In order to launch an altruistic intervention in Syria, there must be evidence and/or international consensus
As the debate about American intervention in Syria escalates, I am reminded of the intervention of Kosovo in 1999, a legitimate act that protected fundamental human rights, and an illegal act that transgressed international law.
After the Cold War ended, humanitarian intervention of countries that violated human rights became more of a focus. Somehow, there is a gap between justice and the law; both constitutionally and legally at the international level.
Some say Kosovo presented a situation in which intervention was morally necessary, but under the legal circumstances, was still impossible. This gap was ascertained to be unhealthy, gradually corroding the legitimacy and authority of the UN and international law.
All the principles and purposes of the United Nations are embodied within its Charter, which asserts that collective security and peaceful deliberation are the most effective means with which to safeguard international peace and security.
More specifically, Article 2(4) states:
All Members [of the UN] shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
The Charter also enumerates two legal conditions in which force may be authorized under international law. The first condition permits a state to use force if sanctioned by the Security Council (Article 42), and the second condition permits a state to use force in self-defence (Articles 51).
Just like with Kosovo, there is no consensus within the UN Security Council and there is not expected to be one. Russia and China are close allies with Syria and are not expected to give western countries an inch.
There was no consensus within Great Britain either. The British Parliament voted against David Cameron’s willingness to support an intervention led by the United States.
The decision to stay out of it leaves the United States in quite a conundrum. President Obama has not yet made a decision about the type of intervention to use and has not called Congress back to Washington, but has been on the phone with key members of Congress about the crisis. 75% of the American public are against military intervention.
The United Nations has received at least 14 reports of possible chemical weapons use in Syria. After months of diplomatic wrangling, a team of experts, led by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, arrived in Syria on August 18.
According to Reuters, the U.N. team was initially going to look into three incidents, but their priority changed after an alleged gas attack in the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus last week, which activists say killed hundreds of civilians.
“The team was able to do some preliminary work around the three sites it was initially looking into, but it has not been able to conduct onsite visits, basically because this new priority rose up while they were in country,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters.
“The Secretary-General does expect to have some form of an oral briefing from the investigators once they are out of the country,” Haq said. “The investigators are currently scheduled expect to wrap up their work by Saturday morning.”
In order for justice to reflect the law there must be congruence between legitimacy and legality. How can this be achieved in the context of humanitarian interventions that are punitive?
Adam Roberts, author of “The So-Called Right of Humanitarian Intervention” explains that “the idea of general criteria by which to evaluate decisions on the use of force has a long history, including the Just War tradition. It is certainly useful to bear such criteria in mind and adapt them to the question of humanitarian intervention.”
How is the United States going to resolve the real conflict in a civil war that has been going on for two years in Syria? The Just War traditions criteria for the implementation of humanitarian interventions are:
1. Credible Evidence: There must be credible and objective evidence that the highest norms of human rights – the right to life and the right to be free from physical abuse are being violated in a state that is either unwilling or unable to remedy the abuses, or in a state that is the perpetrator of the abuses.
An international committee under the direction of the Secretary General will ascertain the veracity of the evidence, and present it to the Security Council. The evidence must point to widespread violations that are either occurring or imminent.
2. Last Resort: The use of force must be the last resort when all other diplomatic means to rectify the humanitarian abuses have been exhausted.
In Kosovo, there was proof of atrocities bordering on genocide. However, so far there is no evidence that Bashar al-Assad ordered any chemical attack on Syrian rebels or citizens. U.S. intelligence officials even said there is no smoking gun. With a senior UN official claiming the April chemical attack could have been a rebel sarin gas attack, who can say for sure who’s behind this one.
President Obama needs to tread very lightly. I don’t think the Nobel Peace Prize winner would want to be seen intervening militarily and unilaterally on false pretenses. Nor would he want to escalate an already violent civil war into a wider confrontation with several countries.
Without evidence of wrong doing and without consent from the United nations; intervention or retaliation is not yet justified. What you have instead is the same justification that led to the Iraq War.