, and indeed leaders, striving to be the alpha male, conflict was always going to occur. It is perfectly natural, or so it seems, to desire power. Since the dawn of time imperialism has been the sole aim of many countries. One would assume this reflects the supposed inhibition of man.

But can this be changed? Can this condition be rebuffed and refined? Indeed, it seems it’s very possible. Partially helped by two world wars, and the subsequent creation of the United Nations, countries and indeed people are changing their views on the rather destructive interventionist policy.

This has been most evident recently, and confirmation of this shift in thought was provided by the vote of British Parliament to avoid intervention in Syria. I can’t say, yet, if this decision is a good or a bad thing in terms of the Syrian situation, however, it is certainly significant that a democratic, and indeed peaceful, choice of action was reached.

Indeed, the world leaders – America – have also taken a democratic stance. Obama’s decision to take the issue of intervention to Congress shows his reservations concerning interventionism.  Military action, for example in Iraq and Afghanistan, has somewhat failed the US of late, causing a change of worldview for many citizens and indeed for the government as many now fear the consequences of war.

Even Russia has been reasonable. Its peace plan shows a somewhat new, diplomatic side to Russian foreign policy. After the Snowden controversy, the US and Russia have something over which they can talk and hopefully produce a resolution. The Cold War bitterness may have finally worn off, as Russia decides not to completely oppose the Americans and take the decision to the UN.

All these states’ foreign policies seem to be changing. Becoming more reasonable, and although fighting in North Africa continues, as the West leads the rest will surely follow.

I will, then, finish with an example of what forward-thinking countries should be aiming towards. Switzerland has effectively been neutral since 1515, with this being formally recognised in 1815. Switzerland is effectually the longest standing neutral country in the world. But how has this long lasting peace been maintained?  The Swiss Constitution states that foreign policy is to have five objectives:

  • “promote respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of the law
  • Further the peaceful coexistence of nations
  • Promote Swiss economic interests abroad;
  • Alleviate need and poverty in the world;
  • Promote preservation of natural resources.”

Indeed, this is the type of sustainable foreign policy that more countries should be trying to emulate. “Peaceful coexistence” is the end, but war is not the means. It, of course, is occasionally necessary – but only very occasionally, and only when considered just. A diplomatically, economically and environmentally sustainable state of world affairs is exactly what is needed, and hopefully events in Syria, coupled with countless wars over the past few hundred years, have – bizarrely- brought us one step closer to that.

 

Ewan Morgan

 

Sources used:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_relations_of_Switzerland

http://www.ancient.eu.com/war/

http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2013/06/us_foreign_poli.html

 

Jack Straw and the Iraq war, immoral, illegal, or both?

 File:Jack Straw 050519-D-9880W-029.jpg

Whatever your opinion on Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war; that it was immoral, catastrophic and a humanitarian disaster; a price worth paying or the continuation of the imperial designs of global powers or necessary for global security, the question is, was it legal? More specifically, was Jack Straw complicit in an illegal act via the invasion of Iraq or via the UKs conduct during the occupation? This blog is concerned primarily with the legal case; morality is a personal and much more complicated matter that must come down to each person’s conscience.

The United Nations charter is very clear regarding the legality of the threat or use of force in international relations. Without a Security Council resolution it is illegal. The only exception is found in Article 51, the right to self-defence, but an ICJ (International Court of Justice) ruling found that an actual armed attack had to have occurred by one state against another to invoke this clause. There have been attempts to argue that pre-emptive strikes are legal but these are yet to be accepted as part of international law. As Iraq had not actually attacked the UK and that the pre-emptive doctrine is not widely accepted the only course left is via a Security Council resolution. Did the use of force against Iraq have such a resolution? The answer varies depending on one’s point of view as is the case with much in international law. The resolution most looked to is resolution 1441. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441 offered Iraq under Saddam Hussein “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations” that had been set out in several previous resolutions. Does this resolution allow for the use of force?

Those who argue that resolution 1441 sanctions the use of force mainly pin their hopes on the interpretation of the phrase “serious consequences”. It is reasonable to argue that, due to the extensive sanction regime that Iraq was under prior to the invasion it is hard to imagine what “serious consequences” could mean other than the use of force. As Jack Straw states, “Everyone knew what ‘serious consequences’ meant — war”. He continues by asserting that “Hard-nosed negotiators from Paris, Moscow, Berlin and Beijing knew full well its military consequences”.

However, the resolution specified the requirement for the Security Council to further deliberate on how to respond after the disarmament inspection team reported back. Paragraph 12 states the Council, “Decides to convene immediately upon receipt of a report [….] in order to consider the situation […]”. The phrase serious consequences appears in the next paragraph and only calls for the Security Council to see any material breach in the context, “that the Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations”. Therefore, even if “serious consequences” was understood by all to mean military action, resolution 1441 did not authorise it. As Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell argues, “in the event of non-compliance the United States [or the UK] is not automatically authorized to take unilateral military action […]”.

The need for a second resolution is implicit in 1441. This follow up resolution authorising these “serious consequences” never happened. Instead the invasion of Iraq went ahead with all its tragic consequences. All the more tragic if the statement of the Secretary-General is to be believed, that “Perhaps if we had persevered a little longer, Iraq could yet have been disarmed peacefully or – if not – the world could have taken action to solve this problem by a collective decision, endowing it with greater legitimacy, and therefore commanding wider support, than is now the case”.

The next Security Council resolution relating to Iraq was concerned not with invasion but with the occupying forces obligations under international humanitarian law. Resolution 1472 “Requests all parties concerned to strictly abide by their obligations under international law […] including those relating to the essential civilian needs of the people of Iraq […]”. Stating also that, “the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population […]”. As the Secretary-General requested “I hope that all parties will scrupulously observe the requirements of international humanitarian law”. These requirements were not accomplished by the occupying powers, as has often been noted; the invasion was a success, the occupation a disaster. Jack Straw himself accepts that, “the reconstruction programme was a shambles”.

It would seem reasonable by this admission and the harsh realities of occupied Iraq to conclude that the occupying forces did not achieve their international legal obligations regarding civilian care. It would also seem reasonable to conclude that the invasion of Iraq was not sanctioned by the Security Council and was therefore illegal. So it seems that we have two counts of illegal behaviour by the UK Government. As a prominent part of that Government with responsibility for foreign Affairs, and considering Jack Straw himself admitted, “I could have stopped us going to war in Iraq” he must accept some responsibility for these illegal acts. Indeed when facing the Iraq Inquiry Jack Straw stated “I made my choice. I have never backed away from it, and I do not intend to do so, and fully accept the responsibilities which flow from that”.  Finally, the moral case for and against the war, as with many moral questions, is a matter of opinion and personal conscience. Indeed in international as in domestic law morality and legality are not always in sync. However, in this case, in my opinion, they are. The Iraq war was both illegal and immoral.

Michael Stagg

Sources

http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/chapter1.shtml

Resolution 1441 (2002) Adopted by the Security Council at its 4644th meeting, on 8 November 2002

Resolution 1472 (2003) Adopted by the Security Council at its 4732nd meeting, on 28 March 2003

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2208155/Jack-Straw-I-stopped-going-war-Iraq-This-I-didnt.html

http://www.think-israel.org/piggott.selfdefence.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Security_Council_Resolution_1441

http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/forum/forumnew73.php

http://www.un.org/Depts/oip/cpmd/notices/SGstatement030320.html

http://www.theguardian.com/uk/blog/2010/jan/21/iraq-war-inquiry-iraq

What is International Law Anyway?

Russian Leader Welcomes US President at G-20 Summit, St. Petersburg

Thousands dead, millions displaced and not much ground gained for either side. You could be forgiven for thinking I am describing the battle of the Somme, but this is in fact the reality of Syria. Like a tragic saga unfolding, the Americans and the Russians have been thrust into the starring roles, but seem to have two separate scripts to the play.

On August 21st the chemical attack launched in Syrian towns, killed at least 1,000 people and was almost immediately blamed on the Assad government by the US and the UK. However after the attack, the Syrian Army strenuously denied responsibility, blaming it on the opposition rebel forces, with the backing of western powers. Parliament was recalled and we seemed to be hurtling headlong into a weekend of bombing without any regard for Security Council sanctions or International law.

The United Nations is often accused of being inept and useless at preventing or solving conflict in present times. And Syria is the latest glowing example of just why this is. I don’t sit on the fence, my mentality tells me to question how military strikes against Assad could do anything other than adding more chaos to an already anarchic situation.  Breathing a sigh of relief when Parliament voted against military intervention alongside the US, I couldn’t help but also feel frustrated by military action being the ‘politics by other means’ of our generation.

The world is war weary just as they were in the post WWI climate, and the vast majority of people have clearly indicated that they do not want, nor see how strikes can help the already reeling country of Syria.  Barack Obama is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a Nobel Peace Prize Winner who stated that the US could strike Syria even before the UN weapons report came in. Then following the defeat in parliament of David Cameron, Obama agreed to take it to Congress but admitted again that, strikes would still not be ruled out even if Congress said no! Luckily John Kerry suggested a solution  involving Syria’s chemical weapons being handed over to the International community, and although he dismissed it as an option that ‘would not happen’ – the Russians saw a potential beacon of light in this dark situation. When Obama addressed the nation on Syria, he spoke of American exceptionalism as a good thing, it’s “what makes Americans different, it’s what makes us exceptional”, he declared. With this thought in mind, it can be mentioned that when polls were taken in Egypt, in 2010, a staggering 80 percent of the population believed the US and Israel to be the biggest threats they face. Is the US actually becoming increasingly aggressive rather than exceptional?

Did a sleeping giant wake with the Iraq and Afghanistan interventions, does America now see itself as self-designated policeman of the international community? Take Iraq and the mythical weapons of Mass Destruction that were never found. Or Afghanistan, presumed likely to slide into civil war when international forces leave. At the time of writing, the Taliban has just claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on the US consulate in the country. Is it the mess which is Libya that shows the failing of the UN so well? The Russians believe they were sold out and are determined to not make the same mistake with Syria, with the main objective of the offensive becoming regime change. And who can blame them, it’s happened before. I share in Vladimir Putin’s worry that, “military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States”.

The League of Nations failed because national interests were stronger than a desire for true world peace and equality. It lacked any real credibility especially when the US did not become a signatory. The UN is in real danger of falling down the same wayside. One thing that does seem apparent is the need to modify and strengthen it as a tool of international law. If it can be bypassed and sidestepped at will, to suit the powerful, we have indeed, already lost it. The words peace and equality seem as moribund as ever, diplomacy is another relative limping sadly behind the big guns of our modern times. That there was a chemical attack is not in dispute, but what happens next, is in my view just as important as the choices of whether to bomb or not to bomb Iraq ten years ago…

Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue and diplomacy to be the only way forward on Syria. Speaking with the echo of many countries, citizens and even the Pope behind their statement, they categorically state that they ‘do not protect the Syrian government, but international law’. Anything other than self-defence or a decision taken by the Security Council is not in accordance with international law, and is seen as an ‘act of aggression’. We could break the mould; renew the lack of trust in Western policy towards the Middle East. I guess we have to ask ourselves, what kind of world do we want to live in, and how do we want to achieve peace in these turbulent times?

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/12/opinion/putin-plea-for-caution-from-russia-on-syria.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

http://thenewinternationallaw.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/would-intervention-in-syria-violate-international-law/

http://www.amnesty.org.uk/content.asp?CategoryID=11579

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/03/28/remarks-president-address-nation-libya

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/09/11/1238154/-Obama-s-Address-To-The-Nation-On-Syria-Good-But-Unconvincing-For-Military-Action

http://www.twf.org/News/Y2003/1031-Poll.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-zogby/polls-egypt-obama_b_818192.html

America’s hypocrisy – was Agent Orange a chemical weapon?

Food and Agriculture: Viet Nam

Nearly 40 years on from the devastating proxy war in Vietnam, the easternmost country on the Indochina peninsula is still plagued with the consequences of war. These are economic, social and medical. These medical consequences largely stem from the effects of chemicals used during warfare by the Americans. The total lack of concern for the effects of chemical use in Vietnam leads me to question their moral platform in current debates such as with regards to Syria.

America actively embraced chemicals for their own use during the Vietnam War, indiscriminately pouring 20 million gallons of defoliant Agent Orange over communities of civilians and whole swathes of forest and farmland. It destroyed crops and sentenced generations of Vietnamese to congenital birth defects and horrific disfigurement. The aim of this operation was to flush out the guerrilla fighters, the Communist Viet Cong, from their forest hideaways which proved to be a major thorn in the side of the American military. The aim of destroying farmland was to force urbanisation, driving the rural communities that formed the basis of Viet Cong support to US held cities. However, little thought was given to the health and lives of civilians. This begs the question, is the dogged pursuit of military intervention in Syria by a state that refuses to accept its own history of chemical weapon use and responsibility to its victims, morally acceptable?

It is estimated by Vietnam Red Cross that around 150,000 Vietnamese children are affected by birth defects due to dioxin, found in Agent Orange. America has refused compensation for Vietnam and claim these figures are unrealistic and exaggerate the effects of dioxin, despite doling out millions of dollars in an out of court settlement for US soldiers and personnel who were responsible for deploying the Agent Orange and providing free healthcare for a wide range of illnesses believed to be due to exposure to the herbicide. Yes, the Vietnamese Red Cross is possibly giving figures that are too high but it is difficult to argue that the problem does not exist at all. Although The US Supreme Court has dismissed a case by Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange, arguing that at the time of its use the American Government were unaware of its poisonous effect on humans and that the manufacturers had no control over its use by the government and by extension can enjoy sovereign immunity from litigation, it does not alter the fact that dioxins are known poisons and the one included in Agent Orange is particularly nasty. The US can deny responsibility all they like with Supreme Court decisions backing them up but this does not dismiss the claims that the areas in which Agent Orange was deployed have far higher rates of birth defects than many other places.

The majority of evidence for Agent Orange causing higher than usual rates of birth defects is obviously disputed by the United States of America. This should come as no surprise. The rulings by the Supreme Court in America cemented America’s standpoint and thus, while President Obama condemns the impunity in the Middle East, America is enjoying impunity also due to its status as superpower. In 2005 the a number of courts denied a lawsuit stating there were no grounds due to Agent Orange not being considered a poison in international law at the time of its use, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. As with every controversial issue there are studies on both sides that confirm or deny the effects of chemicals used by the Americans during the Vietnam war but it is with incredulity that I read of the double standards of the US. The Department of Veterans Affairs, since 1991, offers free medical care for recognised illnesses caused by exposure to Agent Orange and dioxins; this is tantamount to admittance of the effects of Agent Orange. Yet it denies that there is any negative health impact in Vietnam, this must mean the Vietnamese biologically immune to poison. Of course.

A UK based charity, ‘Facing the World’, provides life changing craniofacial surgery for children with severe facial deformities from poor and disadvantaged countries where children cannot receive the care they need. One of the biggest successes of this charity has been the Vietnam Project where a team of surgeons have collaborated with Danang General Hospital in Vietnam to provide a training scheme, literature and a telemedicine link with London for local doctors to enable them to provide craniofacial surgery themselves. This is due to the extremely high incidence of deformity within Vietnam where there is stringent belief that Agent Orange is the cause of continued deformity in children. Although the work is in extremely high demand, the charity can only help on average 100 children per year across the world. The Vietnam Project is doing fantastic work in a country abandoned by those who arguably caused the problem. The superpower that is the United States of America denies responsibility for the children affected and denies them compensation that could improve their quality of life. When it comes to this issue doubt is cast on their status as defenders of humanity. See the link below for more information.

My question is whether the United States of America is getting away with impunity in the face of widespread injury to civilians due to the use of chemicals in a place it had no reason to be or whether it was a justifiable act in the course of war and the claims of the Vietnamese are exaggerated?

 

Bex Dunn

 

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3798581.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/227467.stm

http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/diseases.asp

http://www.iadllaw.org/en/node/482

http://facingtheworld.net/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-23632245

How Does R2P Apply in Syria?

Law, Morality and Red Lines

by Peter Sutch, Professor of Political and International Theory at Cardiff University and Chairman of UNA Wales

Despite UNA-UK’s support for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and despite the multiple (and mostly welcome) claims that R2P applies to the tragic situation in Syria, the most recent claims in the wake of the use of chemical weapons are troubling to say the least. The BBC’s legal correspondent Clive Coleman, recognising that the argument is contested, argued that, “In these situations, according to one view, R2P provides a legal framework for the international community to use military force as a last resort – either by way of a regional coalition or a so-called ‘coalition of the willing’.”

This claim (and similar claims) added to the argument, first made over a year ago by President Obama and repeated often in the days since the attack, that the use of chemical weapons is the ‘red line’ between intervention and diplomacy which has been the basis for urgent talks on unilateral military action to be taken against the Assad regime in the immediate future.

The arguments are flawed and those who believe the international community does have a responsibility to the peoples of Syria have to think about these claims in more detail. Let’s go through them.

R2P provides a legal framework for intervention without the consent of the UN Security Council (UNSC).

No it does not. R2P is not a legal framework in itself – at best it is a reminder to international actors of their existing obligations under the UN Charter, Human Rights and humanitarian law (all of which deny the right to use force outside of the UNSC framework to address violations of those norms). The definitive text is paragraph 139 of the 1995 World Summit Outcome Document that reads:

The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Even this much is contested and there has been significant criticism of the doctrine so that, as Dapo Akande demonstrates, the claim that customary international law may have developed beyond this position is untenable. Some illustrious commentators (including Geoffrey Robertson QC) have argued that even without R2P there are legal grounds for unilateral intervention. However, to make this case, one would have to ignore the normatively superior status of the UN Charter which under article 103 states ;

In the event of a conflict between the obligations of the Members of the United Nations under the present Charter and their obligations under any other international agreement, their obligations under the present Charter shall prevail.

And there is the jus cogens status of article 2.4 prohibiting the use of force. There is no treaty or customary law that allows unilateral intervention so let us not permit ourselves the luxury of thinking that, should we use force in response to the atrocities in Syria, we are obeying the law.

So why the confusion? Moral rather than legal imperatives to intervene

If we choose to violate the settled law of nations because we believe our moral responsibility to the peoples of Syria outweighs those obligations, we need to be very clear about our decision.

Here the argument turns on the legitimacy of unilateral action where the UNSC is deadlocked (as it is now with Russia and China opposing military action). When NATO intervened in Kosovo in 1998 without the agreement of the UNSC, the argument that military action was essential to provide humanitarian protection to civilians was enough to see the intervention described as illegal yet legitimate by the Independent Commission on Kosovo. This conclusion recognised that diplomatic efforts had been exhausted and that the levels of humanitarian suffering were so great that morally, if not legally, action could be legitimate.

Moving the argument from a legal to a moral framework recognises that the imperatives of humanitarianism are as important as the traditional rights of sovereign states. This is to be welcomed but with caution. Unlike law, moral judgment does not rely on the consensual and institutional framework of the international legal order. We are all aware of the challenges the institutions of the UN present to humanitarian protection, but rules that structure diplomatic dialogue and decision making protect the sovereignty of states and provide a mechanism to keep members talking in the absence of consensus. Moving outside this framework (flawed as it may be) requires care if it is not to lead to the breakdown of multilateral diplomatic relations that have been the foundation of contemporary international relations. That said, the moral imperative to prevent and to respond to gross humanitarian atrocities is itself an achievement of contemporary diplomacy even if we have to walk the high wire of global affairs without the institutional framework to support and modify our judgments.

Moral imperatives and just war principles

If we accept, as I believe we should, that R2P does express a moral imperative to prevent gross violations of humanitarian law and protect victims of such atrocities, there are other, vitally important, checks and balances on our decision making. Here our decisions are not checked by the will of other states in the UNSC but by the age old reasoning of Just War Theory.

Just War Theory has, for thousands of years, explored the morality of going to war (Jus ad Bello) and of conducting wars (Jus in Bello). Its principles have stood the tests of time remarkably well and its tenets ask the central questions we must all answer before believing that war is justified. The questions ask whether war is a last resort, whether the war is to be fought for the right intention, whether it is ordered by a rightful authority, whether the ends of the conflict can be achieved with only a reasonable or proportionate loss of innocent lives, and whether there is a reasonable chance of success. Using this simple framework we can think through the argument that the use of chemical weapons is the red line between diplomacy and military intervention. Not all of these thresholds have to be passed but we must give strong reasons if, as has been suggested, we are to ignore right authority (the UNSC) in favour of considerations of last resort or right intention (saving civilians).

The red line between diplomacy and military intervention

Even if we accept that our moral responsibility to the peoples of Syria outweighs our obligations under the UN Charter, is unilateral action now justified because of the use of chemical weapons?

The atrocities in Syria have been evident for nearly two years with the sorts of war crimes and crimes against humanity that concern R2P perpetrated without the need for chemical weapons. It therefore seems to me that the ‘just cause’ threshold was passed long ago. The use of chemical weapons is another example of such gross violations of humanitarian law but it is not more heinous (or legally significant) than the massacres that have been a constant part of this tragic civil war. On this basis I do not think the just cause or last resort arguments have changed.

The issues holding the international community back (apart from opposition of Russia and China in the UNSC) concern 1) the question of whether there is a reasonable chance of success, and 2) whether such success could be achieved without a disproportionate toll on innocent Syrian civilians. Again I cannot see how the deployment of chemical weapons alters the judgments made thus far (unless there is compelling evidence that tells us not just that the Assad regime has used chemicals in this attack but that they are likely to significantly increase their use of such weapons – to engage in genocide etc.).

It is interesting that most experienced military commentators have urged caution, worrying about the unclear objectives and unintended consequences of any use of force. If these experienced military planners and leaders cannot see the end-game or the goals of war then we should take note. If we are not clear about the precise objectives of a military strike or about the potential consequences of such a strike (to Syria, its neighbours, to the coalition of the willing in the case of a military response, to the relations between the Permanent 5 members of the UNSC), we should be cautious. The less certain we are about these questions, the less certain we can be that any ‘collateral damage’ (by which I mean the unintended deaths and injuries to innocents in Syria and beyond) can be morally justified. Here then the moral and the legal arguments for military intervention are not clear cut in favour of unilateral action.

None of this denies the fact that gross humanitarian crimes have been and continue to be perpetrated in Syria. The impotence of the UN and of powerful and secure states in the face of this moral and legal outrage is profoundly disturbing, but restraint in the face of the legal, moral and instrumental arguments against intervention at this point seems essential. Our leaders have the responsibility to make these decisions. But we in UNA Wales, as supportive as we have proven to be on the basic tenets of R2P, need a voice in the public debate and we need to be clear about our ground.

Peter Sutch’s new book (with Edwin Egede) The Politics of International Law and International Justice is published by EUP this August.

The Continuing Trials of Syria

Syrian government troops in Arjun in Qusair, 30 May 2013

The assertions that have now been made by two of the permanent members of the UN security council that Syria is using the nerve agent Sarin in the deployment of chemical weapons is further proof that the country, on one or both sides of the conflict, is potentially acting in contravention to international norms and, in particular, against the terms necessary to bring this protracted conflict to an end according to UN guidelines and recommendations. The assertions come as the conflict in Syria reaches dizzying new heights and showing no signs of a peaceful conclusion. The situation has not been helped by the lifting of a recent EU embargo on the supply of arms to Syrian rebels, which is unlikely to aid either side of the conflict and simply increases the number of arms in circulation that could be misused by either party to the conflict.

The situation is all the more frustrating given that in the meeting of European Ministers held earlier this year, the vast majority of EU member states voted against lifting the arms embargo on Syria, ever conscious of the fact that permitting further arms to be sent into Syria will only prolong the conflict. There is some light at the end of the tunnel with a peace conference set to be held on the issue under a joint initiative between the USA and Russia, despite the fact that this has been delayed for the time being. However, it is important that the conference is held at the right time and that maximum benefit can be attained from it using all relevant parties and UN member states with an interest in the conflict.

Another issue remains unresolved, however, related to Russia’s expressed desire to continue to be allowed to supply arms to the Syrian military. Given that Russia is jointly organising the peace conference with the USA, and is also a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the supply of arms by Russia appears to be a contradiction in terms given it is wishing to take on part of the responsibility for the conference to be held at some point in the future. On the other hand, it is possible that Russia is attempting to downplay the situation by not antagonising Syria whilst still keeping the option of a more peaceful resolution to the crisis on the table. The problem remains in that by supplying arms to a rebel movement where fighting continues to be exacerbated on a daily basis, the foundations are laid in Syria for ever more risk to the civilian population and refugees that are appearing around the country, which is leading the effects of the conflict to be felt beyond the borders of Syria, particularly in neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan. Another problem is that relations with the US are strained at best in the present time due to the opposing approach of the two states regarding Edward Snowden. On the current basis therefore, the international climate is not as conducive as it might be for US-Russia negotiations over Syria.

All members of the UN Security Council, both permanent and non-permanent, would be well placed to condemn the supply of arms by any other member to a civil war that is already stretching the country to breaking point, particularly where arms are highly likely to be used to commit human rights abuses against innocent parties. For the time being, parties to the Geneva Communiqué, a six-point plan drawn up in June 2012, should all work towards its aims of an end to conflict and a cessation of violence until the forthcoming peace conference can take place. The UN, along with the rest of the world, desires to see a peaceful end to the conflict that would see the rule of law re-established, and the supply of weapons ended as soon as possible between now and that time.

 

Jordan Ingram

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22734537
http://www.chathamhouse.org/media/comment/view/191703
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/britain-joins-france-in-confirming-deadly-nerve-agent-sarin-has-been-used-in-syria-8643123.html
http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45086&Cr=syria&Cr1=#.UbDwQdKsiSp