Considering International Intervention in Syria and the Responsibility to Protect



By Caleb R. Newton

    The internal war in Syria between President Bashar al-Assad and various insurgent groups has taken an astounding turn in the latter part of 2015 as reports have emerged of a Russian military buildup at sites including Latakia. The United States initially took a strong stand against the Russian military presence, with US Secretary of State John Kerry repeatedly calling Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and indicating that the Russian military presence would only escalate the conflict.

    On Wednesday, September 16, 2015, however, Kerry indicated that the idea had come out for a US-Russia dialogue over the military presence in Syria, potentially leading to a cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State’s (IS’s) operations since Russia has claimed fighting IS as the reason for the military buildup. Still, regarding Syria the United States position is “that there is no military solution to the overall conflict, which can only be resolved by a political transition away from Assad,” as was related in a September 15, 2015, Media Note from the US State Department. The US maintains that Assad is responsible for the instability leading to the IS presence in Syria.

    The question to address regarding all of the above complications to the Syrian war is two pronged, one, “What is going on to involve the major world powers in a Middle Eastern conflict?” and two, “Should the US and other nations be involved in Syria?” An important consideration for the second question is whether or not intervention can be effective. Firstly, with the negotiations surrounding Iran for the past several years and the continued political meddling of the United States around the world, the US still feels as though it is dominating the world politically. Additionally, political might is somewhat easier to obtain for the United States where it is lacking. Therefore, a significant reason for US involvement in Syria by asserting the precedence of a political solution is for the United States to use Syria to assert its own power. The US dominates in politics, not war, and Russia wants to counter that political prowess with military force in Syria, answering why the world is in Syria in the first place.

    The second prong of the opening question remains, though, “Should the United States and the West intervene?” My answer is that there should be some international intervention through coercive diplomacy in Syria, although not necessarily by solely the United States. As a logical foundation for this answer, consider the “Responsibility to Protect” - the notion that states should protect people around the world who are being subjected to treatment deemed improper.

    The idea of international meddling and the subjection of states and their peoples to other normative legal concerns is initially troubling. However, considering the world as being made up of simply people, like in Liberal International Relations theory, leads to the conclusion that perhaps one should actually support the Responsibility to Protect, and therefore intervention in Syria, based on the same conclusion that would lead one to help a stranger in need on the roadside. If a force is available, use it and it may work, like reaching out the hand to one who has fallen in the personal analogy. Also consider that as a whole, the idea of legal objectivity is questionable. I support the idea of Political Legalism that states the Law is fundamentally based on politics, which is itself based on personal relations and people, as I mentioned for the world at large above. In other words, personal considerations such as for a hypothetical stranger have an important place in international legal consideration.

    In conclusion, with the prospect of a dialogue between the United States and Russia over possible cooperation in Syria, hopes for resolution to the conflict should grow since the intervention may work. Coercive diplomacy is an effective method at compulsion as noted by experts in the context of the debate over Western negotiations with Iran. Additionally, the method of dialogue may get the United States involved much more in Syria, since through political negotiations with Russia the US can indirectly establish a military presence in Syria by holding political leverage over the Russian forces. I would look for a growth in US activity in Syria should the suggested US-Russia talks go forward.


[The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dissecting Society]

Comments

  1. What if the stranger doesn't want your help? Which is the same as asking what if Syrians don't want western help? If they don't want it do we have the responsibility to protect people who do not want our protection?

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    1. I believe, the answer is no. As you may have noticed from the article, I used a lot of descriptors in the article like "maybe." I believe that it is very easy for aid to go too far- way too far really quick.

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  2. Hi Caleb,

    Ok, if the US wants to assert its power in Syria: do you think it would be willing to share it would Russia? Now THAT would be historic.
    Yet the problem would remain: Arabs do not want US involvement in their lands and if Russia would be perceived as cooperating with the Americans the Arab stance could change towards Russians, couldn't it?

    About the responsibility to protect: the Libyan example is very interesting because our responsibility to protect, after the Libyan people asked for our help, in the end revealed itself to be irresponsible. It created a vacuum and Islamists took over a country that was used to stability.
    Now think of Syria: does the State Department really want to repeat the same mistake by removing al-Assad? Russia is right in this case: Bashar al-Assad must remain in power until an alternative is found - but I ask, what if there's no alternative at all? If there's none then it's more responsible not to intervene.

    Good post, Caleb :D

    Cheers

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    1. I agree with you, that in the realm of responsibility to protect that most often it is most responsible to not intervene. I think that the word "responsible" is a bit too strong, any way, more like "nice idea." :)

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  3. Perhaps the US is trying to slow down the interesting dynamics that seems to be building up in Syria:

    “The sharing of power between Russia and Iran may start in Syria, but there is disagreement for the moment because of the growing influence of Iran in Damascus, which Russia is seeking to reduce.” (Khaled Qahtan)

    What do you think, Caleb?

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    1. I agree. The United States certainly wants to hold back any such cooperation-- so it wants to woo over the Russians to "their" side. Like that will work easily. Interesting to see how the Obama-Putin meeting turns out this week.

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  4. Years of western meddling created the chaos that we see there today, so no thank you! For sure there are other ways of asserting their power regarding Russia and others in Syria. But let me tell you something, Caleb; everybody is in Syria cause Syria is a geo-strategic country that can't be lost to IS, but how they're going about to preserve it it's a different matter! But whatever they are doing now it's not working!

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  5. It is our duty to intervene and help those poor people. The same we help a neighbor in need we must help the helpless of course! But you won't hear that from the warmongers in this blog, Caleb, they are after blood!

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  6. Nice post.

    I am reminded of the 1970's when Iranian students were demonstrating on my campus about the brutality of the Shah of Iran, who was a faithful US ally. He was also a brutal monarch, so the western moralists kept beating their drums louder and louder that if only we could overthrow the Shah, Iran would become a liberal democracy. Jimmy Carter quickly threw the Shah to the wolves as a demonstration of his superior moral conscience with the well known result.

    But this is the never ending problem with the left: Their moral outrage always leads to solutions that make the problems worse - usually far worse - as the direct consequences that anyone should have anticipated. But the additional problems they create necessitate more moral outrage.

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    1. Looney, excellent example. I usually don't say this but the Leftist sense of morals disgusts me: it creates more problems than solutions and the Iranian example is perfect (and now they want to do the same with Israel and the Arab occupation of Jewish Land, but not this time). Because I've learned the lesson with Iraq, Libya, Egypt, I say NO to international intervention in Arab countries. Have a great weekend.

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    2. There was another piece of background to the wreck in Iran-- in 1953, the Americans and British were the ones who installed the Shah in the first place after orchestrating the overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister. Why? Because the PM of the day was putting holds on Western access to Iranian oil reserves.

      My take is that the responsibility to protect should more accurately be termed the "nice idea" to protect and should be considered only secondary to everything else---like reason. Intervention is used way too much nowadays.

      Maybe we should start treating Syria like Iran ( before the Deal).

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    3. Caleb, I have heard the story of the overthrow of the Shah, but have never seen a good reference on this. Part of this story wouldn't surprise me, yet there is part of me that is still skeptical for two reasons. First, you are the first one I have heard say this who wasn't a leftist. Second, I don't believe democracy is possible in a majority Mohammedan population. The situation was different with the fall of the Shah since the news was easy to come by and I could talk to the Iranian students.

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