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‘Humanitarian’ Missile Strikes Against Syria?

By John Scales Avery

09 September, 2013

The issue of chemical weapons is obscuring the more important issues of legality, and the question of whether an attack on Syria would not greatly increase the suffering of the people of that region because of escalation.

Whether or not the United States Congress approves a US attack on Syria, such an attack would unambiguously violate the United Nations Charter, and it would be a war crime under the Nuremberg Principles. Both President Obama, ordering the attack, and the military personnel carrying it out, would be war criminals and liable to punishment for the remainder of their lives.

The idea of a “humanitarian” missile strike is an absurdity. What targets would be hit? Chemical weapons depots? This would spread nerve gas throughout the surrounding areas. Airfields and military barracks? What do these have anything to do with chemical weapons? Could the United States avoid killing many civilians? Absolutely not! Does the Obama Administration think that it can save civilian lives by a missile attack which would kill many more of them?

What would be the effect of a US missile attack on Syria? Would it make a political settlement of the civil war more likely? No, it would lead to an extremely dangerous escalation of the conflict, and possibly World War III. The danger of escalation is underlined by the statements by Assad's government and by Iran concerning what they would do in retaliation if attacked, (for example, missile strikes on Israel and on US bases) and by Russian and Chinese warships that are now sailing into the Mediterranean.

A large-scale war in the Middle East might lead to the overthrow of Pakistan's less-than-stable government , bringing that country's nuclear weapons into the conflict on the side of Syria and Iran. Also the closing of the Straits of Hormuz would lead to extremely high oil prices, whose likely effect on the global economy would be to cause an extremely severe worldwide depression.

The proper response to the tragic events now taking place in Syria would be for all parties to refrain from sending weapons to the region, and to support a conference that would seek a diplomatic solution. In the meantime, a sufficient amount of money should be made available to help Syrian refugees who are at present facing a humanitarian crisis. If chemical weapons have been used, the correct response is for an international tribunal to conduct an investigation and trial of whoever might be guilty.

It is strange that the United States is trying to stand on high moral ground with respect to chemical weapons, when its record for using them or encouraging their use is so abysmal. In its article on Agent Orange, Wikipedia states that “Agent Orange or Herbicide Orange (HO) is one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the US military as part of its chemical warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. Vietnam estimates 400,000 people were killed or maimed and 500,000 children born with birth defects as a result of its use. The Red Cross of Vietnam estimates that up to 1 million people are disabled or have birth defects due to Agent Orange.”

Depleted uranium munitions, which have been liberally used by the United States in its various wars, have caused extremely numerous cases of cancer, especially in Iraq.

Furthermore, the US backed Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons: In 1980, encouraged to do so by the fact that Iran had lost its US backing, Saddam Hussein’s government attacked Iran. This was the start of a extremely bloody and destructive war that lasted for eight years, inflicting almost a million casualties on the two nations. Iraq used both mustard gas and the nerve gases Tabun and Sarin against Iran, in violation of the Geneva Protocol.

Both the United States and Britain had helped Saddam Hussein’s government to obtain chemical weapons. A chemical plant, called Falluja 2, was built by Britain in 1985, and this plant was used to produce mustard gas and nerve gas. Also, according to the Riegel Report to the US Senate, May 25, (1994), the Reagan Administration turned a blind eye to the export of chemical weapon precursors to Iraq, as well as anthrax and plague cultures that could be used as the basis for biological weapons. When (in 1988) Hussein went so far as to use poison gas against civilian citizens of his own country in the Kurdish village of Halabja, the United States worked to prevent international condemnation of the act.

It is not at all clear that it was Assad's government that used chemical weapons in Syria. There are a number of factors that make a “false flag” attack seem more likely. Why would Assad use chemical weapons at the precise moment when Obama had declared that this was the red line which, if crossed, would lead him to attack Syria. Assad does not want greater US involvement in the conflict; Israel wants it. Furthermore, Assad's first action was to invite UN inspectors, while the United States' first action was to try to persuade the UN not to send inspectors. Finally, the US does not have a good record with respect to starting wars on the basis of lies. But let us return to the most important issues:

A large-scale war in the Middle East would cause immense suffering to the people of the region, and it might turn into a Third World War. It would be a criminal act to initiate such a war, violating both the United Nations Charter and the Nuremberg Principles.

John Avery received a B.Sc. in theoretical physics from MIT and an M.Sc. from the University of Chicago. He later studied theoretical chemistry at the University of London, and was awarded a Ph.D. there in 1965. He is now Lektor Emeritus, Associate Professor, at the Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen. Fellowships, memberships in societies: Since 1990 he has been the Contact Person in Denmark for Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. In 1995, this group received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. He was the Member of the Danish Peace Commission of 1998. Technical Advisor, World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe (1988- 1997). Chairman of the Danish Peace Academy, April 2004. http://www.fredsakademiet.dk/ordbog/aord/a220.htm. He can be reached at avery.john.s@gmail.com



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