The drums of war are beating again. The Obama administration will reportedly launch a military strike to punish Syria’s Assad government for its alleged use of chemical weapons. A military attack would invariably kill civilians for the ostensible purpose of showing the Syrian government that killing civilians is wrong. “What we are talking about here is a potential response . . . to this specific violation of international norms,” declared White House press secretary Jay Carney. But a military intervention by the United States in Syria to punish the government would violate international law.
For the United States to threaten to and/or launch a military strike as a reprisal is a blatant violation of the United Nations Charter. The Charter requires countries to settle their international disputes peacefully.
Article 2(4) makes it illegal for any country to either use force or threaten to use force against another country. Article 2(7) prohibits intervention in an internal or domestic dispute in another country. The only time military force is lawful under the Charter is when the Security Council approves it, or under Article 51, which allows a country to defend itself if attacked. “The use of chemical weapons within Syria is not an armed attack on the United States,” according to Notre Dame law professor Mary Ellen O’Connell.
The United States and the international community have failed to take constructive steps to promote peace-making efforts, which could have brought the crisis in Syria to an end. The big powers instead have waged a proxy war to give their “side” a stronger hand in future negotiations, evaluating the situation only in terms of geopolitical concerns. The result has been to once again demonstrate that military solutions to political and economic problems are no solution at all. In the meantime, the fans of enmity between religious factions have been inflamed to such a degree that the demonization of each by the other has created fertile ground for slaughter and excuses for not negotiating with anyone with “blood on their hands.”