A military strike on Syria is not the best response

Published Monday 9 September 2013 - 12 h 05 min by Benoit Duguay.

If indeed chemical weapons have been used, allegedly on orders from President al-Assad himself, World nations cannot sit idly and be, as US Secretary of State Kerry has said «silent spectators to the slaughter». To do so would condone such actions and invite further violations of widely agreed upon conventions on the ban of such weapons, as affirmed in the 1925 Geneva Protocol and respected by all major world countries.

Does this necessarily mean that a military strike on Syria led by the US and France, with or without the support of a yet to be determined coalition and/or of the UN Security Council, is the best response to what may be construed as mass murder?

The serious dangers of such an attack have been thoroughly explained in many media by very wise and knowledgeable people in that field of expertise. I am no military expert and have nothing to add to that debate; suffice to say that those dangers do exist and cannot be dismissed. I would rather focus on the objective of this planned retaliation and the way to best achieve it.

The objective pursued has been stated by administration officials in France and the United States: it is to «punish» President al-Assad for allegedly resorting to the use of chemical weapons against his own population.

From that standpoint, the truth of the matter is, a military strike will NOT «punish» President al-Assad; it will first and foremost kill lower rank military personnel of the Syrian army and innocent by standing Syrian civilians, both of which had no say in the matter. Let us also take into account the fact that high ranking army officers and/or government officials in Syria have most likely participated in this action. It is unlikely that a military strike will affect those people.

Other traditional courses of actions, such as a blockade or economic sanctions, either cannot be implemented or will not produce the desired effect, because the al-Assad regime has powerful international allies. In fact, I can only think of one effective way to «punish» the perpetrators and deter other tyrants from using such weapons in the future: to indict them in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Some will say that what I propose is impossible, because one must first lay hands on those people before bringing them in front of the court. True, it cannot be done overnight. However, if enough evidence is accumulated for the UN Security Council to issue international arrest warrants, it will be impossible for those responsible for the alleged use of chemical weapons to travel outside Syria, except to sympathetic countries, without being immediately detained, forcibly or not. There have even been cases where war criminals were snatched by strike teams from countries in which they felt safe to be brought to trial.

The system works: in July 2012, the International Criminal Court found Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo guilty of war crimes and sentenced him to 14 years imprisonment.

The European Union demands «strong international response» to the alleged chemical attack. I think that a trial in the International Criminal Court would satisfy the EU demand. In fact, I strongly believe that it is the only just and effective response to the alleged crime.

Let us not forget what Winston Churchill has said: «To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war». In the long term, a diplomatic, also legal in this case, solution is always preferable to military intervention.

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