“Will take no lessons…in international law from Russia.”

Time for Action to Stop Syrian Chemical Weapons Attacks

By —— Bio and Archives--April 16, 2018

World | Comments | Print Friendly | Subscribe | Email Us

Time for Action to Stop Syrian Chemical Weapons Attacks
Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, delivered a blunt message at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council Saturday. The meeting was convened at Russia’s request to discuss military strikes conducted by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France against key facilities supporting the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons program. It was the fifth meeting of the Security Council last week regarding the reported chemical attack by the Syrian regime on the Damascus suburb of Douma on April 7th. All of the meetings were filled with hot rhetoric but produced no concrete action.


“A week has gone by in which we have talked,” Ambassador Haley said. “The time for talk ended last night. We acted to deter the future use of chemical weapons by holding the Syrian regime responsible for its atrocities against humanity.” Ambassador Haley also issued a warning to the Syrian regime and its patrons, Russia and Iran. “I spoke to the President this morning and he said if the Syrian regime uses this poison gas again, the United States is locked and loaded. When our President draws a red line, our President enforces the red line.”

Russia tried to use the Saturday meeting of the Security Council to push forward its draft resolution condemning the U.S., U.K. and French air strikes that had successfully hit their targets, and to call for an immediate halt to such “aggression” and “any further use of force.” The Russian gambit failed miserably. Only Russia, China and Bolivia voted for Russia’s resolution. Eight Security Council members voted no. Four abstained.

The air strikes that Russia unsuccessfully sought the Security Council to condemn were limited to three military locations inside Syria. There were no reported civilian deaths as a result of the strikes, as opposed to as many as 70 civilian deaths caused by the Douma chemical attack that had all the earmarks of Syrian regime origin. Care was taken in the planning and execution of the U.S., U.K. and French air strikes to avoid any Russian or Iranian personnel or facilities. The first target included the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center at al-Mazzah Airport in Damascus; the second, an alleged chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs; and the third – an alleged chemical weapons equipment storage site and command post, also near Homs.

“The targets we selected were at the heart of the Syrian regime’s illegal chemical weapons program,” Ambassador Haley told the Security Council. “The strikes were carefully planned to minimize civilian casualties. The responses were justified, legitimate, and proportionate.” As Ambassador Haley noted, “The United States and its allies did everything we could to use the tools of diplomacy to get rid of Assad’s arsenal of chemical weapons.” Principally, although they claimed to already have plenty of open source and intelligence evidence pointing to the Syrian regime’s culpability, the U.S. and its allies had called for the establishment of a new independent international mechanism to determine with reasonable certainty who was responsible for the Douma chemical attack. Russia, which had killed the extension of the mandate of the previous investigatory mechanism set up for the purpose of attribution, blocked every effort made by several Security Council members, not just the United States, to come up with a credible alternative mechanism that would have preserved its complete independence.

Ambassador Haley laid the blame for Security Council inaction squarely on Russia. “The Security Council has failed in its duty to hold those who use chemical weapons to account,” Ambassador Haley declared. “That failure is largely due to Russian obstruction.”

The British UN ambassador, Karen Pierce, defended the assault as a “limited, targeted and effective strike.” She said it was legally justified because the Syrian regime’s “use of chemical weapons, which has exacerbated the human suffering, is a serious crime of international concern as a breach of the customary international law prohibition on the use of chemical weapons and this amounts to a war crime and a crime against humanity.” She added that any state is “permitted under international law, on an exceptional basis, to take measures in order to alleviate overwhelming humanitarian suffering, where three conditions are met.” First, “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.” Second, “it must be objectively clear that there is no practicable alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved.” Third, “the proposed use of force must be necessary and proportionate to the aim of relief of humanitarian suffering. It must be strictly limited in time and in scope to this aim.” All three conditions, Ambassador Pierce said, were met in this case, including because of Russia’s own obstructionist vetoes of any non-force alternatives.

Russia’s UN ambassador, Vasily A. Nebenzia, lashed out at the U.S., U.K. and France with a vengeance, charging that they had carried out “aggression against a sovereign state, which is on the front lines of the fight against terrorism.” They did so, he said, without proof that a chemical attack had even taken place in Douma, much less that the Syrian regime had perpetrated any such alleged attack. They conducted their air strikes, he complained, before the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had even arrived in Syria to conduct a fact-finding mission to determine whether any chemical attack had actually taken place as alleged. Yet Ambassador Nebenzia already pre-judged what Russia would consider to be an acceptable outcome of the OPCW mission by asserting that Russian personnel who had previously arrived in Douma concluded there was no evidence of a chemical attack. Moreover, the ambassador provided no assurances that the Russians or any Syrian forces entering Douma after the rebels’ surrender had not removed or tainted any evidence of a chemical attack and of the Syrian regime’s culpability. He also neglected to mention that the OPCW lacks the authority to investigate further as to responsibility for any chemical attack that it concludes did occur.

Ambassador Nebenzia mocked U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s assertion Friday night that the United States Constitution gave the president of the United States the right to take military action to defend the country’s vital national interests. “It’s time for Washington to learn that the international code of behavior regarding the use of force is regulated by the United Nations Charter,” Ambassador Nebenzia said. Of course, the defense secretary was speaking about the constitutional authority of President Trump under our system of separation of powers and checks and balances to take such action in his capacity as commander-in-chief. It’s understandable that Ambassador Nebenzia was confused since in his country President Putin is an all-powerful dictator with no checks and balances to worry about.

For his part, Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Ja’afari held up a copy of the UN Charter as he spoke during the Security Council meeting and offered to provide copies to the U.S., U.K. and France for their edification. After claiming that terrorists were arrested who admitted to fabricating the chemical weapons attack, the Syrian ambassador called the U.S. and its allies “liars, spoilers and hypocrites” who have “exploited this Council to pursue your agenda of interference and colonialism.” He charged that they had resorted to the “law of the jungle and law of the strongest.” 

Sacha Llorenty, the Bolivian UN ambassador, who was one of the three Security Council members (including the Russian ambassador himself) who voted in favor of the defeated Russian resolution, said, “you can’t combat the alleged violation of international law by violating international law.” He used the term “imperialist” to brand the actions of the United States, Britain and France. They are empires, he said, that “consider themselves superior to the rest of the world.”

To quote Macbeth, the narrative put forward by the Russian ambassador, repeated by the chorus of the Bolivian and Syrian ambassadors, is a tale “told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”

The resounding defeat of Russia’s draft resolution condemning the limited air strikes demonstrates how obvious Russia’s deceitful narrative is that underlies the premise of its resolution. With its successive vetoes protecting the Syrian regime from any international accountability, Russia perverted the essential purposes of the UN Charter it claims to revere. Russia failed to abide by its commitment to the Security Council in 2013 as guarantor that the Assad regime would destroy its complete stockpile of chemical weapons. It obstructed the enforcement of Security Council resolutions against Syria’s continued possession and use of chemical weapons by killing the international investigatory mechanism originally established by the UN Security Council, with Russia’s own assent, to determine accountability for chemical weapons attacks since 2013. Russia did so after the investigators had found the Syrian regime responsible for some of those chemical attacks. Then Russia vetoed any attempt to revive the mechanism to determine accountability for the latest chemical attacks.

Russia is also the same country that brazenly invaded Ukraine and illegally annexed Crimea in clear violation of the UN Charter and international law. And it is the same country that shamelessly uses cyber warfare to illegally interfere with the election processes of other sovereign states, including the United States.

As British UN ambassador Karen Pierce said, we “will take no lessons…in international law from Russia.”


Only YOU can save CFP from Social Media Suppression. Tweet, Post, Forward, Subscribe or Bookmark us

Joseph A. Klein, CFP United Nations Columnist -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Joseph A. Klein is the author of Global Deception: The UN’s Stealth Assault on America’s Freedom.

Commenting Policy

Please adhere to our commenting policy to avoid being banned. As a privately owned website, we reserve the right to remove any comment and ban any user at any time.

Comments that contain spam, advertising, vulgarity, threats of violence and death, racism, anti-Semitism, or personal or abusive attacks on other users may be removed and result in a ban.
-- Follow these instructions on registering: