Lucy Webster

Guest Blogger

Lucy Law Webster is the Chairperson of the World Federalist Institute within Citizens for Global Solutions, and a Council Member in the international World Federalist Movement. She is also a Board Member of Economists for Peace and Security.

There is No Need for War in Syria

Lucy Law Webster

Ever since President Obama drew a red line to prevent further use of poison gas by Bashar al-Assad to murder Syrian citizens, I have advocated action to enforce the treaty against the use of such weapons.  The U.S. Congress refused to review and endorse Obama's call for action because Russia and other supporters of Assad said they would remove the remaining poison gas from Syria and take it to Russia. However, they did not actually fulfill this commitment. This lack of action was wrong, morally and legally.

Now, we can move forward—carefully.  Let us take creative notice of the fact that Russia and Iran have been acting as the protectors of the use of poison gas.  Let us state that clearly.  Let us, the United States of America, stand for international law and justice for people worldwide.  Let us continue to mend relationships with Arab leaders who also support law and justice.  Let us continue our efforts to defeat ISIS and its violence against the people of Syria, Iraq and other nations, but let us note that this is above all a war of ideas.  It is basically a war for human rights and a struggle for a peaceful world.

R2P and Goals the Public Could Support

The Responsibility to Protect

The United Nations has been moderately successful at ending the scourge of war between its member states. It has also shown creative support for human rights by developing norms such as the Responsibility to Protect to assert that people are more important than states—that no member state is to commit gross abuses and violence against its people.

However, action to effectively ensure observance of the R2P norm has been blocked repeatedly by the veto possibility in the UN Security Council. The veto power and the status of Permanent Members of the Council given to the 5 victorious powers from World War II was seen as the only way to get agreement to the San Francisco Charter in 1945, but many scholars believe this was not intended as a permanent arrangement. In fact, the Charter provides that "A General Conference of the Members of the United Nations for the purpose of reviewing the present Charter may be held at a date and place to be fixed by a two-thirds vote of the members of the General Assembly and by a vote of any seven (later nine after the membership of the Council was increased from 11 to 15) members of the Security Council" . . . . "Any alteration of the present Charter recommended by a two-thirds vote of the conference shall take effect when ratified . . . . by two thirds of the Members of the United Nations including all the permanent members of the Security Council."

Because it was not possible for the Security Council to negotiate effectively to prevent the bombing of Kosovo in the 1990s, a coalition of the willing was formed to take action bypassing the veto. Now in Syria, some UN member states have been looking for a way to protect the insurgent groups in Syria against the bombing and the evident use of poison gas by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Take Assertive Action Legally and Carefully

Syria needs help. Its government has no legitimacy having killed some 90,000 Syrian people and forced millions from their homes as internal refugees and into exile in nearby countries.

It would be a mistake for the United States to put its own boots on the ground, but it could help to provide a wide range of equipment (including weapons) to the insurgents. Above all, it could, together with the Arab League and others, support and encourage a transition process, carefully defined and backed by an overwhelming vote in the UN General Assembly.

It is important that the recently agreed Arms Trade Treaty was not abandoned when 100% consensus could not be obtained during the treaty conference negotiations. Instead, the text was taken to the General Assembly where there was a positive vote of 154 versus 3 negative votes (Syria, Iran and North Korea) with 23 abstentions.

In similar manner, if the UN Security Council will not act in support of the people of Syria, the GA should and can. When Russia and China will not act to serve the people, other UN member states need to take more responsibility, not less. The responsibility to protect norm is designed to place responsibility on each country to protect its own people, and when it cannot or will not, then the world community has a duty to step in. When a few Security Council states refuse to act to serve the people, then the UN General Assembly should take responsibility to protect -- using the least violence and the most international authority possible.

For the situation in Syria, the Arab League plus the UN General Assembly can give the world community the authority to act to protect the people of Syria. Then it will be up to various countries and regional groups to support the people within Syria with the supplies they need to maintain life and dignity and to assert their sovereignty.