Recent gas attack to a civilian population in the suburbs of Syria that led to the death of hundreds of Syrian was undeniably a crime against humanity and merits an international intervention. The attack was the “largest mass killing of the Syrian Civil War” and the “most deadliest chemical weapons attack” in the region since former President Saddam Hussien used poison gas to kill thousands of Kurds during the Halabja massacre on March 16, 1988 in Southern Kurdistan, Iraq.
For many of the countries in the world, the gas attack against Syrian civilians is a wake up call that civil war in Syria has indeed crossed the “red line” and must be addressed immediately to stop the increasing number of killed civilians and to make sure that such kind of attack will not be repeated again.
In response to this attack, major countries in the world such as the United States, France and Great Britain have both sent a clear and strong signal that they will run after the criminals and prosecute them accordingly for the crime committed against humanity. Despite the absence of strong evidence, there had been a strong allegation regarding the possible involvement of the Assad regime in the issue-an allegation which has categorically been denied by the Assad regime. Russia has also come to Assad side citing that western countries have no proof of Assad regime’s involvement of the attack.
Until a final UN report is provided, here are at least three possible angles we need to look at on who and what motivates this attack:
a. That allegation of Assad regime involvement in gas attack may be true given that the regime has reportedly been keeping nuclear and chemical weapons;
b. That Syrian rebels are involved in the attack and eventually put the blame on Assad’s regime to encourage western intervention; and
c. That some imported militias especially Islamists are behind the attack to complicate the possibility of reaching agreement and compromise between the rebel groups and the regime.
Until United Nations’ inspectors complete the final investigation and release a report, it will be difficult to identify the responsible party for this criminal act. Hence, any military effort targeting the regime’s forces on the grounds may not provide a solution. Instead it will complicate the problem.
In addition to this, any move to intervene militarily -either limited or in full scale- without the blessings of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) will not only violate international law but above all question the moral and ethical objective of the military intervention. It will question the fundamental principle of intervention to protect the Syrian civilians on the ground and lastly it would simply contribute to the escalation of the conflict to the highest level where more damages and more lives will be lost.
Therefore, any intervention in Syria must be carefully calculated and must be carried out through the auspices of the United Nations Security Council and not just by one of few powers. Multilateral approach to resolving this crisis remains a crucial instrument.
*Henelito A. Sevilla, Jr is an Assistant Professor at the Asian Center, University of the Philippines, Diliman. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Tehran, a Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Shahid Behesti, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran and Bachelor of Science in International Relations at the King Faisal Center for Islamic, Arabic and Asian Studies, Mindanao State University, Marawi City, Philippines.