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Answers to Arguments Against Striking Syria

September 2, 2013
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A2: War Violent, War Bad, War Immoral

Strikes in other situations have produced peace and saved lives, inaction immoral

Nicholas Kristof, 9-5, 13, “The Right Question on Syria,” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/05/opinion/kristof-the-right-questions-on-syria.html?_r=0

Critics of American military action in Syria are right to point out all the risks and uncertainties of missile strikes, and they have American public opinion on their side.

But for those of you who oppose cruise missile strikes, what alternative do you favor?

It’s all very well to urge the United Nations and Arab League to do more, but that means that Syrians will continue to be killed at a rate of 5,000 every month. Involving the International Criminal Court sounds wonderful but would make it more difficult to hammer out a peace deal in which President Bashar al-Assad steps down. So what do you propose other than that we wag our fingers as a government uses chemical weapons on its own people?

So far, we’ve tried peaceful acquiescence, and it hasn’t worked very well. The longer the war drags on in Syria, the more Al Qaeda elements gain strength, the more Lebanon and Jordan are destabilized, and the more people die. It’s admirable to insist on purely peaceful interventions, but let’s acknowledge that the likely upshot is that we sit by as perhaps another 60,000 Syrians are killed over the next year.

A decade ago, I was aghast that so many liberals were backing the Iraq war. Today, I’m dismayed that so many liberals, disillusioned by Iraq, seem willing to let an average of 165 Syrians be killed daily rather than contemplate missile strikes that just might, at the margins, make a modest difference.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the number of dead in the civil war, is exasperated at Western doves who think they are taking a moral stance.

“Where have these people been the past two years,” the organization asks on its Web site. “What is emerging in the United States and United Kingdom now is a movement that is anti-war in form but pro-war in essence.”

In other words, how is being “pro-peace” in this case much different in effect from being “pro-Assad” and resigning oneself to the continued slaughter of civilians?

To me, the central question isn’t, “What are the risks of cruise missile strikes on Syria?” I grant that those risks are considerable, from errant missiles to Hezbollah retaliation. It’s this: “Are the risks greater if we launch missiles, or if we continue to sit on our hands?”

Let’s be humble enough to acknowledge that we can’t be sure of the answer and that Syria will be bloody whatever we do. We Americans are often so self-absorbed as to think that what happens in Syria depends on us; in fact, it overwhelmingly depends on Syrians.

Yet on balance, while I applaud the general reluctance to reach for the military toolbox, it seems to me that, in this case, the humanitarian and strategic risks of inaction are greater. We’re on a trajectory that leads to accelerating casualties, increasing regional instability, growing strength of Al Qaeda forces, and more chemical weapons usage.

Will a few days of cruise missile strikes make a difference? I received a mass e-mail from a women’s group I admire, V-Day, calling on people to oppose military intervention because “such an action would simply bring about more violence and suffering. … Experience shows us that military interventions harm innocent women, men and children.”

Really? Sure, sometimes they do, as in Iraq. But in both Bosnia and Kosovo, military intervention saved lives. The same was true in Mali and Sierra Leone. The truth is that there’s no glib or simple lesson from the past. We need to struggle, case by case, for an approach that fits each situation.

In Syria, it seems to me that cruise missile strikes might make a modest difference, by deterring further deployment of chemical weapons. Sarin nerve gas is of such limited usefulness to the Syrian army that it has taken two years to use it in a major way, and it’s plausible that we can deter Syria’s generals from employing it again if the price is high.

The Syrian government has also lately had the upper hand in fighting, and airstrikes might make it more willing to negotiate toward a peace deal to end the war. I wouldn’t bet on it, but, in Bosnia, airstrikes helped lead to the Dayton peace accord.

Missile strikes on Assad’s military airports might also degrade his ability to slaughter civilians. With fewer fighter aircraft, he may be less able to drop a napalm-like substance on a school, as his forces apparently did in Aleppo last month.

A brave BBC television crew filmed the burn victims, with clothes burned and skin peeling off their bodies, and interviewed an outraged witness who asked those opposed to military action: “You are calling for peace. What kind of peace are you calling for? Don’t you see this?”

Moral obligation to act against chemical weapons use

Andrew Coyne, 9-6, 13 “Why the West Must Intervene in Syria,” http://o.canada.com/2013/09/06/why-the-west-must-intervene-in-syria/

Sometimes it helps to boil an issue down to its essence. It is endlessly fascinating, for example, to discuss whether the Parti Quebecois ban on the wearing of religious symbols in the public service has its roots in the laicite  of post-revolutionary France, but in the end it still amounts to a hiring bar on religious minorities.

So, on a much more serious level, to Syria. One reads the many, many elegant explanations of why the West cannot, must not, need not intervene in Syria — it would be hypocritical, in view of past failures; the distinction between chemical and conventional weapons is an arbitrary one; the credibility of the United States is not on the line (and anyway, credibility is overrated); it is not worth spilling blood in the service of abstractions like the Responsibility to Protect; the rebels are no better than the Assad regime; the UN Security Council has not approved military action; and that old favourite, what’s our end game? — and in none of them will you find a frank acknowledgment of what in fact they are arguing: that we should stand by and do nothing while tens of thousands of civilians are slaughtered; that we should do nothing, even when the means of slaughter escalates to chemical weapons.

There isn’t any way to put a fig leaf on this. There isn’t any “peace process” to which one might appeal for all sides to return. Nor is “arming the rebels” an alternative, unless it is proposed we arm them with chemical weapons, too (and anyway, it conflicts with the “rebels are just as bad” objection). A refusal to intervene at this point amounts, objectively, to ratifying the indiscriminate killing of civiliansnot only in the past, or on a limited scale, but in the much worse massacres to come. At best, it is a policy of the rueful wringing of hands.

It would be interesting to know how absolute this position is. Much mockery has been made of U.S. President Barack Obama’s “red line,” as if it were mere macho posturing. Very well: do his critics have a line? If 100,000 dead are not sufficient numbers to warrant military intervention, would a million be? If chemical weapons are not quite horrific enough, how about biological? Nuclear? If we are untroubled by the precedents being set this time, what about the next? Or the next? Or the one after that? Or does the doctrine of non-intervention apply in all cases, at least where neither we nor our allies are directly engaged?

I’ll declare my own callousness: the deaths of dozens would not be sufficient, in my view, for the world to step in. But somewhere between a skirmish and a genocide, I’d suggest, the balance tips in intervention’s favour. Or if that seems too vague, then yes, chemical weapons will do.

If chemical weapons are no different than conventional, why did Syrian President Bashar Assad use them? Or rather, why did he keep them in reserve at first, then try them out on a smaller scale, then escalate their use, in places where the resistance had proved particularly entrenched? Because they work where conventional weapons do not; because, like other “weapons of mass destruction,” they are the ultimate weapon — because of the high ratio of lethal capacity to resources at risk, because of their portability, their undetectability, their sheer indiscrimination, especially when used against civilians.

That is why they have been banned, by one treaty or another, since the Geneva Protocol in 1925. Were its signatories naive about war — having suffered all the horrors that conventional weapons could inflict in the First World War? Is it unrealistic to hold today’s combatants to a line that, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper has reminded us, even Hitler and Tojo did not cross?

Or if we’re not prepared to draw such lines on behalf of others, then let’s do so for ourselves. Conventional weapons, of the kind responsible for the bulk of the deaths in Syria, generally require a military force of some kind to deliver them. Whereas chemical weapons can be delivered by one nut on the subway. Non-proliferation is as desirable with regard to chemical weapons as with nuclear, but non-use is an absolute that must be enforced.

Intervention has potential risks of its own, some of them terrible. But to take the “do nothing” position in response depends upon two further assumptions. One: that in the absence of intervention, things stay essentially as they are — that there are not equal or worse consequences that flow from non-intervention. Do we suppose that, if Assad is permitted to use them this time, he will not do so again? Or that if he succeeds in defeating the rebels with them, others in similar situations will not do likewise?

And two: that we are morally implicated by the consequences of our actions, but are absolved of the consequences of inaction — that there are only sins of commission and not of omission. I’m afraid that’s not the world we live in, or should want to.

Peace isn’t simply the absence of war. We just act to create something positive

Isaac Inkeles, 9-6, 13, Rethinking War and Peace in Syria,”

Isaac Inkeles is a regular contributor to the Harvard International Review Blog, where he covers a myriad of topics…

What, with this in mind, seems to be the more peaceful course of action: either do nothing knowing that the current situation will continue, or fighting in the hope that you can affect a positive change? Understanding the West’s overwhelming military superiority and that if it so chooses it could cripple at least Syria’s air force and navy, is there any doubt that we could end the conflict if we so desired and, importantly, were committed to the mission.

Pope Francis is, on behalf of the Vatican, reentering the global stage. Francis penned a letter to the leaders of the G-20 in Russia urging them to abstain from entering or attacking Syria. Calling any attack on Syria “futile,” Francis articulated traditional moral foreign policy: war is bad and should be avoided, and peace is good and should be encouraged, and thus it is incumbent upon leaders to always – or almost always – shun the former and embrace the latter. Surely, war is bad and peace is good. But what is meant by “war” and by “peace”? The terms carry meaning beyond simply “fighting” and “absence of fighting,” and when they are properly understood, a new moral paradigm emerges. Fighting and diplomacy are tools nations use to achieve ends, not ends themselves. This is truer than ever when we are concerned with morality. In Syria, therefore, the moral option is not to advocate, as the Pope meant the words, peace, but rather, to advocate war.

When someone calls for peace, they are asking for a lot more than just no war. Peace, rather than being something negative – no war – is marked by positive evidence: conditions that allow for human flourishing such as political and religious freedom, economic and social stability, etc. Just because nations are not warring does not mean there is real peace. Sure, there is peace between Syria and the United States, but there is not peace in an unqualified sense. So long as innocents live under a real threat of violence, and the murderers of over one hundred thousand remain unpunished, there is no peace.

Similarly, if we think of war as any prolonged disturbance of peace, there is already war. Again, perhaps one can say that the war is contained, that it exists only within Syria, but one cannot deny that there is war. And for those of us who desire a moral foreign policy, it is the severity and depravity of the war, not its geographical size or borders, that matter.

Our conscience dictates that we work to reverse the status of war in Syria and reinstitute peace. Whatever does so most efficiently and protects the most civilians is the most moral, and the most peaceful, foreign policy. That is why I do not think it is oxymoronic to say we should be fighting for peace in Syria. Allowing the slaughter of civilians by the thousands is not peaceful; inaction is a form of action because we choose to do nothing, and therefore we cannot soothe ourselves be saying we remained uninvolved. 

 

A2: Weak Strikes Undermine US Credibility

A weak strike is better for US credibility than a vote against a strike

Frederick W. Kagan, 9-6, 13, is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and director of its Critical Threats Project, Washington Post, “A Weak Strike is Better than No Strike,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/on-syria-a-weak-strike-is-better-than-none/2013/09/06/6d2c0ed4-166f-11e3-804b-d3a1a3a18f2c_print.html

 

The idea is gaining ground in some circles that an excessively limited strike against Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program would undermine U.S. credibility and interests more than would a decision not to strike. On its face, this argument is appealing: After all the buildup and expressions of moral indignation, supporters of intervention would, of course, feel let down by a weak attack. Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers would no doubt declare that they have once again defeated the great superpower. And the media may fill with questions about the United States’ strength and determination.

But even a weak strike is more in line with U.S. interests than a refusal to strike or, worse, congressional action blocking any attack. Not just U.S. credibility but also the will of the Syrian opposition is at stake.

Especially after this lengthy buildup and public debate, Syrian rebels and their supporters would view a U.S. failure to act as abandonment of their cause. In particular, the moderate Syrian opposition, which relies on support from the United States and its allies, would be devastated. These people are the majority of the opposition. The al-Qaeda franchises that have no expectation of U.S. aid and other terrorists are estimated to comprise 15 percent to 20 percent of Syria’s opposition fighters. So at this moment, inaction is likely to strengthen Assad, Iran, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda — and weaken the lone group whose interests coincide with America’s at all.

A2: Strikes Militarizes the Conflict and Increases Iran’s Influence

Flood of arms and growing Iranian influence now

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), August 23, 2013, “US Options in Syria: Obama’s Delays and the Demsey Warnings, http://csis.org/publication/us-options-syria-obamas-delays-and-dempsey-warnings

Inaction, however, is also a form of decision-making, and exaggerating costs and risks has consequences. The U.S. is already watching arms flood into the region, Iranian influence grow, and a major rise in Sunni and Shi’ite/Alawite extremism. Assad is and will remain hostile to the U.S. and be dependent on Iran.  Doing nothing does not solve problems. Watching the situation deteriorate does not save money if the U.S. must become committed later at more cost and under far worse circumstances

A2: US Is not the World’s Policeman

No alternative to the US being the world’s policeman in this instance

Eugene Robinson, 8-26, 13, “The U.S. Must Act Against Assad,” Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/eugene-robinson-assad-must-be-punished/2013/08/26/3aaceb94-0e8c-11e3-bdf6-e4fc677d94a1_story.html

This is a case in which somebody has to be the world’s policeman. Given Russia’s alliance with Assad’s regime and China’s long-standing policy of indifference, the U.N. Security Council is almost sure to do nothing. France and Britain may step forward, as happened in Libya, but the essential military firepower and coordination will again be provided by the United States.

A2: Assad Will Attack US Allies

Assad won’t risk escalation, he’ll absorb the hit

Liz Sly, 8-31, 13, “Syrians Opposed to Assad Say Obama’s Decision Will Embolden his regime,” Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/un-inspectors-leave-syria-as-us-pushes-forward-with-plans-for-military-action/2013/08/31/9d79d88a-121b-11e3-a2b3-5e107edf9897_story.html?hpid=z2

Many Western experts think it is unlikely Assad would risk incurring even greater U.S. wrath by retaliating directly against Israel or America’s other regional allies, Jordan and Turkey, which also border Syria. Unless the strikes substantially threatened Assad’s survival, Syria would likely absorb the hit, said Mohammed Obeid, a political analyst in Beirut who is close to the Syrian government.

A2: Syria Will Strike Israel

Israel deters a Syrian retaliatory strike and a US strike will deter Assad

Dan Schueftan is the director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa in Israel, and is a visiting professor at Georgetown University, 8-26, 13, New York Times, “A Measured, Calculated Action Could Work, http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/08/26/is-an-attack-on-syria-justified/a-measured-calculated-action-could-work

But a measured punitive action — with open options of further escalation if Assad persists in the present course — could be strategically invaluable. The first option — a major attack — could easily shoulder the United States with the responsibility for a host of unforeseen consequences, ranging from disintegration to Jihadi takeover, spilling over to Israel and the region. The second option — a show with no substance — would dramatically reinforce the image of American impotence and incompetence, convincing its regional allies that they cannot trust Obama to step in even when push comes to shove. The third, particularly if followed by credible threats of escalation, has a good chance of deterring Assad without endangering Israel.

Most analysts seem to overstate the danger of a major Syrian military response against Israel and grossly underestimate the effect of Israel’s potential actions against Iran. Major war against Israel is highly unlikely, because Israel can easily destroy Assad’s advanced military instruments. Many Israelis would like to see American strategic wisdom and resolve deepen in the Middle East, because it has been anything but encouraging lately.

A2: Strike Causes War with Russia

Russia didn’t say it would defend Assad

Liz Sly, 8-31, 13, “Syrians Opposed to Assad Say Obama’s Decision Will Embolden his regime,” Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/un-inspectors-leave-syria-as-us-pushes-forward-with-plans-for-military-action/2013/08/31/9d79d88a-121b-11e3-a2b3-5e107edf9897_story.html?hpid=z2

Iran issued its toughest warning yet against the threatened strikes, stating that the fallout of any attack on its close ally would be felt “beyond Syria’s borders.” Russia also cautioned Obama against embarking on military action, although it stopped short of pledging to go to the defense of the Syrian regime.

Putin moderating

Damien McElroy, 9-4, 13 “Vladimir Putin Hints at Softer Line,” Daily Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/vladimir-putin/10286557/Vladimir-Putin-hints-at-softer-line-on-Syria-as-summit-looms.html

Mr Putin has outlined a notably more accomodating world view to televison interviewers as he prepared to meet the leaders of the G20 group against the sparkling backdrop of St Petersburg icy blue canals.

in an apparent softening of his approach to the issue of the day, Mr Putin said he was not against an internationally-backed intervention over the use of chemical weapons on the Damascus battlefield.

Russia’s support for Syria is collapsing

David Jackson, 9-4, USA Today, “Putin: I can Work with Obama,” http://www.usatoday.com/story/theoval/2013/09/04/obama-putin-russia-g-20/2761369/

Vladimir Putin says his differences with President Obama aren’t personal, or permanent.

“President Obama hasn’t been elected by the American people in order to be pleasant to Russia,” Putin told the Associated Press. “And your humble servant hasn’t been elected by the people of Russia to be pleasant to someone either.”

He added: “We work, we argue about some issues. We are human. Sometimes one of us gets vexed. But I would like to repeat once again that global mutual interests form a good basis for finding a joint solution to our problems.”

That could include Syria, Putin said in the interview with AP and Russia’s state Channel 1.

While Putin warned the United States and the West against one-sided military action against Syria, he said Russia “doesn’t exclude” supporting strikes if it can be proven that Bashar Assad’s government used chemical weapons against its people.

Reports the Associated Press:

” … Putin said Moscow has provided some components of the S-300 air defense missile system to Syria but has frozen further shipments. He suggested that Russia may sell the potent missile systems elsewhere if Western nations attack Syria without U.N. Security Council backing.

A2: US Will Get Drawn In to a Large Civil War

Missile strikes avoid the US getting drawn in

Richard N. Haass, 8-22, President, Council on Foreign Relations, America Must Respond to the Atrocities in Syria, http://www.cfr.org/syria/america-must-respond-atrocities-syria/p31268

Indeed, the top military figure in the US, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, argued in a letter to a congressman just this week that the US should largely remain militarily aloof from Syria given the weak and divided nature of the opposition and the poor prospects for military options making an appreciable difference. Implicit in his letter was the view that large-scale military involvement would be a costly strategic distraction of uncertain promise.

Is there a way, then, to balance both the need to respond and the need for restraint? Two initiatives come to mind. The first would be to launch cruise missile strikes against select targets: anything associated with chemical weapons, command and control sites, and airfields used by government forces. The second would be to make good on the promise to supply those opposition forces deemed politically acceptable with significant numbers of anti-air and anti-armour capabilities.

Such a punitive response sends the message that use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated and will be costly for the regime. It does not preclude additional responses if warranted. But a limited action of this sort avoids enmeshing the US or any other government joining the effort in open-ended involvement in Syria’s civil war.

Such action is likely to be too much for some and not enough for others; be that as it may, it offers a way to reinforce critical norms without getting drawn into a costly and uncertain war.

A2: Strike Violates International Law

Strike may technically violate previous understandings of international law, but it is justified as part of the Responsibility to Protect, which supports evolving international norms

Ian Hurd, associate professor of political science at Northwestern, is the author of “After Anarchy: Legitimacy and Power in the United Nations Security Council.”, 8-27, 13, New York Times, “Bomb Syria, Even if It’s Illegal,” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/28/opinion/bomb-syria-even-if-it-is-illegal.html?_r=0

THE latest atrocities in the Syrian civil war, which has killed more than 100,000 people, demand an urgent response to deter further massacres and to punish President Bashar al-Assad. But there is widespread confusion over the legal basis for the use of force in these terrible circumstances. As a legal matter, the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons does not automatically justify armed intervention by the United States.

There are moral reasons for disregarding the law, and I believe the Obama administration should intervene in Syria. But it should not pretend that there is a legal justification in existing law. Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to do just that on Monday, when he said of the use of chemical weapons, “This international norm cannot be violated without consequences.” His use of the word “norm,” instead of “law,” is telling.

Syria is a party to neither the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972 nor the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, and even if it were, the treaties rely on the United Nations Security Council to enforce them — a major flaw. Syria is a party to the Geneva Protocol, a 1925 treaty that bans the use of toxic gases in wars. But this treaty was designed after World War I with international war in mind, not internal conflicts.

What about the claim that, treaties aside, chemical weapons are inherently prohibited? While some acts — genocide, slavery and piracy — are considered unlawful regardless of treaties, chemical weapons are not yet in this category. As many as 10 countries have stocks of chemical weapons today, with the largest held by Russia and by the United States. Both countries are slowly destroying their stockpiles, but missed what was supposed to be a final deadline last year for doing so.

There is no doubt that Mr. Assad’s government has violated humanitarian principles throughout the two-year-old war, including the prohibition on the indiscriminate killing of civilians, even in non-international conflicts, set out in 1949 in the Geneva Conventions. But the conventions also don’t mean much unless the Security Council agrees to act. It is an indictment of the current state of international law that there is no universally recognized basis to intervene.

Arguably, the key legal obligation of nations in the post-1945 world is adherence to the United Nations Charter. It demands that states refrain “from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” The use of force is permitted when authorized by the Security Council or for self-defense (and countries like Jordan and Turkey are considering this route to justify joining an anti-Assad coalition) — but not purely on humanitarian grounds.

Of course ethics, not only laws, should guide policy decisions. Since the Rwandan genocide and the Balkan mass killings of the 1990s, a movement has emerged in support of adding humanitarian intervention as a third category of lawful war, under the concept of the “responsibility to protect.It is widely accepted by the United Nations and most governments. It is not, however, in the charter, and it lacks the force of law.

This was evident in Kosovo in 1999, when NATO bombed Yugoslavia without United Nations authorization. Then, as now, Russia and China were unwilling to grant Security Council approval. America and its allies went ahead with what the Independent International Commission on Kosovo later called an “illegal but legitimate” use of force. In that case, NATO accepted implicitly that its act was illegal. It defended it in moral and political language rather than legal terms.

Norms and institutions of international criminal law, including 11 years of experience with the International Criminal Court, have strengthened since then. Special tribunals for Cambodia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia reflect a growing consensus that perpetrators of atrocities should be punished.

But if the White House takes international law seriously — as the State Department does — it cannot try to have it both ways. It must either argue that an “illegal but legitimate” intervention is better than doing nothing, or assert that international law has changed — strategies that I call “constructive noncompliance.” In the case of Syria, I vote for the latter.

Since Russia and China won’t help, Mr. Obama and allied leaders should declare that international law has evolved and that they don’t need Security Council approval to intervene in Syria.

This would be popular in many quarters, and I believe it’s the right thing to do. But if the American government accepts that the rule of law is the foundation of civilized society, it must be clear that this represents a new legal path.

International law permits action to stop massive human rights abuse even if the Security Council says no

Jennifer Trahan, 8-31, 13,  is an Associate Clinical Professor, NYU Center for Global Affairs, chair of the American Branch of the International Law Association International Criminal Court Committee, and member of the American Bar Association 2010 ICC Task Force, “The Legality of a US Strike on Syria,” http://opiniojuris.org/2013/08/31/syria-insta-symposium-jennifer-trahan-legality-u-s-strike-syria/

As the U.S. prepares, with or without coalition partners, for a potential military strike against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria , it is important to consider the legality of such a strike as a matter of domestic and international law.  At the international level, with a U.N. Security Council resolution, such action would be clearly legal.  Without such a resolution, the law is in somewhat of a grey area, but the legality is supportable.

The “responsibility to protect” doctrine, developed in recent years, makes clear that the international community does have a responsibility to protect a people in peril from grave atrocity crimes.  Recent formulations of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine suggest that large scale war crimes and/or crimes against humanity — acknowledge to have occurred in Syria — are such atrocity crimes.

While the clearest path to utilizing forceful intervention under the “responsibility to protect” framework is through Security Council authorization (as happened in the case of Libya ), tragedies such as genocides in Rwandan and Darfur dramatically pose the question:  what should the world do when the votes are not there at the Security Council level?  Should one simply allow massive humanitarian tragedies to be inflicted by a regime on its own people absent a Security Council resolution?  Does one really need to wait for recalcitrant China and Russia (permanent members of the Security Council possessing veto power) to do the right thing?

A legitimate argument exists that even when the Security Council does not authorize humanitarian intervention, it is arguably still permissible.  As formulated by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) in 2001, while the decision to intervene should be made by the Security Council, if the Council “fails to discharge its responsibility to protect in conscience-shocking situations crying out for action, concerned states may not rule out other means to meet the gravity and urgency of that situation.”

Clearly, intervention through a coalition of partners, such as a NATO coalition (as occurred with Kosovo) lends greater legitimacy (although even that is technically not sufficient under a strict reading of the U.N. Charter).  But when a broad coalition or regional actor is unavailable, does that mean that countries must stand by and let mass atrocities, such as the use of chemical weapons (a necessarily indiscriminate weapon), occur?  The answer is arguably no.

While the U.N. Charter only clearly permits intervention in two scenarios:  U.N. Security Council authorized action and article 51 individual or collective self-defense, the Charter also contains a clear commitment to human rights.  Committing mass atrocity crimes is about the clearest violation of human rights that one can get.  Thus, while humanitarian intervention is not clearly legal under the U.N. Charter, it is not clearly illegal either.  We are in a grey area where the demands of morality and those of international law are not yet fully harmonized in a clear manner.  Should thousands more die while we wait for international law (which can take decades to form) to catch up to where it should be?

We might have not reached this point had Assad regime members (as well as others actors in Syria ) felt much sooner that the international community was scrutinizing their actions.  This could have happened through a Security Council referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court.  Unfortunately, that has not happened, and any chance to deter crimes through a referral has been squandered.

While the U.S. contemplates a strike, important criteria for consideration include those formulated by the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.  Namely, last resort:  “Has every non-military option for meeting the threat in question been explored . . . ?”  Proportional means:  “Are the scale, duration and intensity of the proposed military action the minimum necessary to meet the threat in question”? Balance of consequences:  “Is there a reasonable chance of the military action being successful in meeting the threat in question, with the consequences of action not likely to be worse than the consequences of inaction?”

The Administration is facing a difficult choice as the U.S. contemplates moving ahead, hopefully along with coalition partners such as France .  Yet, a flexible reading of international law does not demand that countries stand impotent in the face of over 100,000 fatalities and the use of chemical weapons.

A2: Violates UN Norm Against Intervention

UN norm against intervention is a joke

Erik Voeten, 9-4, 13, Wall Street Pit, September 4, “Is UN Approval on Syria Imperative?” http://wallstreetpit.com/101024-is-un-approval-on-syria-imperative/

Hathaway and Shapiro argue that the UN system deserves a lot of credit for preserving a norm that force is not a legitimate response to violations of legal rights:

For all its obvious failings, the United Nations system has made for a more peaceful world than the one that preceded it. No leader may claim the right to collect debts or gain thrones by going to war. States may fracture into smaller pieces, but they don’t get conquered. Gunboat diplomacy is also out of the question.

It is accurate that, as Martha Finnemore put it, the purpose of military interventions has changed over the course of history. It is much less clear how much of this is due to the UN system. Hathaway and Shapiro counter some of the obvious criticisms to that claim:

Others say it is legalistic, even naïve, to rely on the United Nations Charter, which has been breached countless times. What is one more, especially when the alternative is the slaughter of innocents? But all of these breaches add up — and each one makes it harder to hold others to the rules. If we follow Kosovo and Iraq with Syria, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to stop others from a similar use of force down the line.

You could add to this list of breaches any Soviet or U.S. intervention during the Cold War with the exception of the Korean war, which was authorized when the Soviet Union was temporarily absent from the Council in protest to the exclusion of the People’s Republic of China from the Security Council (Taiwan held the China seat at that time). As I have argued elsewhere (ungated, gated), the Security Council only started playing something that looked like its envisioned role after the relatively successful collaboration in the first Persian Gulf War. There is no evidence, for instance, that the U.S. even thought about seeking UN authorization for its intervention in Panama in 1989. The UN General Assembly voted that this intervention constituted a “flagrant violation of international law” but there is no indication that this mattered. President Ronald Reagan famously quipped about a similar UN vote on the U.S. intervention in Grenada that it “didn’t upset my breakfast at all.”

The point is not that it was right for the U.S. to circumvent the UN or to engage in the interventions that it did but that the UN cannot plausibly take credit for changing norms of intervention during the first 45 years of its existence. The UN was thoroughly dysfunctional in the area of conflict management. The end of the Cold War and the Gulf War experience made the UN more active. States saw domestic or international political benefits from asking for Security Council approval. Yet, there is no record of the UN actively restricting states from using force, let alone the United States. The U.S. either forged UN approval by threatening to go it alone or it went ahead without approval. It is not clear how avoiding the UN on Syria adds much information that should lead to substantial changes in beliefs about who will follow what rules.

I really wished there were a functional set of legal norms and institutions that could regulate the use of force. There are some norms that are obeyed and enforced quite well, such as the norm of territorial integrity. But the Charter system is dysfunctional as a legal system. Aside from the obvious problems with having five permanent veto powers that can block any collective action, the self-defense exception is prone to opportunism. Ever wonder, for instance, how the U.S. justifies its drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere? Well, we have declared a war on terror, which make these strikes acts of self-defense. One can agree or disagree with the validity of this argument but ultimately it matters little because there is no international legal institution with the jurisdiction to evaluate the merit of the claim (let alone enforce a negative finding).

The conventional wisdom is that UN authorizations are desirable but not imperative to U.S. foreign policy makers. This conclusion strikes me as correct. If you can get multilateral approval it is easier to get allies to support your actions and your domestic public may view an action as less costly and more likely to serve a good purpose. Multilateral interventions may also be more likely to succeed. It is worth compromising to get UN approval. In reality, however, the international legal system that regulates uses of force is not sufficiently functional to make UN approval imperative.

A2: War Causes Refugee Crisis

Refugees now

Reuters, 9-4, 13, “Syria exodus to go on if Chemical attack ignored: Turkey,” http://www.dnaindia.com/world/1884418/report-syrian-exodus-to-go-on-if-chemical-attack-ignored-turkey

The Syrian refugee crisis may worsen if there is no international reaction in response to last month’s alleged chemical weapons attack, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Wednesday.

“If the same trend continues… and there is no international reaction to it, we are scared neighbouring countries face much bigger numbers of refugees,” he said at a news conference in Geneva hosted by the UN refugee agency.

The two-year Syrian conflict has escalated, driving 2 million refugees abroad, uprooting 5 million within the country and taking at least 100,000 lives, Davutoglu said.

A2: Just Support the Rebels

Not clear who to support and weapons could end up in the wrong hands

Eugene Robinson, 8-26, 13, “The U.S. Must Act Against Assad,” Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/eugene-robinson-assad-must-be-punished/2013/08/26/3aaceb94-0e8c-11e3-bdf6-e4fc677d94a1_story.html

Anyone who says we should “support the rebels” is making a wish, not a plan. Support them how? The one sure means of achieving regime change — an all-out, Iraq-style invasion — is out of the question. We could give heavy weapons, capable of shooting down Assad’s planes and destroying his tanks, to some of the moderate rebel groups. But this materiel could end up in the hands of Islamist, anti-Western factions that seem a good bet to prevail in a post-Assad Syria.

A2: We Don’t Need Middle East Oil

Even if US oil dependence declines, the US will still be economically dependent on the rest of the world and they are dependent on oil

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), August 23, 2013, “US Options in Syria: Obama’s Delays and the Demsey Warnings, http://csis.org/publication/us-options-syria-obamas-delays-and-dempsey-warnings

Even these aspects of the current level of U.S. strategic dependence on Middle Eastern oil grossly understate the case. The United States is steadily more dependent on Asian, European, and other imports of manufactured goods that are critically dependent on the flow of petroleum exports from the MENA area and particularly from the Gulf. This indirect import dependence on Middle Eastern and Gulf oil is critical to the U.S. economy.

More broadly, the U.S. economy is becoming steadily more dependent on a global economy that is projected to become steadily more dependent on MENA petroleum exports. Finally, the United States will continue to compete for petroleum resources on a global basis. If oil prices rise because of regional instability or an oil interruption in the MENA area, the United States will pay the same prices as all other countries in the world, and the U.S. domestic economy will suffer accordingly.

As for true energy independence—in the narrowest sense of direct dependence on oil imports—no one can predict the future. But, EIA projects that the decline in direct U.S. petroleum import dependence will be limited and scarcely offset U.S. dependence on a stable flow of other imports and the health of the global economy:The net import share of U.S. petroleum and other liquids consumption, which fell from 60 percent in 2005 to 45 percent in 2011, continues to decline in the Reference case, with the net import share falling to 34 percent in 2019 before increasing to 37 percent in 2040… In the High Oil Price case, the net import share falls to an even lower 27 percent in 2040.

A2: Strait of Hormuz Not Important

Strait of Hormuz is the world’s most important oil choke point

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), August 23, 2013, “US Options in Syria: Obama’s Delays and the Demsey Warnings, http://csis.org/publication/us-options-syria-obamas-delays-and-dempsey-warnings

EIA also notes why the security of the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf are critical to the stability of the U.S. and global economy and to U.S. energy prices: “The Strait of Hormuz is the world’s most important oil chokepoint due to its daily oil flow of about 17 million bbl/d in 2011, up from between 15.7-15.9 million bbl/d in 2009-2010. Flows through the Strait in 2011 were roughly 35 percent of all seaborne traded oil, or almost 20 percent of oil traded worldwide.”

More than 85 percent of these crude oil exports went to Asian markets, with Japan, India, South Korea, and China representing the largest destinations. In addition, Qatar exports about 2 trillion cubic feet per year of liquefied natural gas (LNG) through the Strait of Hormuz, accounting for almost 20 percent of global LNG trade. Furthermore, Kuwait imports LNG volumes that travel northward through the Strait of Hormuz. These flows totaled about 100 billion cubic feet per year in 2010, again according to EIA.

A2: This is Iraq/Iraq Intelligence

Everyone agrees Syria has chemical weapons and most agree the government used them

Fred Kaplan, 8-30, 13, “Obama’s Jam in Syria,” Slate, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/war_stories/2013/08/obama_s_syria_crisis_he_and_john_kerry_need_a_better_plan_for_dealing_with.single.html

One thing worth noting: This is not Iraq. Some believed that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction. It is long known that Assad possesses them, and the evidence seems clear that he has used them with very deadly effect.

A2: War Bad, Syrians Will Die

Massive, escalating war now

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), August 23, 2013, “US Options in Syria: Obama’s Delays and the Demsey Warnings, http://csis.org/publication/us-options-syria-obamas-delays-and-dempsey-warnings

Obama reportedly rejected a proposal from Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus to arm rebels in Syria, because he feared getting dragged into the conflict. Now we’re getting dragged in anyway, and everything we worried about has come to pass:

The war has spread and destabilized Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. The hard-line Nusra Front rebels have gained strength, partly because we have spurned moderates. The Syrian Army has won ground. Prolonged war has deepened sectarian hatreds that will make it harder than ever to put Syria back together.

More than 100,000 Syrians have been killed. At the rate the killings have accelerated, Syria could even approach a Rwanda-size death toll by the time Obama steps down.

A2: People Die from Other Weapons

Chemical weapons are indiscriminate, other weapons becoming more discriminate

Josh Levs, 8-28, 13, CNN, “Are Chemical Weapons in Syria Worse than Conventional Attacks?,” http://edition.cnn.com/2013/08/27/world/meast/syria-chemical-weapons-red-line/index.html

Some analysts say it makes sense for the United States and the world to respond differently to chemical attacks.

“They’re so indiscriminate,” says Don Borelli, a former FBI official now with The Soufan Group, a security consultancy. “At least there’s some discrimination in conventional weapons.”

Modern weaponry, while it’s grown more lethal, has also grown more precise,” says Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official now with the American Enterprise Institute. But chemical agents disperse to affect large numbers of people and “can produce horror for a lifetime.”

A2: Assad Will Retaliate with Chemical Weapons

Assad won’t retaliate with chems because he thinks if he doesn’t retaliate with them then the US will allow him to continue to prosecute the civil war

CNN, 9-1, 13, http://m.cnn.com/primary/wk_article?articleId=cnn/2013/09/01/world/meast/syria-weapons-capability&category=cnnd_latest

If the forces involved in any foreign intervention are out of reach, another potential threat is that Syria could make use of what analysts believe is a large stockpile of chemical weapons, or launch terror attacks through its proxies.

Syria is believed to have the capability to deliver chemical weapons agents by a variety of methods, including ballistic missiles, according to IHS Jane’s.

The Syrian military’s apparent chemical weapons attack on a rebel stronghold outside Damascus on August 21 has “demonstrated a propensity to use it against its own,” said Maher.

But he believes al-Assad’s calculation will be “that if he doesn’t use these weapons of mass destruction he will be basically allowed to get on with it,” and so continue the conventional warfare that has already seen more than 100,000 people killed nationwide without concerted international action.

A2: Cyber Retaliation

Syria’s cyberwar capabilities are a joke

CNN, 9-1, 13, “Could Syria Strike Back if the United States, allies, attack?< http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/01/world/meast/syria-weapons-capability/index.html?hpt=hp_t1

Some worry that a U.S.-led strike on Syria would increase the likelihood of cyberattacks.

The Syrian Electronic Army, a group of hackers which backs the al-Assad regime, took The New York Times offline for a period this week in what experts said was a significant escalation of its operations. It had previously targeted other U.S. and European media organizations, including CNN.com.

Helmi Noman, a researcher at the Munk School of Global Affairs’ Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, predicts these hackers will look for more chances to exploit weaknesses in America’s cybergrids.

But U.S. agencies will be looking to counter the Syrian Electronic Army’s efforts, which so far have caused embarrassment rather than major damage.

“It’s clearly a nuisance, but its tactics aren’t all that sophisticated,” a U.S. official told CNN. “And while the regime probably welcomes its efforts, Damascus isn’t necessarily calling the shots.”

A2: Bad to Overthrow Asad

Missile strike won’t topple Assad

Dov Zakheim, 8-29, 13, “Don’t Attack Syria,” served as the undersecretary of defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the U.S. Department of Defense from 2001–2004 and as the deputy undersecretary of defense (planning and resources) from 1985-1987. He also served as DoD’s civilian coordinator for Afghan reconstruction from 2002–2004. He is a member of The National Interest‘s advisory council, http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/dont-attack-syria-8975?page=1

A missile strike against Syrian targets will not result in Bashar Assad’s removal from power any more than the Clinton-era strikes against Afghanistan and Sudan resulted in regime change in those countries

Daniel Byman, 8-31, 13, “Questions and Airstrikes,” http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/08/31/questions_and_airstrikes_syria_obama_congress

Militarily, however, a short campaign will barely make a dent in the Syrian regime’s hold on power or ability to use chemical weapons in the future. The regime has waged a life-and-death civil war for more than two years: 50 or so Tomahawks lobbed from the warships in the Mediterranean, though able to hit targets the rebels cannot, will not fundamentally alter the military balance.

Liz Sly, 8-31, 13, “Syrians Opposed to Assad Say Obama’s Decision Will Embolden his regime,” Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/un-inspectors-leave-syria-as-us-pushes-forward-with-plans-for-military-action/2013/08/31/9d79d88a-121b-11e3-a2b3-5e107edf9897_story.html?hpid=z2

The “limited and narrow” strikes proposed by Obama would, in any case, be unlikely to significantly change the military balance in the country, said Emile Hokayem, a Middle East analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Throughout the week, the Syrian army has been relocating troops and hardware from military bases into civilian buildings and neighborhoods, witnesses say. In the major cities of Homs and Damascus, soldiers have been arriving by the busload at university dormitories, and residents said artillery and tanks had been moved into residential areas.

The kind of strikes that the U.S. has telegraphed way too much in advance would not deal a significant military blow,” Hokayem said. “It’s given them so much time to hide that all they will do is destroy a few buildings.”

A2: Strikes Causes A Wider War

War is spreading now

Frida Ghitis, 8-28, 13 is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review, 8-28, CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/28/opinion/ghitis-syria-intervention/index.html

The United States has largely kept its distance in the Syrian civil war. Two years ago, President Obama declared that President Bashar al-Assad must go. A year ago, he drew his famous red line. But any hope that the situation would somehow resolve itself has only produced the worst possible outcome.

The U.S. should have provided material and logistical help to the more moderate among the rebels early on. Failure to do so resulted in today’s terrible dearth of good choices, in which America wants al-Assad to fall, but the opposition is dominated by extremist jihadists, some of them affiliated with al Qaeda.

In the meantime, the war is bursting beyond Syrian borders. Millions of Syrians have fled their homes, straining resources and occasionally raining fire into Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and even Israel. The war threatens to engulf the region. The Middle East remains the most explosive region of the world. It produces a big portion of oil supplies and it lies at the crossroads of global commerce. This is the last place to allow a wildfire to spread before trying to affect its direction and ultimately extinguish it.

Tom Perriello, 8-30, 13, a former congressman from Virginia who now serves as president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Why a Democrat Who Opposed the Iraq War Supports Intervening in Syria,” The Atlantic, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/08/why-a-democrat-who-opposed-the-iraq-war-backs-intervening-in-syria/279221/

We are at full civil war in Syria. People are already being slaughtered. It is street-to-street warfare. The notion that we are somehow going to stir the pot more is one I disagree with on the merits. Also, while Syria’s neighbors have remained stable, there’s great concern that if this goes on in a protracted way, over a period of years, you could see Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey all moving from stable to more instability.

One of the reasons I came to the conclusion a year and a half ago that we needed to intervene is that both sides appear just strong enough not to lose. That’s what leads to civil war that lasts for years and years, with hundreds of thousands dead, millions displaced, and a cancer that spreads through the region.

A2: Strikes Expensive

Strikes cost two tenths of one percent of the Pentagon budget

William D. Hartung, 9-4, 13 is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, CNN, “Don’t Use Syria to Pump Up Pentagon Spending,” http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/04/opinion/hartung-syria-costs-pentagon-waste/?hpt=us_mid

First, assuming that the limited strikes proposed by President Obama go forward, an independent estimate by former White House budget official Gordon Adams of the Stimson Center put the cost at as little as $100 million. Even if the bombing goes on longer and the cost jumps to ten times this amount ($1 billion), it would be just two-tenths of one per cent of the current Pentagon budget. If they are proposing that the United States go beyond limited strikes to full-scale war, proponents of linking Syria to overall Pentagon spending should say so.

War costs can be offset

William D. Hartung, 9-4, 13 is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, CNN, “Don’t Use Syria to Pump Up Pentagon Spending,” http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/04/opinion/hartung-syria-costs-pentagon-waste/?hpt=us_mid

Second, if Syria is as urgent a national priority as McCain, McKeon and their cohorts claim, there is plenty of waste in the Pentagon budget that could offset the costs of military action. Offsetting war costs in this way would be consistent with the position taken by many conservatives on issues of genuine urgency like Hurricane Sandy, when they called for matching cuts for any money spent on hurricane relief. A limited strike would cost less than the price of an F-35 combat aircraft, which currently costs over $160 million per plane. The F-35 is overpriced, underperforming and unnecessary in light of the most likely challenges to our security in the decades to come. A strike would also cost less than one quarter of the $436 million the Congress is trying to add for M-1 tanks the Pentagon isn’t even asking for. And it would be roughly one per cent of the cost of the $10 billion B-61 bomb program, a costly addition to our nuclear arsenal that will undermine our security, not promote it.

A2: Undermines Readiness

We already have the weapons, and it’s an insignificant cost

John Hudson, 9-4, 13 “Is this the Weakest Argument Against a Syria Attack?,” http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/09/03/is_this_the_weakest_argument_against_a_syria_attack

As the White House seeks Congressional authorization for a strike, it’s facing stiff opposition from a set of lawmakers that typically supports U.S. military intervention in the Middle East. These hawkish lawmakers don’t oppose President Obama’s geopolitical priorities or chemical weapons evidence. They think the Pentagon doesn’t have enough money in its half-trillion dollar budget to carry out a Syria strike given the $500 billion in across-the-board spending cuts facing the military in the next decade.

“We cannot keep asking the military to perform mission after mission with sequestration and military cuts hanging over their heads,” Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Monday. “We have to take care of our own people first.”

Sen. James Inhofe, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, agrees.  “No red line should have been drawn without the strategy and funding to support it,” he said. “We must not forget this president has put us on the brink of a hollowed force. Our troops are stretched thin, the defense budget has been slashed to historic levels.” Another hawkish Republican, Rep. Mike Turner, also cited sequestration as a rationale for voting against a Syria strike.

But analysts who’ve crunched the numbers on a stand-off strike — the type of limited operation the administration says it plans to carry out — say the Pentagon’s base budget — more than $500 billion — is plenty capable of covering the strike without significant sacrifice to military readiness elsewhere. A major reason for that: The money for a Syria strike has already been spent.

For instance, the Tomahawk cruise missiles have already been paid for and of the five Navy destroyers on station, four were already scheduled to be on deployment.The increased marginal cost is really just the cost of fuel to keep one extra destroyer on deployment,” said Chris Harmer, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, who favors intervention in Syria. “From the Navy perspective, this will be as inexpensive an operation in the near term as is possible.”

Gordon Adams, who was in charge of national defense budgeting for the Clinton administration, agrees. “Incremental costs for operations, less than $100 million in my book,” he told The Cable. (The additional missiles would be extra.) “The proxy would be the Clinton strike on Afghan training camps and the Sudan in 1998 – hardly noticed on the budgetary radar screen.”

A2: Strikes Kill Iran Nuclear Negotiations

Limited strikes won’t undermine negotiations with Iran

Yagenah Torbati, 9-4, 13, “U.S. Strike on Syria Could Derail Iran President’s Master Plan,” Reuters, http://in.reuters.com/article/2013/09/04/syria-crisis-iran-usa-idINDEE9830CB20130904

Much depends on the intensity and extent of any U.S. attacks on Syrian government forces and facilities.

A limited attack with minimum impact on the balance of power in Syria is unlikely to impede nuclear diplomacy with Iran,” said Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group.

“Rouhani’s success depends on rescuing Iran’s ailing economy, the realisation of which is nearly impracticable without sanctions relief. If he allows Syria to spoil the nuclear negotiations, his presidency will falter just one month after it began.”

A2: Violates UN Norm Against Intervention

UN norm against intervention is a joke

Erik Voeten, 9-4, 13, Wall Street Pit, September 4, “Is UN Approval on Syria Imperative?” http://wallstreetpit.com/101024-is-un-approval-on-syria-imperative/

Hathaway and Shapiro argue that the UN system deserves a lot of credit for preserving a norm that force is not a legitimate response to violations of legal rights:

For all its obvious failings, the United Nations system has made for a more peaceful world than the one that preceded it. No leader may claim the right to collect debts or gain thrones by going to war. States may fracture into smaller pieces, but they don’t get conquered. Gunboat diplomacy is also out of the question.

It is accurate that, as Martha Finnemore put it, the purpose of military interventions has changed over the course of history. It is much less clear how much of this is due to the UN system. Hathaway and Shapiro counter some of the obvious criticisms to that claim:

Others say it is legalistic, even naïve, to rely on the United Nations Charter, which has been breached countless times. What is one more, especially when the alternative is the slaughter of innocents? But all of these breaches add up — and each one makes it harder to hold others to the rules. If we follow Kosovo and Iraq with Syria, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to stop others from a similar use of force down the line.

You could add to this list of breaches any Soviet or U.S. intervention during the Cold War with the exception of the Korean war, which was authorized when the Soviet Union was temporarily absent from the Council in protest to the exclusion of the People’s Republic of China from the Security Council (Taiwan held the China seat at that time). As I have argued elsewhere (ungated, gated), the Security Council only started playing something that looked like its envisioned role after the relatively successful collaboration in the first Persian Gulf War. There is no evidence, for instance, that the U.S. even thought about seeking UN authorization for its intervention in Panama in 1989. The UN General Assembly voted that this intervention constituted a “flagrant violation of international law” but there is no indication that this mattered. President Ronald Reagan famously quipped about a similar UN vote on the U.S. intervention in Grenada that it “didn’t upset my breakfast at all.”

The point is not that it was right for the U.S. to circumvent the UN or to engage in the interventions that it did but that the UN cannot plausibly take credit for changing norms of intervention during the first 45 years of its existence. The UN was thoroughly dysfunctional in the area of conflict management. The end of the Cold War and the Gulf War experience made the UN more active. States saw domestic or international political benefits from asking for Security Council approval. Yet, there is no record of the UN actively restricting states from using force, let alone the United States. The U.S. either forged UN approval by threatening to go it alone or it went ahead without approval. It is not clear how avoiding the UN on Syria adds much information that should lead to substantial changes in beliefs about who will follow what rules.

I really wished there were a functional set of legal norms and institutions that could regulate the use of force. There are some norms that are obeyed and enforced quite well, such as the norm of territorial integrity. But the Charter system is dysfunctional as a legal system. Aside from the obvious problems with having five permanent veto powers that can block any collective action, the self-defense exception is prone to opportunism. Ever wonder, for instance, how the U.S. justifies its drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere? Well, we have declared a war on terror, which make these strikes acts of self-defense. One can agree or disagree with the validity of this argument but ultimately it matters little because there is no international legal institution with the jurisdiction to evaluate the merit of the claim (let alone enforce a negative finding).

The conventional wisdom is that UN authorizations are desirable but not imperative to U.S. foreign policy makers. This conclusion strikes me as correct. If you can get multilateral approval it is easier to get allies to support your actions and your domestic public may view an action as less costly and more likely to serve a good purpose. Multilateral interventions may also be more likely to succeed. It is worth compromising to get UN approval. In reality, however, the international legal system that regulates uses of force is not sufficiently functional to make UN approval imperative.

A2: War Spills-Over Throughout the Middle East

It’s horrible now

AP, 9-6, 13, http://news.yahoo.com/un-5-000-syrians-being-killed-every-month-155218016.html “Some 5,000 Syrians Being Killed Every Month”

An estimated 5,000 Syrians are dying every month in the country’s civil war and refugees are fleeing at a rate not seen since the 1994 Rwanda genocide, U.N. officials said Tuesday.

“In Syria today, serious human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity are the rule,” said Ivan Simonovic, the assistant secretary-general for human rights, told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday.

He added that “the extremely high rate of killings … demonstrates the drastic deterioration of this conflict.”

U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres said two-thirds of the nearly 1.8 million Syrian refugees known to the agency have fled since the beginning of 2013, an average of over 6,000 daily.

“We have not seen a refugee outflow escalate at such a frightening rate since the Rwandan genocide almost 20 years ago,” he said.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said at least 6.8 million Syrians require urgent humanitarian assistance and accused the government and opposition of “systematically and in many cases deliberately” failing their obligation to protect civilians.

“This is a regional crisis not a crisis in Syria with regional consequences, requiring sustained and comprehensive engagement from the international community,” Amos said by videoconference from Geneva.

“The security, economic, political, social, development and humanitarian consequences of this crisis are extremely grave and its human impact immeasurable in terms of the long-term trauma and emotional impact on this and future generations of Syrians,” she said. “We are not only watching the destruction of a country but also of its people.”

Simonovic said that since U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay reported last month that at least 92,901 people had been killed between March 2011 when the conflict began and the end of April 2013, government forces and militias have moved to uproot the opposition in many areas including Qusair and Talkalkh, Aleppo, Damascus and its suburbs.

Government forces carry on with indiscriminate and disproportionate shelling and aerial bombardments, using among other weapons tactical ballistic missiles, cluster and thermobaric bombs, all causing extensive damage and casualties if used in densely populated areas,” he said.

“As a result, hundreds of civilians, including women and children were killed, thousands injured, and tens of thousands displaced,” Simonovic said. “Many displaced in the parts of Homs and rural Damascus remain under siege and face miserable humanitarian conditions.”

He said armed opposition groups have also committed acts of torture, abduction and kidnapping, sometimes along sectarian lines.

“Killings, violence and threats of reprisals against civilian populations perceived to be supportive of the government by armed opposition groups are escalating alarmingly,” he said.

Guterres, the refugee chief, said “the danger that the Syrian conflict could ignite the whole region is not an empty warning.”

Calling the impact of the refugee crisis on neighboring countries “crushing,” he urged international action to support the stability of Syria’s neighbors and reduce “the enormous risks of spillover” to the wider Middle East.

Guterres appealed to all countries to keep their borders open and receive all Syrians who seek protection.

Lebanon and Jordan are bearing the heaviest burden of the refugee exodus, he said, but the Kurdish region of Iraq and Turkey which has spent hundreds of millions of dollars of its own