Syria, the UN – and New Zealand

Syria is a global human tragedy.  I used to live in the Middle East.  I was there during 9/11.  I know the intensity of feeling among the Arab nation on these things. I often went into Syria, including Damascus.  I revisited the Syrian border last year. I entered the refugee camps inside Jordan, and met with Syrian refugees.

In one of those camps I befriended a refugee.  Mohammed Abdul Aziz had walked 400 km from Homs to Jordan, with his young wife and five children.  They had seen his wife’s mother flattened by a tank.  They walked south, desperate to seek safety.  I swapped shoes with him, since mine were in better shape.   My Syrian shoes, over the past year, have done walkathons through New Zealand and Australia to raise money for the refugees.  I have sent personal financial support to him.  We are in touch through face-book.  It is not too much to say that we love each other, from afar – the kind that is spawned by human plight.

So I know the horror of Syria.  And I know it of Palestine, having witnessed, once, the final stages of a house demolition in West Bank, down the hill from Ramallah.  The tragedy of the Middle East grips me, today, as it did in the days of 9/11.

But the carnage in itself does not justify an immediate military strike.  There can be no lawful military action in Syria without proof of chemical weapon use to the UN Security Council. And even if proof is provided, there can be no military action without authorisation by the Council.  That is not a matter of political judgement.  It is a non-negotiable legal requirement.

Even if the UN Security Council were to authorise military action, thereby making it legal, which is unlikely, it would require a separate decision as to its political merit.  The critical issue is whether the action proposed would relieve suffering rather than cause more – it is almost certain it would not.

If we ever need a lesson ­for caution, it is the illegal military action against Iraq by the US, UK and Australia in 2003.  Evidence adduced to the Security Council as proof of an Iraqi nuclear weapons programme proved to be false, indeed part fabrication.

For its part, the much-maligned UN Security Council declined to agree to such an invasion.  That was not simply a French veto – a majority of the Council opposed the US proposal for military action.  Yet those three countries proceeded without UN authorisation.

And if, in the case of Syria, the Council chooses not to act because of a veto, it does not mean that the Council is dysfunctional and is not doing its job.  It means the Council has decided not to act.  Actually the Council would be doing its job, just as it did with Iraq in 2003.

Many in the West might resent that fact, retaining a 20th-century sense of moral and political superiority. But they cannot disown the fact.  Indeed, they created it. They created the UN. And they refuse, to this day, to change the Charter when the prospect of doing so is before them.  They refuse to surrender, or even circumscribe, their veto.  And then, when they confront a situation when another permanent member casts a veto, they seek to circumvent that veto, by acting around it.

It is worth noting that the most vetoes cast by a permanent member in the past 23 years is by the US.  Most of those concern Israel.  Syria is to Russia what Israel is to the US.  The US provides political cover for Israel’s retention of nuclear weapons.  Israel, as well as Syria, has not ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention.

So, if the US and UK are concerned about vetoes impeding Security Council action, they can rectify the situation by agreeing to surrender the veto.  Or at least agree to its strict circumscription when only their vital national interests of survival are at stake.

A heinous act has been committed in Syria.  It does not follow that one state has to respond with air strikes that will cause great carnage.  Let us pause, draw breath, and proceed with due care and circumspection.

Let New Zealand hew to the rule of international law, the tug of human morality, and the political wisdom that we need in this time of crisis.

23 thoughts on “Syria, the UN – and New Zealand

  1. Exactly right.

    It speaks volumes that at this point I can conceive of the possibility that it was NOT the Syrian Military that unleashed the chemical nightmare.

    The truth is not known, and the explanations we hear will be mostly lies for months or even years.

    So yes… by all means we must adhere to the rule of law in this.

  2. But whats the alternative? All you’ve said is that there must not be a military response, you havent offered any other solutions. If the Syrian government has used chemical weapons, what should the response be? Nothing? Sanctions? These don’t work. Look at Saddam Hussein and Iraq after the gulf war, all it does is punish the citizens of the country.

    I’m not sure what else there is that can be done. The security council will never agree to military action because Russia and China will veto anything remotely close to this. If the US goes it alone and starts bombing airfields, etc, then I say go for it. I havent heard any other ideas about what to do when a government starts using chemical weapons against its own people.

    And yes, I do vote for the Greens!!!

  3. .re.. There can be no lawful military action in Syria without proof of chemical weapon use to the UN Security Council….
    Without confirmation of who used the chemicals there is no reason, moral, political, or rational to do anything, let alone a ‘lawful’ reason to start waging war. You don’t find everyone guilty just because the butler did it, you prove he did it. The US admits it has no ‘confirmation’ by the way.

  4. So if Syria ends up as a Rwanda-type genocide situation, and Russia vetos military action to stop it, would it doing nothing to stop millions dieing still be the right thing to do?

  5. Good argument for nations not acting outside international law.

    The next question is given that what can be done in/for Syria?

  6. Britain has voted ‘NO’ to military action, but USA (France & Turkey ?) seem to be still looking seriously at it.. the question for Mr. Key & other ‘western’ leaders is “Do you want to commit to another ‘Iraq-style’ war ?”

    Methinks the majority of people are war weary & talk of a ‘surgical strike’ is B-S once they start it wont be a ‘short sharp shock’ without any response from Syria or others in the region ! (read Matthew 24)

    kia-ora

  7. There is a broader issue here. The Syrian civil war is largely a religious one, Shiite versus Sunni Muslim. An attack by the United States will create the common enemy which will unite them temporarily. Despite the horrors of war is it not worth considering that they will fight each other to a standstill and as in other arenas come to realise the utter futility and godlessness of fundamentalist nitpicking doctrinal hatred.

  8. Meanwhile, closer to home, Australia is building concentration camps for indefinite detention of refugees, on Nauru Island.

    Supported by our Government.

    A disgusting violation of the principles of humane treatment of people who have often suffered enough.

  9. “The Syrian civil war is largely a religious one, Shiite versus Sunni Muslim.”

    To some extent – but the roots of the war are more to do with a battle btween the haves and have nots in Syrian society. Al-Asaad created a ruling class drawn largely from Alawites, but there are Alawites in the opposition too, and people motivated by political ideologies or ethnic identities, rather than religious ones.

    Unfortunately, the brutalising effect of war tends to drive people away from secular or internationalist perspectives towards ethnic or religious sectarianism. Out of ignorance and convenience, the ‘West’ tends to view the Middle East through a simplistic religious lens. Religious identity plays a role in defining some of the groups involved in the civil war, but I think it is dead wrong to suggest that this conflict has anything to do with ‘nitpicking doctrinal hatred’.

  10. +1 Sam.

    Analysis actually suggests quite the opposite of the ‘sectarain violence’ propaganda, uncritically perpetuated by the media.
    It is by all accounts a by-product, as opposed to source of the confict.

  11. Take out the man at the top in Syria. Okay, always someone to step into his shoes so to speak but they may be a better solution.

  12. You’re right, Carol.
    Extrajudicial assassination of a Head of State is always the best solution.

    After all, why look to understand the actual problem when you can hold an uninformed opinion and promote an ill-considered, kneejerk reaction?

  13. “…there can be no military action without authorisation by the Council.”

    Problem is, of course, that this statement is completely wrong. There can, is, and will be ‘unauthorised’ military action and the UN absolutely no ability, it would appear, to do anything about it.

    Unauthorised military action began with Al Asad and his predecessors launching a war against the Syrian people. International reaction, as is usual when such things happen, was muted. Syrians then took unauthorised military action to defend themselves.

    Russia and co armed the Syrian regime, the US embraced the regime as an ally against Iraq, having previously rubber-stamped its incursion into Lebanon. Russia continues to provide military support, which apparently doesn’t count as ‘military action’ in the nitpicking doctrinal brains of the UN. Lebanese militias, themselves created from the failure of the international community to prevent Israel’s invasion of that country, will continue to take ‘unauthorised military action’ to back their allies and backers.

    I wouldn’t lose any sleep if somebody killed Al Asad, neither am I convinced that this would change the situation much, the trouble is, nobody seems to have a better solution to offer.

    All I can suggest is we drop the silly legalistic non-intervention fantasy and back the more reasonable elements of the Syrian opposition as much as possible short of direct military intervention.

    In the longer term, we should be working to prevent the rise of the Al Asads and their ilk, but given the number, power and economic clout of undemocratic regimes around the world, I don’t see it as likely that anyone in the political ‘mainstream’ will be willing to reject dealing with thm.

  14. All I can suggest is we drop the silly legalistic non-intervention fantasy and back the more reasonable elements of the Syrian opposition as much as possible short of direct military intervention.

    Sure. But who are they, where can they be found and who do they represent?

  15. “who are they, where can they be found and who do they represent?”

    Well, the last question is an easy one – I don’t think any force in Syria can make any currently verifiable claims to representing anyone.

    The who and where is hard to answer, given the factionalism and fluidity in Syria. It probably is more a matter of who would accept the strings attached – a willingness to reject religious sectarianism (something which doesn’t have a large appeal in Syria in any case), acknowledge the rights of women and ethnic minorities (mostly that means the Kurds), and to be open to ceasefires and dialogue. Other countries would need to lean on Saudi Arabia and Qatar to follow a similar line (international pressure on the Saudis to stop funding armed Salafist groups around the world is something that is crucial for defusing conflicts, and not only in Syria), and on Iran and Russia to pressure the regime to also be open to dialogue.

    I don’t hold out much hope of this making a big difference, but I can’t think of much else to do other than wait for either a victory by a regime even more brutalised by war, or for the war to wear itself out (which took 17 years to happen in Lebanon).

  16. I support this stance. NZ should not interfere unless to provide peace keeping to allow for further independent inquiry likewise arming of alleged rebels is not an option.

  17. RUSSIA TODAY posted images of some Syrians protesting against the use of force in the form of foreign intervention, this is good, it highlights that a message is getting across that you cant fight fire with fire. Hopefully they will have to find their own solutions or face the threat of being killed, seems pretty risky…Do the rebel Syrians believe in Matyrdom and if so what is their “cause”..? Cant “we” (foreigners) just use the military to offer free tickets out of the country for people who want to live a different lifestyle to the Majority…? Rescue operation, mass migration? I still think its a war over equality, in a country religion is still “the economy”.

  18. RT posted images of some Syrians protesting against the use of force in the form of foreign intervention, this is good, it highlights that a message is getting across that you can’t fight fire with fire. Hopefully they will have to find their own solutions or face the threat of being killed by the people who do not support the government (whoever that is), seems pretty risky for ‘The West’ to intervene as representatives of all other ‘westernised’ countries, Syrias constitution (union of the Arab republics) sounds very westernised as it is, “Unity, freedom, Socialism” and the president in an interview seemed pretty aware of the situation and I doubt he initiated the attack he said “the majority of people that were being killed supported his government”…So to me it sounds like a deliberate attack to create a reaction (some group has done this on purpose and I suspect they knew the use of chemical weapons is against international agreements and wanted it to go public)….Do all Syrians believe in Matyrdom and if so what is their “cause”..? The anthem is interesting…But is the it in line with the constitution? ie does Socialism clash with the religion? One solution could be that “we” (foreigners) just use the military to offer free tickets out of the country for people who want to live a different lifestyle to the Majority?…[A rescue operation/ mass migration]? I read a report that UN wants countries to prepare for refugees… But would you leave NZ if a minority was trying to disestablish our government because of recent reforms for example? What If this is all a big show from Saudi Arabia or Iran (who have a huge economic power) that the people have to let governments do what they want or look what happens…[Be a sheep or this could be you] So [Don't stand up for what you believe in etc..] perhaps the world is still too reliant on Oil and Gas and this is a global terrorist threat to tell us to not obstruct or object oil mining…too far fetched? Either way I think wars have always been over equality and in a country where ‘The religion is still ‘The economy’. One thing I will say is I’m Glad President Putin is remaining sceptical about the propaganda conspiracy. The most logical solution would be for President Bashar al-Assad to stand down and a disarmament of the military…Not sure Why Iran’s president was soo quickly quoted at blaming the pro-Assad regime. Media needs to be really careful about what it says as there are huge risks and responsibilities that come with it. I would like to see more media regulation..if not make all news paid for so we can apply “consumer” rights. Next thing we will see disclaimers being placed on the bottom of the screen when the news is not confirmed as fact and able to be prosecuted as terrorists if any facts are incorrect…hmmmm

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