So after thinking for weeks and months about the mess that is going on in Syria, the internet finally provided some insight last night. The essay 9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask from the Washington Post contains the best point in favor of bombing a few of Assad’s military facilities I’ve heard so far. While I’m still not convinced that an official international intervention is a good idea, I can now at least see the reasoning behind it. At the same time, the text answers a question that I’ve come across more than once in the last days: What makes the alleged use of chemical weapons the straw that broke the camel’s back?
[T]he reason that the world got together in 1925 for the Geneva Convention [actually the Geneva Protocol, ed. note] to ban chemical weapons is because this stuff is really, really good at killing civilians but not actually very good at the conventional aim of warfare, which is to defeat the other side. You might say that they’re maybe 30 percent a battlefield weapon and 70 percent a tool of terror.
So both sides of any conflict, not to mention civilians everywhere, are better off if neither of them uses chemical weapons. But that requires believing that your opponent will never use them, no matter what. […] It [believing, ed. notes] becomes a bit easier if everyone believes using chemical weapons will cost you a few inbound U.S. cruise missiles.
The basic reasoning is, that chemical weapons cause so much chaos, that using them should always result in at least warfare’s equivalent to a slap in the face. This is especially important because chemical weapons are – compared to other non conventional weapons – easy to produce.
However, I still see two problems with a US air strike:
- The USA are not exactly a role model when it comes to following the international rules of warfare, although they technically never used chemical weapons and hence have mostly been in line with the Geneva Protocol.
- While being a merciless dictator slaughtering thousands and thousands of innocent people doesn’t make Bashar al-Assad a very likable person, he’s probably not stupid. He must have known that the use of chemical weapons will not remain unpunished. Especially because a similar reason has been used to justify the invasion of Iraq.
Since it seems quite clear that people have died as a result of the use of chemical weapons, you need to find the actual party responsible for all this, if you want to punish its behavior. It might actually have been Assad – or one of his officers ran amok and decided this on his own, but that doesn’t make much of a difference. The only interesting question is whether the oppositional forces and their allies in the region have the capacity to build and use chemical weapons themselves and frame Assad while doing so.