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Syria. Why the United States Should Not Attack

La Nación - Argentina
Irma Arguello

3 September 2013| Link to the original article (in Spanish)

If the United States acts alone and gets involved in the Syria crisis without the approval of the United Nations, the author says, it will be a mistake with severe international consequences.

The United States’ chosen role as enforcer of the Bashar al-Assad´s regime for the alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people has sparked a great controversy inside and outside the country. While the United States Congress is to decide from September 9 whether to grant President Obama the authorization to carry out a limited strike in Syria, the majority of the US allies except for France, beyond statements of support, have already decided not to directly participate. Russia and China are categorically opposing to any intervention.

There are many reasons to not to unilaterally attack Syria.

Firstly, such an attack would not necessarily prevent the future use of chemical weapons, as was stated. Syria possesses the largest chemical arsenal in the Middle East. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to prevent further use by just neutralizing the delivery systems required to spread the chemical agents. On quite a different scale, when the Aum Shinrikio sect attacked the Tokyo subway with sarin gas in 1985, causing 13 deaths and 1,000 injured , the perpetrators dispersed the chemical agent directly from containers. This is unsophisticated but possible.

Rebels have also used chemical agents. Vladimir Putin declared that there is evidence stating that the Ghouta incident, where the August 21 chemical attack took place, was actually an accident due to the opposition forces inexperience in manipulating such agents. Within such a chaotic framework where every inch of the territory is fought intently, a variety of chemical agents may be used as weapons. Therefore the availability of solid proof and the international transparency in handling evidence and responsibilities is of the highest relevancy.

A point of utmost concern is the risk of the conflict escalating, and reaching a regional or even a global level. There is an underlying threat that a chain of events worsen hostilities and ignite neighboring countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Israel. It could also strengthen the role of Iran, in this case Syria’s ally in the region. At a higher scale, the conflict could deepen the growing deterioration of the bilateral relations between the United States and Russia, on which the global balance of power is still based, even after the Cold War.

A fourth point that must be carefully analyzed is the progressive sharpening of the humanitarian catastrophe in the region. The situation in Syria, with more than a million and a half people displaced to countries of the region, and about two million IDPs is extremely precarious. There is also a risk of mistaking or miscalculating the attack and of reaching sites where chemical weapons are stored. The attack could also result in a hardening of the Syrian regime that could affect the actions of humanitarian-aid.

A key point to consider is the damage that an action without international support can cause to the United Nations system. Although not perfect, the current system can be seen as a reservoir of fairness. There is considerable damage done to multilateralism when disharmony amongst the most powerful members of the international community minimizes the role of the United Nations and the legal control of the use of force by the Security Council.

The global community is giving a clear warning by opposing unilateralism, as well as the lack of legality, and the lack of international legitimacy of an action of this type. The current situation can be compared with the one which led to the invasion to Iraq which was based on never confirmed reports concerning WMD.

Another significant risk is that the attack could accelerate the deterioration process in Syria. This could precipitate its transformation into a failed state where terrorist organizations would have freedom to operate with total impunity.

A noticeable paradox is that the weakening and collapse of the al-Assad regime would clearly benefit al Qaeda. The terrorist organization is very active on the opposing side through the Jabhat-al-Nusra group, one of the most effective in the civil war. If the authority in Syria fell into dissolution, the country would become an ideal place for al Qaeda to revitalize and to thrive again.

However, besides the risk of unilateral intervention, an action of this nature is considered unlikely to lead to a major overturn in the course of this civil war which has already caused more than 100,000 deaths. A complete change by military means would require a more ambitious and committed involvement by the United States and its allies, an unlikely step given the current situation.

There is much at stake in the week to come at the US Senate. It is not as suggested a matter of choice between inaction when addressing chemical weapons use and action. It is a matter of choosing a responsible course of action within the framework of multilateralism and of international law.

Therefore, it is imperative to recognize the role of the UN Security Council as the appropriate ground to deal with reported violations. Both, the United States and Russia should be transparent when presenting controversial evidence regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but it must be the multilateral body that should authorize punitive measures against the perpetrators.

A complementary alternative would be to convene a peace summit to debate balanced ways to overcome the conflict. In virtue of the humanitarian impacts, efforts must be redoubled, in order to maintain as a premise the protection of the civilian population and, therefore, the total control of the chemical arsenals in the region.

As Pope Francis pointed out, violence does not bring along peace: war calls for war and violence calls for violence. The dialogue and negotiation supported by the international community is clearly the only option in this conflict.

Power implies responsibility. In this sense, cooperation within the United Nations framework as well as a responsible approach to the differences between the United States, Russia and China are keys to pave the political route which will open the way for peace in Syria and in the region.

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