Posts Tagged ‘U.K.’

Next Steps: Obama, like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, must now take steps to deal with the Syrian crisis—ALL OF IT

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

The publication by the U.K. on August 29 of a summary of its legal justification for taking military action against Syria is a most welcome development. It also highlights the ad hoc and uncoordinated nature of President Barack Obama’s and his administration’s decision making on Syria.

Obama, like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, said publicly yesterday that he had not yet decided whether to take military action against Syria–a declaration which seems disingenuous at best, particularly as David Cameron was going before the House of Commons to secure approval for undertaking such action.

Whether or not he has taken a decision to use military force, Obama has not articulated a clear diplomatic and military strategy regarding Syria within which the proposed military actions would make sense. Moreover, the details of such actions–however unwisely–have been and are being discussed widely and in detail by government officials in background conversations with reporters.

Obama is like a football player who, excited about playing in a championship game, forgot to bring his shoulder pads to the locker room. Now he needs to go back and get them and get fully suited up for the game.

Given the delays being caused by David Cameron’s difficulties in the House of Commons, Republican demands that Congress play a role, and the fact that it will take still some days before the U.N. chemical weapons inspectors depart Syria and come up with a preliminary report of their findings, Obama needs to carefully consider and take the following steps:

1. Think through a coherent strategy toward Syria;

2. Develop a narrow but cogent legal justification under international law for military actions that may be taken pursuant to that strategy;

3. Develop a broad and strong coalition among NATO allies and allies in the Arab countries and other civilized nations in the world that will support, and to the extent that can be achieved, participate in any military actions that might be taken;

4. Develop support for a U.N. Security Council Resolution which, even if vetoed by Russia and possibly China, will enlist the support of the remaining members of the Security Council;

5. Develop broad suport among the other countries of the world who might be persuaded to support such action by voting in favor of a General Assembly resolution; and

6. Secure the support of Republicans, Democrats, and the U.S. Congress for undertaking military action in Syria.

To achieve these objectives, the strength of the U.S. legal case for taking military action will be of vital importance.

And, it turns out that, contrary to what Obama may have thought before (operating in the covert world of secret actions), the U.S. can’t build a strong legal case for just any action, since the views of other countries as to what is permissible under international law are of decisive importance here.

To build a strong legal case, he will need to explain how the military action he and the “Coalition of the Willing” plan to undertake will contribute to halting al-Assad’s commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including but not limited to those involving the use of chemical weapons.

All of this will take some time. Time will work in Obama’s favor, if he has a strong case. Time will allow the members of the Security Council to get the U.N. inspectors’ preliminary report on whether chemical weapons were used in Syria last week. Time will help David Cameron in securing Labor Party support for U.K. military action in Syria. Time will allow for the diplomatic efforts that will be required to build a real international “Coalition of the Willing”, including NATO (and in particular NATO members such as Italy), and leading Arab states and other countries.

This process should be allowed to play out for another week or two, but not longer.

Then, when everything is set, the U.S. and its coalition partners should undertake appropriate military action at a time of their own choosing, employing military assets and strategems that have not been previously telegraphed to Bashar al-Assad and the band of war criminals who now run Syria.

If, in the interim, genuine Russian cooperation could be secured for, e.g., a Security Council resolution, under Chapter VII, mandating that Syria dismantle and surrender all of its chemical weapons stocks and programs, under U.N. supervision, then the equation might change.

Otherwise, what is outlined above is what is required. To be done successfully, Obama will have to stop sharing his internal thought processes with reporters and the public, and devote all of his and his administration’s energies to coming up with a viable strategy for Syria, a cogent legal defense of any military action, and the diplomacy necessary to develop support from U.S. allies and other civilized nations in the world.

Despite his best efforts to avoid dealing with what was going on in Syria for over two and a half years, Syria has caught up with Obama. Vital national security interests have become engaged. Now he will have to deal with it, all of it, not just the chemical weapons part or the fact that al-Assad crossed his “red line”.

The Trenchant Observer

For previous articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria Page, or click here.

U.K. publishes legal justification for taking military action in Syria (full text and link)

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

The Office of the Prime Minister published a summary of the U.K. government’s legal justification of the use on military force against Syria in response to the chemical weapons attacks last week, on August 29, 2013. The full text of the summary follows:

Chemical weapon use by Syrian regime: UK government legal position

Published 29 August 2013

This note sets out the UK government’s position regarding the legality of military action in Syria following the chemical weapons attack in Eastern Damascus on 21 August 2013.

The use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime is a serious crime of international concern, as a breach of the customary international law prohibition on use of chemical weapons, and amounts to a war crime and a crime against humanity. However, the legal basis for military action would be humanitarian intervention; the aim is to relieve humanitarian suffering by deterring or disrupting the further use of chemical weapons.

The UK is seeking a resolution of the United Nations Security Council under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations which would condemn the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian authorities; demand that the Syrian authorities strictly observe their obligations under international law and previous Security Council resolutions, including ceasing all use of chemical weapons; and authorise member states, among other things, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians in Syria from the use of chemical weapons and prevent any future use of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons; and refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

If action in the Security Council is blocked, the UK would still be permitted under international law to take exceptional measures in order to alleviate the scale of the overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe in Syria by deterring and disrupting the further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. Such a legal basis is available, under the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, provided three conditions are met:

(i) there is convincing evidence, generally accepted by the international community as a whole, of extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, requiring immediate and urgent relief;

(ii) it must be objectively clear that there is no practicable alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved; and

(iii) the proposed use of force must be necessary and proportionate to the aim of relief of humanitarian need and must be strictly limited in time and scope to this aim (i.e. the minimum necessary to achieve that end and for no other purpose).

All three conditions would clearly be met in this case:
(i) The Syrian regime has been killing its people for two years, with reported deaths now over 100,000 and refugees at nearly 2 million. The large-scale use of chemical weapons by the regime in a heavily populated area on 21 August 2013 is a war crime and perhaps the most egregious single incident of the conflict. Given the Syrian regime’s pattern of use of chemical weapons over several months, it is likely that the regime will seek to use such weapons again. It is also likely to continue frustrating the efforts of the United Nations to establish exactly what has happened. Renewed attacks using chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would cause further suffering and loss of civilian lives, and would lead to displacement of the civilian population on a large scale and in hostile conditions.

(ii) Previous attempts by the UK and its international partners to secure a resolution of this conflict, end its associated humanitarian suffering and prevent the use of chemical weapons through meaningful action by the Security Council have been blocked over the last two years. If action in the Security Council is blocked again, no practicable alternative would remain to the use of force to deter and degrade the capacity for the further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.

(iii) In these circumstances, and as an exceptional measure on grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity, military intervention to strike specific targets with the aim of deterring and disrupting further such attacks would be necessary and proportionate and therefore legally justifiable. Such an intervention would be directed exclusively to averting a humanitarian catastrophe, and the minimum judged necessary for that purpose.

The preceding note, while falling short of a full legal justification, is a big step in the right direction.

The Trenchant Observer

For previous articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria Page, or click here.

Libya — “All necessary measures”

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011
  • Update on Military Operations in Libya Juan Miguel Muñoz of El País (Madrid) continues to provide perhaps the best reporting on what is actually going on in Libya on the ground. His reports in Spanish may be translated using the Google translate button at the bottom of this page.


    By U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 (17 March 2011), the Security Council

    4. Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures…to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi…

    Is Qadaffi a legitimate military target?

    Muammar Qaddafi continues to head and direct a command structure which, implementing his orders, employs sharpshooters to assassinate innocent civilians in cities like Misurata which have been under siege, to conduct artillery and other heavy weapons strikes against civilian areas of cities such as Misurata, and to detain and torture and assassinate other individuals in violation of the laws of war.

    Looking back over the last several weeks, it seems clear that this command structure, and the man who leads it, have systematically ordered and implemented a strategy of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in order to retain power.

    A key question which has not been answered by the Allies is:

    On what rationale is Qaddafi, the commander of this military and state apparatus that is killing civilians and committing war crimes, not considered to be a legitimate military target in order to protect the civilian population of Libya?

    Of course, even if he is a legitimate military target, there may be other practical and political considerations that militate against attacking him directly.

    Still, the clarification of the fact that Qaddafi is a legitimate military target could help concentrate his mind on departure options.

    President Obama, NATO, and Comand of Military Operations by Consensus

    The bravery of French, U.K. and U.S. pilots in establishing a no-fly zone over Libya and attacking Qadaffi’s military forces on the ground turned back the tide of Qaddafi’s advance on Benghazi, saving hundreds if not thousands of lives.

    Securing the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1973 was the product of brilliant diplomacy by the U.S. and other nations. But there are disturbing signs of growing confusion between the concepts of coalition-building to produce Security Council authorization, and the use of coalition-building to implement its terms by the use of military force.

    The decision to hand over the control of military operations to NATO, at a very early date in this military campaign, has resulted in a cessation of allied air strikes against Qaddafi’s mechanized forces, superior firepower, and trained military units.

    By asking NATO to command military operations and taking a backseat role in the leadership of NATO, Obama and the U.S. have in effect chosen to weaken the use of military force against Qaddafi, while simultaneously introducing a cause of dissension within NATO that could cause grievous damage to the alliance.

    NATO’s Secretary General, for example, now takes a position contrary to that of the U.S. with regard to arming the rebels in Libya. Such action is clearly permitted by Resolution 1973. Here we see a political difference regarding the resolution’s implementation.

    NATO takes decisions by consensus. That constrains NATO’s freedom of action in the military sphere by giving great influence to its weakest links on the Libyan question, Germany and Turkey.

    Moreover, by giving operational command to NATO, the U.S. has further constrained the freedom of action of France, the U.K. and the U.S. itself to take independent military action, as authorized by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.

    To what effect?

    Without access to information on the government’s inner deliberations and consultations with allies, one can pose the obvious questions but not, not immediately at least, provide definitive answers to them.

    The questions include:

    1. Do the U.S., its allies and NATO believe that, by halting close ground support by airstrikes against Qaddafi’s military as it proceeds to retake the cities on the road to Benghazi, they are strengthening the prospects for divisions within the Libyan military that could bring Qaddafi down? If so, is this belief based on a reasonable assessment of the facts?

    2. Can the battle be fought and won inside Qaddafi’s head or those of his inner circle, while allowing his military to regain momentum in its push to retake the cities in the east, and perhaps even Benghazi?

    3. Does the halt in close air support help the prospects for defections from Qaddafi’s regime? Is the talk of arming the civilian opposition an effective substitute for close ground support against Qaddafi’s armies?

    The Observer is reminded of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous dictum that if you strike at a king, you must strike to kill. In this case, that would mean at a minimum that Qaddafi departs Libya and takes up residence in a country that would guarantee that he could not direct international terrorist strikes from his new home.

    Obama’s Approach to International Affairs

    Obama’s approach to international affairs, including the use of force, even when authorized by a U.N. Security Council resolution, appears to be fundamentally intellectual and political in nature. The task is an intellectual challenge, resolved by brilliant analysis and decision on a policy. Implementation is left to others, as when the president traveled to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador on the eve of the military strikes against Libya.

    It seems to be an intellectual approach where the major action points are viewed as policy decisions, not winning territory on the ground in an armed conflict, though that is to be sure the hoped-for outcome. The president’s role is to focus on the policy decisions. And then he disengages and takes up another intellectual challenge.

    One recalls that between his apeech on Afghanistan at West Point on December 1, 2009 and his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo on December 10, 2009, the president turned his atention to an economic and jobs summit midway through this period, and then had to pull an all-nighter on Air Force One to try to pull his Nobel Prize Speech together.

    When one looks hard at the decisions he has made, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the president’s primary objective is “to manage” international conflicts and affairs, as domestic affairs, in a manner that will enable him to be reelected in 2012.

    Reelection is probably a goal of almost all politicians. Certainly there are exceptions. Winston Churchill comes to mind. But with Presdent Obama, it appears to be the primary and overriding goal.

    It is perhaps the prism through which the president’s actions can best be understood. In this sense, Obama’s current policy towards Libya seems to be succeeding.

    This hypothesis helps us understand, for example, why the president tolerates Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ repeated statements at odds with administration policy, or aimed at publicly pressuring the president in a manner that limits his freedom of action.

    If apparently successful in electoral terms, at least so far, the only things missing from the president’s approach are strategy, and attention to the details of implementation and the results they are producing, such as the advance of Qaddafi’s forces on the ground, once again, toward Benghazi.

    The Trenchant Observer

    Comments are invited

  • Current military actions in Libya

    Saturday, March 26th, 2011

    In U.S. newspapers, it is difficult to get a sense of what is actually going on in Libya on the ground. One of the best accounts in the last hours has been publshed in El País, in Madrid, in Spanish. The reader can use the Google Translator at the bottom of this page to see a version in English, or another language.

    See Juan Miguel Muñoz / Agencias, “Los rebeldes libios retoman la ciudad estratégica de Ajdabiya,” El País. 26 de marzo de 2011.

    See also Thierry Portes, “À l’Est, la bataille d’Ajdabiya s’intensifie,” Le Figaro, le 25 mars, 2011; and

    Imed Lamloum (AFP), “Explosions rock military site in Libyan capital,”, March 26, 2011.

    The Trenchant Observer