A hasty “military” intervention in Syria would be a mistake! (Answer to the article of P. Defraigne in the Libre Belgique 09/09)

by Paul N. Goldschmidt, Director, European Commission (ret.); Member of the Advisory Board of the Thomas More Institute.

Brussels, 9th September 2013

That public opinion is totally disoriented on the pertinence of an Americano-French military intervention in Syria should not come as a surprise. The arguments for and against should certainly not be rejected lightly, whether based on unquestionable moral principles, sound legal arguments or even legitimate geopolitical interests often largely disconnected from the conflict. There are, however, three major arguments that, as far as I am concerned, call for a postponement of any immediate military intervention:

The first is the obvious contradiction between having recourse to force to “punish” the Syrian regime while, simultaneously, safeguarding its capacity to remain in power. This contradiction is corroborated by the absence of any specific request (ultimatum) which, if complied with, would allow Syria to avoid being sanctioned. Having recourse to a punishment decided unilaterally violates the most elementary principles of law and justice, whatever the gravity of the facts.

The second is the total lack of vision concerning the possible consequences of such an intervention, the aim being apparently limited to hoping to convince a discredited regime to forgo the use of chemical weapons in the future. Public opinion, whose support is being desperately courted by all sides, has the right to be informed of what will follow in the event the so called “limited” objectives are not reached.

The third, which – as suggested by P. Defraigne – should condition any military intervention, is the implementation of common foreign and defence policies within the EU. If I share wholeheartedly his wish for such a development, the timeframe necessary to reach a consensus, even limited to a “political agreement”, is incompatible with the urgency of the situation and cannot, therefore, be reasonably considered as a necessary precondition.

Nevertheless, in the face of the current situation, to withhold any action would be equally unacceptable. I suggest, therefore, taking the following steps:

The EU, represented by the Member exercising the presidency, would submit to the UN General Assembly – that will be convening shortly and where there are no veto rights – a resolution which stipulates:

  • The suspension with immediate effect of Syria from Membership in all UN organisations.

  • A ban on delivery of arms by UN Members to all participants in the conflict.

  • A request to the International Penal Court to open an enquiry against X for usage of chemical weapons. The UN would file the report of its experts determining whether such weapons were used and other Members, including Syria, would be asked to submit any evidence in their possession.

  • An immediate truce in all military operations and the opening of political negotiations to end the conflict.

  • An instruction to the Security Council to authorise a military intervention under the aegis of the UN if hostilities continue and/or if the IPC charges Syria with the use of chemical weapons.

Having recourse to the UN General Assembly will force each one of its Members to make its position known publicly.

Such a scenario aims specifically at avoiding any possibility of impunity both for individuals and Member States alike. It should satisfy both those that fear that inaction would create a dangerous precedent as those who insist on conforming to internationally accepted legal standards, however imperfect they may be.