By J C Suresh
WASHINGTON, D.C. (IDN) – The Trump administration’s latest missile strikes in response to Syrian chemical weapons use is not embedded within a broader U.S. strategy to deter further chemical weapons use, protect Syrian civilians caught in the horrible Syrian civil war, and bring a political resolution to the seven-year misery of the people of Syria, according to Tom Countryman and Daryl G. Kimball, Chair and Executive Director of the Arms Control Association (ACA).
They are “deeply concerned” that the U.S., UK, and French military operation was taken without specific authorization by the U.S. Congress, and with (apparently) little consultation with Congress.
“The sweeping claim that the President can take military action under only his own authority raises Constitutional questions, and causes concern about the potential for the President to initiate military action in other theaters, including against North Korea in ways that could lead to the use of nuclear weapons,” Countryman and Kimball warn in a statement issued on April 14.
They express concern about President Donald Trump’s April 13 statement: “We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.” This statement, they say, creates the potential for further strikes and an expanded U.S. role in Syrian conflict, and the risk of a direct confrontation with Russia.
“If President Trump intends to continue military action in Syria in response to further chemical weapons use or in retaliation to Russian actions, he must go to Congress to request legal authorization for the use of military force.”
The statement adds: Although this military strike, unlike the April 2017 U.S. strike, was executed in cooperation with France and the UK, the arms control experts remain concerned that it was inconsistent with international law.
The UN Charter prohibits “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” This portion of the UN Charter has three exceptions, none of which apply in this case: Syria has not consented to the strikes; the UN Security Council has not authorized the strikes; and the United States is not acting in self-defence, the Countryman and Kimball declare.
Though U.S. military planners say they took care to design the strikes in Syria so as to avoid casualties among the substantial Russian military presence in Syria, there remains a risk of Russian casualties, which could lead to an escalation of hostilities in Syria or elsewhere, the arms control experts warn.
“Given the combustible rhetoric emanating from both the White House and the Kremlin, such an escalation could lead to direct, unintended and dangerous confrontation between U.S. and Russian forces.”
Countryman and Kimball recall that at one point Russia, the United States and other members of the Security Council worked together, particularly in 2013-2014, to approve investigations into chemical weapons use in Syria, to force Syria to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and to remove and eliminate its stockpile of chemical weapons, precursors and production equipment.
Under the auspices of the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and with the support of more than 20 nations, the 2014 operation successfully removed and destroyed 1300 tons of chemical weapons, significantly reducing options for the regime to use its most advanced chemical weapons, and reducing the risk to Syrian civilians.
After the UN-OPCW removal operation, and to no one’s surprise, Countryman and Kimball note, Syria has violated its CWC commitments by repeatedly using chlorine and in some cases Sarin.
They declare Syria’s continued use of chemical weapons against its own people, including the April 7 chlorine attack in Douma, “reprehensible,” a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and “a war crime,” that cannot be tolerated. Butt there is no purely military solution to the human tragedy of Syria.
The two arms control experts regret that since 2015, Russia has used its veto to block efforts to block credible investigation of these attacks. “As a result, there is no longer a UN mechanism with the independence, technical expertise, and mandate to promptly identify responsibility for these chemical weapons attacks.”
According to Countryman and Kimball, now is the moment for the United States, and all concerned nations, to recommit to a concerted political and diplomatic strategy to deter future such abominations, and to refrain from the most dangerous military options.
Countryman and Kimball demand of the governments of the United States, the UK, and France, and other responsible states to provide as much detail as possible to demonstrate – beyond challenge – the Syrian government’s responsibility for the latest chemical weapons attacks in Douma and elsewhere in Syria.
The experts urge all states, including Russia and Syria, to fully support OPCW’s the Fact-Finding Mission, which is now in Syria to investigate and provide their “independent assessment” of the chemical weapons attacks for the international community.
They also urge members of the United Nations Security Council to redouble efforts to reconstitute an investigative mechanism that would be empowered to ascribe responsibility for such attacks.
“If this does not succeed, we strongly encourage the UN Secretary General to activate, under his existing authorities, an independent UN mechanism to attribute responsibility for chemical attacks in Syria. Previous UN Secretaries General have created similar inquiries,” the Countryman and Kimball say.
In a statement they further call for “a like-minded coalition of states” to announce the commitment of resources to assemble a strong case, to be submitted to the International Criminal Court, charging the Syrian leadership with war crimes.
“Perpetrators of these chemical weapons crimes, and other war crimes committed in the Syrian civil war, can and should be held to account to make clear to the world that the use of chemical weapons and the targeting of civilians with other types of munitions will not be tolerated,” Countryman and Kimball declare. [IDN-InDepthNews – 14 April 2018]
Photo: A family flees an active conflict neighbourhood in eastern Ghouta, Syria, using a cart to carry their belongings. Credit: UNICEF/Amer Al Shami.
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