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A statement from Focus on the Global South

In recent days, the Obama administration has moved inexorably toward an attack on Syria, for which it is currently seeking the support of the U.S. Congress.

The rationale for the planned U.S. strike is to punish the Assad regime, which Washington accuses of having used chemical weapons on civilians in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21.  According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 502 people were killed, including 80 children and 137 women.  There still is some uncertainty as to whether it was the Assad regime or rebels that unleashed the chemical attack.  But whether it was Assad or the rebels, this reprehensible act violated international law and human rights and must be condemned in the strongest terms.

This criminal deed does not, however, justify an act of aggression by one state against another sovereign state. An attack against Syria, such as that being proposed by the Obama administration, will mainly serve the interests of the U.S. military-industrial complex while further deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Syria and destabilizing the wider region. 

The United Nations must urgently renew diplomatic talks with all parties to the conflict and arrive at a political compromise that is in the interests of the Syrian people. Instead of bombing or invading the country, the United Nations should send an independent team of experts to conduct an in-depth investigation, to identify who was responsible for the use of chemical weapons, who supplied the weapons, and determine what steps could be taken to promote the safety of the Syrian people. 

Deliberate Violation of International Law and the Right to Life

The planned U.S. action is intended as a unilateral act that its author knows deliberately violates international law and the right to life of Syrian people. Whether the culprit in the use of chemical weapons in Damascus was the Assad regime or the opposition, the crime did not constitute an act of aggression against the United States.

The Obama administration says that in using chemical weapons the Assad regime has crossed a red line and deserves a punitive response.   But however morally justified may be the world’s outrage, no state or grouping of economic powers can arrogate to itself the right to punish. Although the Security Council and its procedures provide the only legally permissible process for initiating punitive action in this case, a strike against Syria – even if approved by the Security Council – will violate the right to life of thousands of people.  The Security Council must urgently convene and seek a political solution to the crisis and the United States must commit to adhering to such a collective response.

A unilateral strike against Syria will have the same illegal character as the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 under the Bush administration, an act that was not sanctioned by the United Nations.  A strike approved by the Security Council may have international legality, but will nonetheless kill thousands, destroy civilian spaces and infrastructure, polarize further the parties to the conflict and their allies, and preempt efforts to find a lasting political solution.

Humanitarian Intervention?

The U.S. says that while its planned attack may not be in consonance with international law, it is one that is necessitated for humanitarian reasons.  Yet an assault is likely to add to, rather than subtract from, the miseries of the Syrian people.  President Obama should listen to his own words as a Senator in 2002 when he spoke about the consequences of a U.S. invasion of Iraq: “I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.” Senator Obama was right.  Iraq is today a shattered country wracked by sectarian splits, a democracy only in name, and the U.S. invasion and occupation ended up boosting the fortunes of Al Qaeda.

With Syria as well, Obama’s proposed cure, a “limited strike” delivered from the air is likely to be worse than the disease. With more than 100,000 Syrians killed and millions more fleeing the ongoing conflict, the last thing the region needs is another destructive military intervention – unilateral or multilateral -which will magnify the tragedies of the civil war without bringing it to a peaceful conclusion.

The planned, “limited” strike against the command-and-control structure of the Bashar al-Assad regime will not significantly degrade the regime’s capability to wage war, nor will it guarantee deterrence against the further use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) against the civilian population.

Even a “limited” military intervention will likely result in civilian casualties, the destruction of civilian infrastructure and add fuel to an already combustible conflict with potentially unspeakable consequences.

The planned intervention carries the clear risk of further escalating the conflict, thus increasing the probability of more WMD attacks against civilians. Time and again, history has shown that besieged regimes tend to resort to more violence in face of growing pressure, so a Western intervention will only embolden Assad to rely on more coercive measures to quell the rebellion.

Triggering a Wider War

Moreover, a U.S. strike carries the real possibility of an irreversible drift towards a large-scale regional war.   Lebanon has already been drawn into the Syrian cockpit.  Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey are increasingly involved, on the side of Islamic fundamentalist rebel factions.  Their involvement could escalate should Syria and its ally Iran retaliate against these allies of Washington in response to a U.S. strike. Most frightening is the likely entry into the fray of Israel, which could take advantage of a U.S. attack and the resulting confusion to hit not only Assad but his ally, Iran, which the Zionist state sees as the strategic threat to its security.

A U.S. strike on Syria will not serve the interests of the people of Syria, the Middle East and the world. Instead, it will multiply the misery that civil war has already visited on the Syrian people, while eliminating what fragile possibilities for peace in the region still exist. The war in Syria must end but through political and peaceful means.  Rather than lobby the G-20, the U.S. Congress and others who have no right to authorize an attack, the Obama administration should work with countries in the region, the Security Council and other U.N. agencies to prepare a solution in concordance with international law.

The people of the world must deliver this urgent message loud and clear to President Obama: Do not launch a strike on Syria.


Focus on the Global South is a non-government organization with offices in Bangkok, New Delhi and Manila.

Photo by Photo by Isaac Alvarez Brugada


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