Written By: - Date published: 9:58 am, April 16th, 2018 - 203 comments
Categories: greens, International, jacinda ardern, Jeremy Corbyn, labour, national, Simon Bridges, Syria, uk politics, us politics, war - Tags: Golriz Ghahraman, Todd mcclay
Over the past decade the once proud state of Syria has descended into chaos. Three years ago I wrote this post suggesting that Syria may be the first state that has failed because of climate change.
The argument was that extreme drought attributable to climate change had destroyed Syria’s agricultural sector.
Over a million people dependent on farming became displaced and fled to the cities. This caused extreme pressure and tension which Syria’s fragile autocratic rule could not handle. Then when civil discord broke out the State started to destroy itself.
And as the state fell apart Syrians started to flee. Of Syria’s estimated 22 million citizens there are an estimated 6 million internally displaced and a further 5 million refugees in the Middle East and in Europe.
And the last thing that you think would be helpful is further bombing of the country. Particularly when a team of inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were on their way to Syria to inspect and gather evidence. The OPCW is tasked with the implementation of the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention and this includes verification of compliance with the terms of the convention. Syria is a signatory to the Convention
Leaving it up to the International Organisations to resolve difficulties is the sort of thing New Zealand has always championed. After all the UN Charter bans the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. There are internationally recognised exceptions including the preemptive use of force against anticipated attacks. But you can’t reconcile Trump’s rhetoric with these exceptions.
Not that Trump is worried about such things as legal niceties. After all the US Constitution provides that Congress is the entity that can declare war not the President. Bastardising the language to achieve a political goal should not be permitted.
The language used in International Relations is all important. Trump and his allies were seeking fulsome support from the West.
New Zealand has not provided that ringing endorsement although has gone quite close in the language used.
In a prepared statement Jacinda Ardern has said this:
The Government has always favoured diplomatic efforts and a multilateral approach. The use of the veto powers at the Security Council prevented that course of action. We have always condemned the use of the veto, including by Russia in this case.
New Zealand therefore accepts why the US, UK and France have today responded to the grave violation of international law, and the abhorrent use of chemical weapons against civilians.
The action was intended to prevent further such atrocities being committed against Syrian civilians.
We stand firm in our condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta. This is clearly in breach of international law.
It is now important that these issues are returned to the United Nations multilateral processes including the Security Council.
The Greens have been less cautious with their response. Golriz Ghahraman in a guest post for the Spinoff said this:
The harrowing reality of Syria’s war, with chemical weapons, a trapped civilian population and blocked UN security council, just got a whole lot more frightening. Today, the United States, under President Trump, together with its allies, France and the United Kingdom, entered another war in the Middle East. Of course the Syrian war has been a proxy war in the model of perpetual wars happening throughout that oil-rich region for some time.
The United States, Russia, and regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Iran have all been fanning those flames and literally providing the firepower. But it does make a difference when a superpower breaches international borders to bomb another nation, without even the pretense of lawful sanction. It matters because the rule of law matters, because might should not be right. But mostly, it matters because those bombs will kill and maim more people, they will bring more violence and irrevocable suffering to an already traumatised people. No one has ever in fact bombed for peace, we know that so why do it again?
The thing about watching the horrors of war in Syria is that we feel powerless but desperate to help. The population is trapped, much of the violence is actually being perpetrated by Syria’s own government and armed forces, but rebels and other ad hoc armed forces are also being backed by foreign powers interested in the regional power play, interested in promoting their own interests. It isn’t fair, because on the ground ordinary Syrians are caught in the cross-fire. Millions have lived in refugee camps for years now, ordinary children who once worried about birthday presents and homework have had no regular schooling well into their teens.
Some have lost their lives trying to reach safety. Chemical weapons have caused painful deaths and horrifying injuries to entire villages. It isn’t fair, and the deep outrage felt around the world each time Russia vetoes a Security Council resolution on something like investigations into those chemical attacks, we all feel defeated. That’s understandable. But what comes from that sense of anger and frustration cannot be blind vengeance at the expense of more lives lost.
If history has taught us anything, it is that violence doesn’t and hasn’t ever stopped violence, in that region or elsewhere. So it matters, and is telling to me, that everyone involved is well aware that strike action is almost certainly not going to make victims safe, stop the use of chemical weapons, or end the war. The airstrikes must be seen for what they are: a continuation of a policy that protects American and western interests and a breach of international law.
While the question of lawfulness may seem pedantic in the face of chemical warfare, the opposite, an acceptance of a “might is right” ad hoc approach to something as grave as the integrity of international borders and the use of force, is worth guarding against with vigilance. Leaving the US to do what it wants creates a precedent that we have to live with in future, at the whim of the Trumps in this world, with little respect for the rules and airstrike capability to match. New Zealand, as a small country that relies on multilateralism and the rule of law, needs to stand up against ad hoc unlawful international violence.
It was very telling that in Trump’s statement on air strikes he did not claim the attack was consistent with the UN Charter or was a legal response to the use of chemical weapons. He simply said that the attacks were in the national security of the United States. What he should have said was the attack served US economic interests. This war would not have been as bloody or long lived had it not been for the eager involvement of the US, Russia and their allies and for their unwillingness to pressure their regional allies, to divest from the cheap oil coming from either Iran or Saudi. We cannot say we’ve exhausted all diplomatic options, when the war being waged is literally itself a tool to secure other diplomatic and economic interests. If we were willing to forego those interests there would be no weapons or financial resource for this war.
Predictably National has tried to paint Labour’s position as being too weak. From Radio New Zealand:
National Party leader Simon Bridges said [Ardern’s] comments underplay the seriousness of the situation.
Mr Bridges says Ms Ardern should have said she supported the attacks to make sure New Zealand’s allies feel supported in their action.
“Merely ‘accepting’ it is not strong enough,” he told Morning Report.
“We need to look where our friends are like Turnbull and Trudeau who showed support for the strikes.”
Mr Bridges said he supported the action taken by the US, British and French military forces.
He implied the government might be taking a softer approach to appease Russia, which deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters is pursuing a free trade deal with.
“We’ve got a funny situation with Russia generally,” he said.
“Is Winston Peters’ hand on the Prime Minister on this issue?” he asked.
But he should have talked to his Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Todd McClay who though that Ardern’s statement sent a powerful message. You can’t reconcile Bridge’s comments with McClay’s. Again from Radio New Zealand:
The National Party says it supports the Prime Minister’s condemnation of chemical warfare.
Last night, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she understood and accepted why military action on the city of Damascus was necessary.
“Ultimately no one wants to be in this situation, the use of chemical weapons in this case is absolutely abhorrent, we have strongly condemned it,” she said.
National Party spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Todd McClay said Ms Ardern had sent a powerful message.
“The government has made a strong statement and the National Party supports that.”
He said it was important for all parties to unite in their condemnation of the Syrian government which had “brutally murdered their own citizens with gas”.
Mr McClay said he hoped the New Zealand government would continue to be outspoken on the issue.
“It will be important for the government and particularly the Prime Minister to continue to condemn the use of these weapons in Syria and to, in the very strongest possible terms, support the US, France and United Kingdom in the actions they are taking to help hold the Syrian regime to account,” he said.
And in the United Kingdom British Labour has been less restrained in its response. From the Guardian:
Jeremy Corbyn has accused the UK government of “waiting for instructions” from the US on how to proceed in the Syrian crisis after the allies vowed to work closely together on an international response.
The Labour leader warned that military intervention against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the wake of a devastating chemical weapons attack on the rebel-held town of Douma risked escalating an already devastating conflict.
He urged the UK government to push for an independent United Nations-led investigation into the attack so that those responsible could be held to account. Russia has repeatedly blocked such a move at the UN security council since the start of the civil war seven years ago.
Corbyn called for a political solution to the conflict. Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, went further, saying the Labour party believed there was no military answer to the Syrian crisis.
My personal view is that the attack is unjustified. The United Nations and all of the related entitites are there to ensure that these sorts of issues are dealt with in a civilised way. The OPCW should have been allowed to inspect and report back. Bombing the sites is tantamount to obstruction of justice.
And the permanent members of the Security ought to have their veto removed. The veto is the biggest impediment to collective action being taken to address
And the crisis should have been addressed a decade ago. If the world is going to survive the effects of climate change collectively we are going to have to handle the next crisis way better than Syria has been handled.