It would not be an exaggeration to say that the bombing of Syrian facilities by the Alliance of the US, Great Britain and France on the 14th of April has shocked the world. Although, the erratic and inconsistent Twitter messages from the President Trump created a big fuss in the diplomatic circles and the general public in the previous days, such development was deemed unimaginable. The attack against a country without authorization of the UN Security Council is a clear violation the foundations of the international law and particularly of the UN Charter.
It is not the first time Assad’s government is accused of gassing civilians. In 2013 Barack Obama addressed the Congress with a similar request of authorizing the US “limited strike” of Syria. Vladimir Putin answered with the Op-Ed article published by the mayor US newspapers arguing for the irrationality of such an act. Back in 2013 the issue was solved by a negotiation of Syria’s chemical disarmament, and there were multiple statements about the evidences of rebel groups and ISIS using the chemical weapons before and after the incident. Carla Stea has provided a detailed account of the UN mission report.
This time the discussion of the necessity of the attack and authenticity of evidences will be even more heated. The big difference between 2013 and 2018 is that the mutual accusations are held post-factum. As both the US Senate and the British Parliament rejected the military action in 2013, these institutions were not consulted. The arguments provided by the Western leaders are appealing to public emotions not to allow the “deaths of dozens of men, women and children” to continue which is a bellicose revival of an old discourse of the moral “responsibility to protect”. The same emotional appeal and sloppy evidences were used during bombings of Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya.
While the situation is unfolding questioning the legal basis and purpose of the bombing, it is important to reflect on the consequences of a new precedent of violation of national sovereignty. The reaction from the rest of the world leaders was rather predictable: the EU countries supported the bombings, China condemned, and many others abstained from the voting during the UN Security Council expressing their helplessness in the current deadlock.
The present situation is worrisome – three permanent members of the UN Security Council are in almost direct confrontation with each other, all of them are nuclear powers. Has the “red line” of International World Order been crossed?
Hopefully, the possibility of a Doomsday is not on the table, despite of the fact that it is just two minutes to midnight. Nevertheless, there is a series of both short-term and long-term consequences that the bombing of Syria implies for the future of International Relations and World Order.
First, the national credibility of the leaders (Trump, Macron and May) is going to be questioned that may lead to weakening of their positions. The justification of the air raid based on the unverified video a day before the OPCW inspectors’ travel to the site does not sound convincing to the public. The memories of the unauthorized bombings of Yugoslavia, the non-existent evidence of chemical weapons in Iraq, and a consequent mayhem in Libya are fresh and living.
Second, these actions will lead to further mistrust of democratic rule worldwide and undermine all processes of nuclear non-proliferation. If long-established democracies may attack any state on the basis of the moral superiority with the evidences “taken from the open sources” (read: social networks and websites), the message other countries receive is that only nuclear arsenal may protect them from the external intervention. Now Iran and North Korea have all reasons to think that their governments are next to be accused of noncompliance with the international law.
A number of precedents of violation of the sovereignty and military attack, including aforementioned cases and a less known bombing of the FARC camp in Ecuador by the Colombian air forces in 2008, contribute to the weakening of position of international law. The concepts of sovereignty and non-interference can thus be interpreted depending on the circumstances, mainly, if you can be punished for violating it. The confidence in impunity for the attack is what allowed these bombings to happen.
Lastly, the US and their allies are going to achieve the outcomes opposed to their goals. Instead of defending and promoting the international law, they have contributed to its obvious and outright erosion. Not only did they undermine the political solution of the Syrian conflict, but also pushed their “enemies” to unite. It is rather logical to expect Russia, China and Iran to be even more united in their policies in the future.
P.S. This post was written on the 17th of April, 2018