In the aftermath of WWII, more than 180 countries signed treaties prohibiting the use chemical weapons. This also established the standards for international law in what is known as the Geneva Convention. Since then, many presidents have given various ultimatums through military coercion. For example, in 1999, Bill Clinton and NATO used military force in Kosovo, a successful 72-day no boots-to-the-ground military invasion that withdrew Yugoslavian troops and ended the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s. Success in such decisions is rare, as we have learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Given recent events in Syria, the president asked for Congress, as a representative of the American people, to authorize the support of a military intervention. But few allies support the United States militarily, emphasizing the importance of UN resolution rather than military intervention. For example, Prime Minister David Cameron met with the House of Commons in an effort to support our president’s decision and to discuss Syrian intervention. The House voted ‘no,’ arguing that this is judgment only evidence a reports from the UN can make. So, why is it important for America to care?

Recently, Secretary of State John Kerry went in front of the Foreign Relations Committee in a bipartisan effort to answer this question. For starters, he mentioned the Syrian Accountability Act, a bill passed into law in December 2003. The bill aims to stop the production of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Syria. This bill, along with the Geneva Convention, prohibits the use of chemical weapons. Violation of both is in direct violation of international law. Also Lebanon, an ally of ours, is the primary reason why the bill was passed. Kerry mentions how the threat of chemical weapons in Syria would damage the invested relationship we have with Lebanon and other countries in the Middle East. Because of these relationships, he suggested that the U.S. must avoid the creation of a safe-haven where chemical weapons can be produced.

This next quote was taken from a New York Times op-ed that quoted President Obama asking the question: “If we won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules?” 

But a more challenging question is how did the line get so thin that self-defense and intervention become indistinguishable? Do we let a country slip away with a slap on the hand at the cost of thousands of lives?

Summary by Brianna Woods, UNC Charlotte (WAC Charlotte Intern – Fall 2013)

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