West should not rush into action
It is true that the United Nations Security Council is not a reliable global policeman. It may be slow to take action, or paralysed because of disagreement between members.
But do we want the United States or NATO or “alliances of willing states” as global policemen either? Unlike Mr George Bush in 2003, the Obama administration is not trigger-happy and contemptuous of the UN and the rules of its charter, which allow the use of armed force only in self-defence or with an authorisation from the Security Council.
Yet, Mr Obama, like Mr Bush and Mr Tony Blair, seems ready to ignore the council and order armed strikes on Syria with political support from only the United Kingdom, France and some others.
Such action could not be “in self-defence” or “retaliation”, as the US, the UK and France have not been attacked. To punish the Assad government for using chemical weapons would be the action of self-appointed global policemen — action that, in my view, would be very unwise.
While much evidence points to the guilt of the Assad regime, would not due process require that judgment and consideration of action take place in the Security Council and await the report of the inspectors that the UN has sent to Syria?
We may agree with US Secretary of State John Kerry that the use of gas is a “moral obscenity”, but would we not feel that “a measured and proportionate punishment”, like striking at some missile sites or helicopter bases, is like telling the regime that “you can go on with your war but do stay away from the chemical weapons”?
It is hard to avoid the impression that the political and military developments now in overdrive stem partly from pressure exerted by the rebel side to trigger an American military intervention — by trying to hold President Barack Obama to an earlier warning to Mr Bashar Al Assad that a use of chemical weapons would alter his calculation.
Equally, if not more important, may be a need felt by the Obama administration to avoid criticism for being hesitant and passive — and appearing like a paper tiger to countries such as Iran.
In 2003, the US and the UK and an alliance of “friendly states” invaded Iraq without the authorisation of the Security Council. A strong body of world opinion felt that this constituted a violation of the UN Charter.