Chemical weapons use in Syria posed challenge to U.S./UN credibility

Special to

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — Cold War winds swirled throughout the week at the United Nations where a series of emergency meetings brought the fifteen member Security Council into a dangerously confrontational mode in the aftermath of the Syrian regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons killing 48.

Accusations, allegations, and condemnations punctuated meetings, amidst emotional discussions following the civilian carnage in Syria’s ongoing civil war.

The crescendo came when the United States, France and the United Kingdom launched surgical military strikes on Syria’s chemical weapons sites producing deadly chlorine and sarin gas, jolting the Damascus regime’s smug impunity, and serving as a clear warning to Assad’s allies in both Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

surgicalWhen U.S. President Trump announced the surgical military strikes on Syria, the mood appeared both anticlimactic and conflicted. Yet beyond America’s righteous retribution to the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, the President has importantly underlined the historic precedent, that of WWI, as not to allow the genie of these ghoulish weapons to reappear in global conflicts.

Lost in the flurry of Security Council discussions was a largely overlooked statement by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, “The Cold War is back, with a vengeance but with a difference. The mechanisms and the safeguards to manage the risks of escalation that existed in the past no longer seem to be present.”

Syria’s combustible situation has witnessed a horrible carnage where over 500,000 people have been killed; overwhelmingly most have died from conventional weapons. But as French Ambassador Francois Delattre stated, “The latest escalation of violence revealed the madness of a Machiavellian regime that sought to destroy its enemies.”

U.S. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley spoke of the “collective outrage” in the aftermath of the Douma attacks. Russian delegate Vassily Nebenzia denied the Syrian government’s involvement.

Multinational military strikes on Syria are justified for many reasons morally, politically and tactically.

First Credibility of both USA, Britain and France on the Security Council. Tough talk from Washington starting during the Obama Administration’s feckless “red line” fiasco, came to naught in Syria until last year’s American cruise missile attack on Assad after similar chemical weapons use. Russia and Islamic Iran have since redoubled their military support for the Syrian regime. U.S. threats to the contrary were sounding hollow. Yet the attacks were tactically focused on chemical production capabilities and thus proportionate to the crime.

Second Sweden’s UN Ambassador Olaf Skoog warned that the use of chemical weapons had become a litmus test of the Security Council’s credibility. He called for accountability for those using illegal chemical weapons.

Indeed for seven bloody years, the Syrian conflict has witnessed a deadlocked Security Council where Russia has blatantly supported its ally Syria through the unrestricted use of the veto which Moscow has used on 12 occasions, and specifically six regarding chemical weapons resolutions.

Third There’s a clear lesson for North Korea. Ironically part of the wider credibility narrative is focused not only on Syria in the Middle East but on North Korea in the Far East. Summit negotiations between Pyongyang and both Seoul and later Washington will soon begin regarding Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear weapons and missile proliferation program. The Trump Administration wishes to make the case crystal clear that puts its adversaries on notice.

Ambassador Nikki Haley warned, “It is Russia alone that has stopped at nothing to defend the Syrian regime’s multiple uses of chemical weapons. It is Russia alone that killed the Joint Investigative Mechanism which allowed the world to ensure accountability for chemical weapons use in Syria.”

Earlier in the week American diplomacy called for an International mission of inquiry to visit Syria and establish the facts on the ground.

“Silence and impunity are not an option,” implored the Netherlands delegate. Significantly the UN must reestablish a working mechanism to monitor and cease chemical weapons use.

President Donald Trump warned Syria and its allies that the U.S. is “locked and loaded” to strike again if it caries out further chemical attacks. The White House actions came less than a week after the President spoke about possible America disengagement in the Syrian civil war.

The attacks however were wisely not aimed at regime change but a change in regime behavior.

Despite the brutal nature of the Syrian ruler Assad, it’s tragically true that some of the jihadi terrorist groups opposing him would create even wider carnage.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the multinational attacks on Syria were about saying “Enough is Enough,” in regarding the use of the prohibited weapons.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]

You must be logged in to post a comment Login