Middle East

War and law& Middle East03 Sep 2013 05:00 pm

Western States Legal Foundation has published an Information Brief on the international law implications of the current Syria crisis, written by Andrew Lichterman, with contributions from Jacqueline Cabasso and John Burroughs. The Information Brief, titled The Rush to Bomb Syria: Undermining International Law and Risking Wider War, concludes there is no legal basis for unilateral attacks on Syria by the United States or other powers, and that there are legal and diplomatic alternatives to military action. Some excerpts from the introduction and conclusion can be found below, for the complete piece click on the link above.

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Once again, the President of the United States is leading a rush towards war without regard for the United Nations Charter and the international legal regime intended to control prohibited weapons and to respond to threats to peace and security. Even before United Nations inspectors were on the ground in Syria to determine whether a chemical weapons attack had occurred, the U.S. and its allies began moving ships into attack position in a manner that, in the context of public statements by the leaders of the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, constituted an undeniable military threat to Syria.

Since World War I, use of chemical weapons has been viewed almost universally as monstrous, and as a violation of treaty-based and customary standards of international humanitarian law. If they were used in Syria by any party, that action should be condemned, and all states should cooperate in identifying the perpetrators and in pursuing their apprehension and prosecution by all legal means. There is no provision of international law, however, that allows ad hoc coalitions of countries to determine for themselves who they believe the guilty parties to be, and to punish them by acts of war against the territory of a sovereign state. The United Nations Charter allows unilateral military action only where a country is under attack or imminent threat of attack. None of the countries proposing the use of force against Syria can make any claim that Syria has attacked them, or that they are under imminent threat of attack. International treaties outlawing chemical weapons and prohibiting their use provide no special exception for such ad hoc use of military force. To the contrary, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the most comprehensive instrument concerning chemical weapons, provides for investigation of alleged violations by specialist bodies constituted by the Convention and recourse to the United Nations to authorize any use of force.

In this instance, it is especially important that transparent, credible procedures be followed for investigation of the allegations of chemical weapons use and a determination of the responsible party or parties, as well as for actions to prevent further use and to punish those culpable.

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The airwaves are full of pundits and politicians saying that both the chemicals weapons use and the broader crisis in Syria present no good choices. But it is hard to see how breaking solemn undertakings to most of the countries in the world by neglecting treaties and principles of international law that the United States has agreed to will either bolster U.S. “credibility” or enhance respect for international law. President Obama says he is ready to make the “hard choices.” But giving in to the powerful, omnipresent American war caucus once more by sending cruise missiles against a country that cannot respond in kind is neither a hard choice for an American president nor a good one. It is a course of action that will take many lives with little promise of saving others, and that will once again lead us all down a dangerous road with no visible end. For American elected officials, saying no to the easy, violent options offered by a national security and military industrial complex too long ascendant would be the hard choice, the courageous choice, and the right choice.

Disarmament& Iran& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Middle East02 Aug 2010 07:37 pm

Andrew Lichterman

The recently released film Countdown to Zero has sparked controversy amongst disarmament advocates. Local disarmament groups were encouraged by national arms control groups and funders to turn people out for the film, but some who have seen it believe that at best it is unhelpful, and at worst that it might do more to build support for the next round of U.S. armed counterproliferation abroad than to advance disarmament. (see Darwin BondGraham, “Co-opting the Anti-Nuclear Movement,” MRZine.org). United for Peace and Justice has made available a leaflet, Countdown to Zero? Or fight for a nuclear free future! designed to fill in some of the key information about nuclear weapons and disarmament that the film leaves out.

Countdown to Zero is intended to be part of a broader campaign, with its main foundation funder, the Ploughshares Fund, encouraging its grantees to turn people out for the film and offering further grants “for activities that will take advantage of Countdown to Zero and help catalyze public support for a world without nuclear weapons.” I haven’t seen the film yet, but some things I have seen so far of the surrounding campaign raise troubling questions about its intentions and its likely effect.

On July 29, ex-CIA officer Valerie Plame, one of the experts featured in the film, appeared on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews. The segment promoted the film, consisting of excerpts interspersed with back and forth from Plame and Matthews with a Countdown to Zero logo running in the corner of the screen throughout. The segment began by focusing on the alleged danger that Osama Bin-Laden and Al-Qaeda might get nuclear weapons, with another expert featured in the film, Graham Allison, stating several times that Bin-Laden had expressed the desire to kill four million Americans. The accompanying images were of Bin Laden and AK47-wielding Al-Qaeda members. Most of the rest of the segment was devoted to Plame and other experts, both in film excerpts and in her back and forth with Matthews, hammering on the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. Plame asserted in an excerpt from the film that that Iran “without question” is seeking nuclear weapons, and went on at length about how good Iran is at concealing and protecting its nuclear efforts.

In the four minute and forty second clip, only about twenty seconds can be characterized as even mentioning disarmament–and then only as a far distant goal, albeit ultimately the only definitive solution to the much-emphasized ‘nuclear terrorist’ and ‘rogue state’ threats of today. The rest of the segment was devoted to the dangers posed by the possibility that bad people who are Muslims of one kind or another might get or use The Bomb.

In fact, if this segment was the first thing you had ever seen about nuclear weapons, you would have no idea that anyone on earth already has a nuclear arsenal aside from Russia and Pakistan. Russia comes into the picture only as somewhere that terrorists might buy or steal nuclear weapons or materials to make them. And in the closing seconds of the segment, when asked by Matthews what posed the greatest nuclear threat–Pakistan, Iran, or terrorists (apparently the only nuclear dangers on the mainstream media menu) Plame didn’t take issue with the framing of the question. She chose Pakistan, because it is in “such a volatile region” and “we cannot have a lot of confidence in their command and control.” Pakistan lies in close proximity to unmentioned nuclear powers China and India, shares a contiguous land mass with unmentioned nuclear powers Israel and France and barely-mentioned nuclear former superpower Russia, and is fighting a covert and overt war as client (and perhaps partial adversary) of the unmentioned nuclear-armed sole superpower, the United States, and unmentioned nuclear power and former regional colonial overlord England. A “volatile region” indeed. (more…)