In the last week of August UNHCR reported that the number of Syrian children with refugee status as a result of the civil war reached one million. Around 760,000 of the refugee children are under the age of 11 and more than 3,000 of those crossed the border without their parents. UNICEF says that child refugees are at great risk of child labour, early marriage and sexual exploitation. A few days later thousands of people in a Damascus suburb, many of them children, were horrifically killed with Medicins Sans Fronteirs saying the attack was almost certainly with chemical weapons. With Russia continuing to support the Assad regime the UN is unlikely to take any action. The US and UK say there is strong evidence that the attack was launched by Assad government forces and are considering a military response, probably via NATO, using the so-called “humanitarian” Kosovo intervention as a precedent. But the only basis for intervention would be a UN Security Council resolution. The UK, US and their allies cannot again take the law into their own hands.
The Peace and Justice Centre deplores the use of chemical weapons in Syria, a gross violation of international law, and calls upon all sides to refrain from the use of such weapons. But military action in Syria would only be in response to what the Guardian’s John Kampfner called “an instinct that something must be done”. One diplomat said there must be a proportionate response. Such would perhaps be allowed under international law. But to what end? The result will only be more killing. There is no possibility of ground troops, as, if Assad used chemical weapons against his own people there can be no doubt that he will use them against NATO troops. And bombing chemical weapons stores is not possible because of the possibility of widespread contamination. A “proportionate” military response and increased arms to the rebels will likely only lead to further use of chemical weapons. As NATO air strikes commence and the flow of arms increases the flow of refugees, will increase proportioinately. Assad will continue to attack his own people. More civilians and children will die.
We must ask who would benefit from air strikes against Syria? The manufacturers of Tornado and F-16 jet fighters and air launched cruise missiles, each of which cost $500,000, companies like global giant Lockheed. We therefore call upon the UK and US governments to refrain from military response and vigorously pursue all diplomatic routes.