Foreign Policy Blogs

The G20 on Syria: Who Represents the Victims of Chemical Attacks?

In family courts, judges do not tend to take the position of either parent in cases that involve the health and custody of children. Judges take the position of the child as if they were of mature age and speaking to their own personal benefit and well being. We need to be reminded that over 400 children were gassed to death late last month in Syria, and international agencies and governments that are not one of the factions taking to armed conflict in Syria need to remind themselves who they are really representing. Impartial or not, this issue isn’t simply about gas weapons, but about how over 400 children met their end, not as part of a rebel force or the Syrian army, but as innocents who have been forgotten in a mixture of spin and idiocy within the international community and the Middle East.

Two of the worst possible ways to die is by drowning/choking to death, and by burning. France likely is remembering their grandparents who were the victims of one of the first gas attacks during the First World War when the German army gassed the French forces at Ypres during the conflict. Anyone who has ever met soldiers from the First World War knew their intimate fears, that they would be subject to a gas attack by their enemy and meet a fate of burning and choking to death in the process. German soldiers who took part in the attack were horrified themselves by the slaughter they committed as part of their attack, leading all nations to ban such weapons in 1925. Countries like China were also gassed in the Second World War along with Iran suffering gas attacks during the Iran-Iraq war. While a handful of nations have faced gas attacks, the action of using gas by one country will never justify its future use by another. This method of use is clearly illegal under international law, and it is a violation because those who use it lack civility, and therefore cannot be taken as sensible actors in the international community. Justifying the use of gas removes the veil of civilized society that all nations expect in relations with each other, and when one group or country uses it, it pulls civilization backward before 1899 when the international community first agreed to ban the use of such weapons against any human. Proven since then, gassing anyone is simply a road to future genocide.

Canada supports the U.S. and French move to place attacks on Syria. Mexico and Brazil has followed the Russian line for no attacks, and Argentina supports an attack if the U.N. will mandate it. The end result will be the current reality, and the likely outcome will stay as the current norm. Iran and Syria have threatened retaliation, on Israel, despite Israel not being part of any attack or discussions on an assault. In reality, no one really cared much about Syria until chemical weapons were used, and no one wants to get involved in their conflict, including the U.S. Unfortunately, rhetoric and abuse in Syria is forcing all reluctant powers to respond in some fashion, some having suffered gas attacks in the past themselves.

To take a view on what will be the likely result, and in respect of the 1400 victims that will be remembered only after the civil war has ended, this should be the likely outcome of an attack no one wanted.

Russia will only support Syria to the point of not losing anything for itself in the actions in the region. No one in Russia would risk a direct war with the United States for the sake of an old friend that has little to offer Russia in a modern global environment. Assad has limited credit with Russia, and using chemical weapons is tantamount to abusing this relationship. Russia and the US will be the only brokers of peace in a conflict in Syria as no one in Syria or the Middle East desires or benefits from any future peace from either group gaining control of the country. Until the U.S. and Russia decide to pressure an end to the conflict, it will not end.

The U.S. and France have taken to punish Assad for his actions, and while a punishment can be justified, it is hard to see how bombs can bring any end to this conflict or create any justice for those who died last month. If Obama realizes that he will be blamed for being an aggressor and killing more innocent people whether this occurs or not, he will admit that any action he takes is a bad one, and will likely commit to either bad solution. This should be done sooner, for his own political benefit. The best outcome for an attack is to weaken Assad’s air power and technical advantage as well as destroy the longer range systems that can deliver surface-to-surface missiles and artillery and can carry larger amounts of chemical weapons. Anti-aircraft missiles are the best defense Syria has against any future air attack, and often those systems are not settled in populated areas as the radars need long range line of sight and the missiles also need some space away from buildings in order to hit their targets and not light the launch areas on fire. These would be Obama’s best option to weaken Assad, and would also leave his air force without support. Free Rocket Over Ground systems, Scud missile and large artillery systems such as the 2S4 Tulypan are mobile artillery systems that can be used to gas thousands of people and are well known to NATO intelligence. These systems should be eliminated quickly to reduce the ability to gas thousands or to send chemical weapons outside of Syria in an attack.

It is curious that anyone still produces chemical weapons that can be used on modern weapons systems considering the illegality and lack of civility in having and using such weapons. A claim by Assad is that rebels used the weapons on their own supporters in order to push the U.S. and Europe into becoming “rebel” airpower. If Assad wishes to remove the veil of guilt from those in the U.N. that oppose him, he should openly and publicly destroy all of the chemical weapons he has in a well-documented and thorough fashion. So far there has only been an increasing of rhetoric with the support of Iran in attacking Israel, Turkey or Jordan. No one really wants to be involved in Syria’s conflict, and Assad needs to realize this fact. The lack of interest in Syria is really at the point where many countries do not even wish to address the death of the 1400 innocents by a chemical attack in the country. In reality, many countries have few ties or interests with Syria, and the only reason for a response was the violation of international law. Assad needs to clear the air on this issue by no longer blaming others for the problems in his country, take account for the chemical weapons attack, and make moves to diplomatically remove the international community from the equation, before they are forced into further bad decisions.

For the death of the innocent 1400, whoever is seen to have committed the attack should be subject to trial in the international criminal court and within other international judicial bodies. Whether there is a strike or not on Assad’s forces, the issue should be subject to judicial review so that there is truth in the claims by Assad and the rebels in what actually occurred in Damascus last month. In the end, the grandchildren of the guilty will have to speak to the shame of their ancestors in the future by acknowledging their family committed crimes against humanity. Respecting the memory of the dead innocents is the only justice they may ever receive, and this may not occur for generations. This would be a better position for middle powers in this instance, as opposed to conforming to an agreement where it is known nothing will be done to save any innocents in the future.

 

Author

Richard Basas
Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration

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