US Strikes on Syria Loom Large

Lakhdar Brahimi, Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for Syria, speaking on August 28. (Photo: Jean-Marc Ferre/UN Photo Geneva)

US Strikes on Syria Loom Large

US, UK, France appear set to "punish" Syria with cruise missiles, with or without UN approval

Despite still having no concrete evidence the Bashar al-Assad regime used chemical weapons and no clearly defined goals, the US appears on the cusp of striking Syria within days, if not hours.

Analysts are predicting a two-day strike that could begin as early as Thursday, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has already announced the U.S. is "ready to go."

The Virginian-Pilotreports on U.S. ships at the ready to launch cruise missiles into Syria:

Four Norfolk-based destroyers are on alert in the Mediterranean Sea, within striking distance of war-torn Syria, awaiting possible orders to launch long-range guided missiles. [...]

Each ship is equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles, one of the most technologically advanced weapons in the U.S. arsenal. The missiles carry a 1,000-pound bomb and can hit a target with precision from as far away as 1,500 miles.

Foreign Policy has mapped out where those missiles might strike.

But, as Marjorie Cohn and Jeanne Mirer explain,

For the United States to threaten to and/or launch a military strike as a reprisal is a blatant violation of the United Nations Charter. The Charter requires countries to settle their international disputes peacefully. Article 2(4) makes it illegal for any country to either use force or threaten to use force against another country. Article 2(7) prohibits intervention in an internal or domestic dispute in another country. The only time military force is lawful under the Charter is when the Security Council approves it, or under Article 51, which allows a country to defend itself if attacked.

While Secretary of State John Kerry has proclaimed with certainty that chemical weapons were used, and were used by Assad forces, the U.N.'s special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, told reporters on Wednesday that evidence suggests "some form of substance" was used, though he did not confirm it was chemical weapons.

The U.N. is currently conducting a probe on allegations of chemical weapons being used in an Aug. 21 attack, an investigation the U.S. appears to have tried to derail.

"[Inspectors] have already spent one day in one area where this substance, whatever it is, has been used," Bahimi said. "They have come back with a lot of samples; they talked also to doctors and witnesses. They are in another area just now, as we speak, and we are waiting to see what they are going to tell us."

As to the evidence the U.S., the U.K. and France have said they have regarding proof, the U.N. envoy said he has yet to see it.

Brahimi emphasized that "International law says that military action must be taken after a decision by the Security Council." It seems, however, the U.S. is likely to choose "the Kosovo model" for military intervention.

Also on Wednesday, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron announced that

Britain was putting forward a resolution at a meeting of the five permanent members of the UN security council, that condemned the use of chemical weapons by Syria and sanctioning the potential use of force. The move is expected to be blocked by Russia and possibly China, both of which have a veto. Russia said on Wednesday that any resolution authorising force would be "premature."

France's President Francois Hollande has joined its allies in readying for war on Syria, saying his country was "ready to punish" those behind the alleged chemical attack.

"If you're NATO, everything looks like it requires a military response," said Institute for Policy Studies fellow Phyllis Bennis, so, unsurprisingly, NATO joined the war chorus, saying in statement on Wednesday:

The Syrian regime maintains custody of stockpiles of chemical weapons. Information available from a wide variety of sources points to the Syrian regime as responsible for the use of chemical weapons in these attacks.

This is a clear breach of long-standing international norms and practice. Any use of such weapons is unacceptable and cannot go unanswered. Those responsible must be held accountable.

We consider the use of chemical weapons as a threat to international peace and security.


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