We join the many voices condemning the Assad regime for what is almost certainly use of chemical weapons against civilian targets resulting in the death of at least 85 civilians and serious injury to more than 500 people. Our thoughts are with the people of Syria. But more bombing is not the answer.
Those responsible for this horrific act, in violation of international law must be brought to justice. For this to happen however, it would require the support of Russia, who, in their role on the UN Security Council would have to agree for the case to be referred to the International Criminal Court. That seems unlikely given its ongoing support for the Assad regime.
President Trump’s tweet that the Assad regime will have a “BIG PRICE” to pay would seem to suggest impending retaliation along the lines of last year’s Cruise missile attack on the airfield from which Assad launched a previous chemical attack on civilians. Such an attack would serve no purpose.
Given its support for the Assad regime Russia is unlikely to agree to the authorization of such a response by the Security Council. And a unilateral US attack would be an unlawful attack on a sovereign state, an act of war against Syria, and might lead to a direct conflict with Russia.
The Guardian reported that the American-led coalition has said at least 800 civilians have been killed in airstrikes in Iraq and Syria since its campaign began in 2014. (30 Nov, 2017). But Airwars says at least 5,961 civilians have been killed by US coalition attacks over that time period. The New York Times (16 Nov 2017) recently conducted an investigation into civilian casualties resulting from US led airstrikes. The report concluded that one out of every five US led airstrikes have resulted in civilian deaths. That’s 31 times as high as the rate the US acknowledges, meaning civilian deaths would be in the tens of thousands.
A U.N. war crimes investigation concluded in March that air strikes by Russia and the U.S.-led coalition killed civilians in Syria on a large scale in 2017. “Russian fixed-wing aircraft” using unguided weapons last November hit a market killing at least 84 people and injuring 150 in Atareb, west of Aleppo and three U.S.-led coalition strikes on a school near Raqqa in March 2017 killed 150 residents . U.N. investigators found no evidence that Islamic State fighters were at the school and said the U.S.-led coalition had violated international law by failing in its duty to protect displaced civilians known to be sheltered there since 2012. (Reuters, 6 March 2018)
No state or group of states acting independently have the authority to enforce international law through military action. If they did, then it would be right for say Russia or some other state to take similar action against the US and its allies (or vice versa) for causing extensive civilian casualties throughout its bombing campaign to destroy ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Trump’s tweet and talk of US retaliation is reckless, a disturbing development in US foreign policy at a time of great uncertainty following the recent resignation of Secretary of State Tillerson and the appointment of the notoriously hawkish John Bolton as National Security Adviser.