Take a moment - consider the words. Whisper them to yourself. There is a weight there.
Much of what I read refers to the Syrian conflict as a civil war or, alternatively, merely as one more branch of the Arab Spring, an adjunct to Egypt and Libya made notable only by the severity of its atrocities. But it is not a civil war, not just that. Civil war infers merely conflict over civil values - the values of the polity, the state and how it is organized - questions of who holds power, how that power is distributed, and how people acquire that power. But revolution implies something different - a reorganization not only of the political sphere but of society and economy as well, not to mention their relationships to one another.
Syria is in the midst of a revolution, then, a battle for the very definition of itself and revolutions, friends, are hard, hard things.
Ah, but this is just more fuel for the fire until we understand the conflict more effectively.
More after the jump....
1 - The Players
Militant Supporters of the Establishment
The Syrian Arab Republic - the principal of this group is, of course, the Syrian government, essentially an bureaucratic authoritarian state dominated by Bashar al-Asad and his party coalition, the National Progressive Front (NPF), which itself is dominated by the Ba'ath party - a coalition ultimately of socialist and Arab nationalist interests. While the Ba'ath faction in Syria originally began as a pan-Arab movement a coup in the 1970s left Alawites (a sect of Islam that diverged from Twelver Shi'a) in control of both state and party apparatus. In general the regime has been tolerant of religious minorities, such as Christians and Druze, as well as Sunni Muslims (about 90% of the total population) though it has been fiercely repressive of any political dissent - the primary source of unrest, excepting of course nationalist sentiments and the simple, though powerful, impulses of reaction against exclusion.
The Islamic Republic of Iran - Syria has had two consistent allies since the late 1970s and the shift of many of the Arab states' focus away from the anti-Israel/anti-United States policies: the former Soviet Union and, later, the Russian Federation and Iran.
To say this is an odd trio is to say the least, but there is a rationale behind it.
After the emergence of Alawite dominance in Syria its government became increasingly isolated and at odds with other Arab nations - in part because the Alawites were seen as Shi'a dominating Sunni, but particularly because Syria continued to intervene forcefully in the Lebanon and support non-state actors who continued pressing the anti-Israel agenda. Iran (not an Arab state, remember), the only Shi'a ruled polity on Earth (until, arguably, the American invasion of Iraq) saw its relations further complicated with the Arab world after the 1979 revolution and the decade-long Iran-Iraq War.
The Soviets, and later Russians, are a different story - but more on them a bit later.
The extent of Iranian on-the-ground support is ambiguous to those of us without access to classified information, but it is assumed to be significant - at least involving training, intelligence and logistics support, law enforcement personnel, as well as active combat roles for both members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Quds Force (check out this overview at the Institute for the Study of War). Whether this level of support will be maintained, decreased, or increased given the new administration, however, remains to be seen.
Pro-Syrian Non-State Actors - In the modern world it is all too often the case that only states, with their claimed (though clearly imperfectly enforced) monopoly on the use of force, are included in our calculations of the qualities and nature of conflict. This is a grave mistake. At least one has proven important in the current Syrian Revolution - Hezbollah.
A little background. Hezbollah was established in Lebanon with the support of Iran following the Israeli invasion of that nation. The ideological intent of the organization is relatively straightforward - it is an extremist Shi'a organization that is anti-imperialist (read as anti-Western and Western-interventionism), and strongly anti-Zionist (anti-Israel), calling for the complete elimination of that state. Its capabilities are significant - certainly the equal or superior of many small states' armies - and as such its intervention on behalf of the Asad regime is far from insignificant.
The rationale of Hezbollah's alliance with Syria is simple. First, as a staunch ally (some have argued puppet of, though I find this a bit unlikely) of Iran its activities are undoubtedly being urged on by that state. Secondly, this is a Shi'a organization that would likely perceive the reemergence of a Sunni-dominated Syria, liberal or radical fundamentalist, as a serious threat their interests. Third, Syria is generally believed to have been a supporter of Hezbollah's activities in the Lebanon and transnationally - change the regime and that state-support dries up. In other words, for Hezbollah, in this instance, ideology and realpolitik are contiguous.
Syria also plays host to a significant number of militias (Shabiba) which constitute a powerful force-amplifier. Those which are Alawite and/or Shi'a in identity seem to be uniformly aligned with the regime.
Non-militant Supporters of the Establishment
The Russian Federation - The relationship of Syria and Russia is, well, a bit odd from the outside. It emerged out of the pressures of the Cold War - Syria, like many Arab states, soon after independence saw the Soviet Union as a useful alternative to not only the United States, the post-war supporter of Israel (even if sometimes hesitantly) and Western hegemon, but also to its allies, the United Kingdom and France, the decades long post-Ottoman rulers of most of the Arab world (France had specifically controlled the northern Levant, including Syria). Most of the pro-Soviet Arab nations, however, would eventually improve their relationships with the Western bloc after the 1970s. This was after Arab-Israeli relations reached the level of detente, of course, but several other changes in the interstate system were also influential - notably the perceived threat inherent in the Iranian Revolution, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the Sino-American normalization of relations.
This left Syria, now dominated by non-Sunni Arabs, in a lurch. To remain staunchly anti-Israel, rather than normalizing relations, made relations with the West, as well as Turkey and Egypt, tenuous at best. Further, with the Syrian coup and Iranian Revolution for the first time in a very long time it appeared that Shi'a-dominated polities might exist and cooperate without Western domination - and this was a frightening prospect to Arab polities, particularly in light of their own Shi'a minorities dissatisfaction and the apparent threat of the Iran-Iraq War - a war in which the West was apparently favoring Sunni Arab-dominated Iraq (even as the Reagan administration armed Iran, of course - but that is an entirely different basket of eggs).
Add these all together with the fact that the Syrian regime remained strongly socialist while their peer Arab states became increasingly free market and that the Soviets' constant quest for strategic, warm-water ports (perhaps the most important asset in which they were geopolitically disadvantaged) and the push-pull factors for an alliance are clear. That the alliance survived the end of the Cold War is hardly surprising - flags may have changed, and the Russians may have adopted a new ideology, but virtually all the other conditions remained the same - save that the Americans had steadily become more entrenched in other neighboring polities, increasing the apparent threat to Syrian interests and Russian hopes of influencing strategically the Middle East and Mediterranean.
The question is of course how much aid is Russia giving Syria? Well, first, it should be noted that there are almost unquestionably limits on the level of support Russia is willing to give directly. Why? Mutually assured destruction. Big bombs. Big guns. Lots of troops in pretty uniforms. Russia, like all the other great powers, remembers the age of world wars and, like them, they remember that things are more, not less, dangerous in the age of weapons of mass destruction, as are the accouterments associated with them. That said, the great powers have a decades-long tradition of dancing around one another while supporting one another's opponents - most recently in the wars of the former Yugoslav republics.
So, what can be expected? Well, the Russians have gradually, but substantially increased their naval presence off the Levant - though this is largely symbolic, one suspects (and a way of preventing the Western powers from giving the disestablishmentarians any sort of huge intelligence advantage). More importantly, the Russians have been selling and will continue to sell the Syrians weapons - lots and lots and lots of weapons.
How to summarize?
First, it means the Syrians have a solid chance of keeping up with any ironmongering the West throws at their enemies.
Second, the Russians have been selling weapons to the Syrians for a long time - that means there has been plenty of time for Russian skeletons to end up in Syrian closets - that is a helluva' motivation to keep the regime in power.
Third, the geopolitics of the Russo-Syrian alliance remain just as rationally compelling as they ever were.
Add to this the fact that the Russians remain staunch defenders of the principle of nonintervention (unless, of course, it is useful to them - a proclivity so often the case in Great Powers) who as ever hold a veto on the United Nations Security Council and one thing remains clear - the Syrian regime is safe from UN legitimization of anti-Asad regime intervention - for all that is worth, of course.
The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces - More commonly called the Syrian National Coalition or National Coalition for short, this is an umbrella organization, under significant pressure from external anti-Asad great powers from a host of smaller, ideologically, religiously, and ethno-nationally diverse organizations. It is worth quoting their own website's description of their membership:
On the November 8th 2012, many groups and organizations from the Syrian opposition met in Doha, Qatar, including: The Syrian Revolution General Commission, The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, the Syrian National Council (SNC), Syrian Business Forum, 14 members from the Local Administrative Councils of Syria, The Association of Scholars in Damascus, The Kurdish National Council, The Revolutionary Tribal Council, The Board of Trustees of the Revolution, the Democratic Forum, The Socialist Union Party, The Communist Labor Party, and a number of political dissidents and influential figures. These groups and individuals came together to form the Syrian Coalition, where as agreed upon in Doha and in coordination with the Arab League, membership was open to groups and across all spectrums of the Syrian opposition. The percentage breakdown of the representation allotted to each group is available in detail within the Syrian Coalition Statute.This illustrates both the significance and weaknesses of the National Coalition - it is both fairly comprehensive in its membership, representing what is clearly a large portion of the Syrian population, but it is also highly fractured - a condition which not only renders defeating the regime more difficult, but which also means that any post-Asad Syria is likely to play host to significant struggles in determining the regime to emerge - not unlike, it should be noticed, those struggles found in the later stages of all great revolutions.
B. The Mujahedeen Non-State Actors - Above religiously identified militias of non-state pro-regime have already been discussed, but clearly comparable anti-regime militias exist as well. These militias primarily constituted of Salafi and/or Wahhabi Sunni fighters, armed, trained and equipped by both states affiliated with these denominations (e.g. Saudi Arabia) and by non-state, transnational organizations so-affiliated (most notoriously al-Qaeda). In many ways these militias are analogous to those which emerged in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
The Syrian regime has relatively few friends, but those friends they have are staunch and their position well defined. The situation is nearly the antithesis for the disestablishment. The reason is clear enough - this is a clear instance of fearing that the devil one doesn't know might be worse than the devil one does know, whether we're talking about regimes or even the level of conflict and involvement. Regardless, the opponents can still be lumped into three general categories:
A. The Arab States - The Arab nation-states have, by and large, supported the disestablishmentarians indirectly - through material and financial aid and through pressing intergovernmental regimes for action, though some, it is assumed, have also been providing intelligence and volunteer services and fighters (some probably associated with certain polities, others probably true volunteers whose transportation and equipage has merely been provided by those states). Nonetheless, the support of these regimes for the rebellion has significant legitimization implications for their actions, both domestically and outside of the region).
That said, it should be noted that several Arab regimes support peaceful regime change and an end to conflict without direct foreign intervention - largely because they fear the implications of such intervention both in terms of demonstration effect and domino effect on their own polities, as in the cases of Egypt and Jordan, or because they fear the implications for aggravating their own regime instability and sectarian factionalization involving Shi'a and/or Kurds, as in Iraq and the Lebanon - though in the latter two there is significant support for the al-Asad regime.
B. The Liberal West - The democratic-republican, liberal polities of the West (or, perhaps more accurately, the West and the other liberal polities such as Japan and Turkey) have been universally opposed to the Syrian regime's abuses. That said, there are two major factions within the West with regards to what should actually be done. On the one hand are the interventionists - those who would use some level of military force to both punish the regime for its alleged atrocities against civilians and combatants alike, not to mention to disrupt the regime's ability to continue to press its advantage. On the other are what we might call the freeloaders - not pejoratively, mind you, but behaviorally. This faction includes those who wish to see the regime fall and a new, preferably liberal, political-economic system emerge to replace it, but who for various entirely rational reasons feel that military intervention is undesirable - in other words they desire the benefits without the costs and risks associated therewith.
Now, it is impossible to argue that any whole liberal nation either wholly supports or opposes intervention - we're talking about polities of hundreds of thousands to hundreds of millions of people, most of which show significant levels of division on this issue (I address the rationales of both factions, which are both sound, separately below), though in almost every nation the majority of the general population opposes intervention. However it is possible to determine which states executives and legislatures favor and/or oppose intervention at this phase in the game. A quick rundown of statements from some of the bigger powers:
Argentina rejects the use of interstate forces in Syria.
Senator Carr, however, rejects any suggestion Australia is on the wrong side of the argument.
"The position we adopted was correct. Chemical weapons use produces mass atrocity crimes.
"If the world doesn't respond in a way that's appropriate and proportionate, then other dictators will think they can gas children."
Eight G20 countries on Friday accepted Australia's plan for a medical pact for Syria.
It would allow medicines to be distributed throughout government and anti-government zones, and protect hospitals and their staff everywhere.
The Sydney Morning Herald
Belgium’s Foreign Minister has said the Government there is “not yet convinced” of the merits of intervening in Syria.
Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told state broadcaster RTBF that he would want to see proof that the Assad regime was responsible for a chemical weapons attack on its own people before any further involvement.
Describing any such attack as “odious” he said: "I am not yet convinced. What we want is to receive information showing the use of these arms.”
He went on to say such information would preferably come from the United Nations but added: “Should France, the United States and Britain have information on this subject, they could share it with their NATO allies."
Mr Reynders questions what intervention would mean. "What would be the consequences in Syria and in the region? What would be the consequences of acting without the consent of the UN Security Council? For tomorrow Russia too could decide to intervene without consent if others do."
Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo said any military intervention against Syria would be seen as a violation of international law unless the U.N. Security Council gives approval or if the intervention is for self-defense coupled with a U.N. resolution. He said late Monday that those scenarios are “not what we have today.”
The Washington Post
"What are people going to say next week if 5,000 people are gassed? What are people going to say next month if 25,000 people are gassed?" he said in an exclusive interview with host Evan Solomon on CBC Radio's The House, following a meeting with Sergei Lavrov, Baird's Russian counterpart. "This is a poor man's weapons of mass destruction and this guy cannot be allowed to get away with it."
The civil war in Syria dominated much of the St. Petersburg summit, where U.S. President Barack Obama sought support from world leaders for a military intervention, while Russian President Vladimir Putin affirmed his support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird – who has ruled out a military contribution to any Western air strikes on Syria – said Canada intends to play a larger role in helping affected civilians in Syria and Syrian refugees in the region. And that means increasing Canada’s aid contribution, an official with Mr. Baird’s office confirmed.
The Globe and Mail
Chile's President Sebastian Pinera said that a military strike against Syria required the backing of the United Nations Security Council.
"I want to say that the Chilean government believes that any military action in Syria must be within the context of the multinational institutional structure that we have at the United Nations and the Security Council, and not by a unilateral decision of a single or a group of countries," Pinera told a press conference in the presidential palace of La Moneda.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Villy Søvndal states:
“The Government has decided to become a signatory to the statement, which the US and 10 other countries released at last week’s G20 meeting. Germany and Lithuania joined shortly afterwards, and more are expected to follow. The statement is clearly in line with the Danish position. The stronger the international agreement is on solving this terrible and deadlocked situation in Syria the better.
It is very positive that a common international understanding of the way ahead is taking shape. The EU member states support a strong international reaction. A number of countries wish to allow for the UN fact finding mission to present its results as soon as possible. We expect the report to be released within this week.
Denmark has already expressed political support to a limited and proportionate military action on multiple occasions. I’ve spoken to Secretary John Kerry and Deputy Secretary William Burns last week. In addition, the EU foreign affairs ministers had a long and in depth discussion with Kerry at Gymnich. And the Prime Minister has spoken to President Obama in Stockholm together with her Nordic colleagues. Today, I have told Ambassador Gifford that Denmark will join in signing the statement. It is important that we get the biggest possible international backing for the way ahead, and Denmark would like to join these efforts.“
President Ilves: "The main issue on our agenda today is global and regional security, and the question, of course, on everyone’s mind is the situation in Syria. For Estonia, the use of chemical weapons is deplorable. The attack demands a response. Those responsible must be held accountable. Violations cannot be overlooked.
When it comes to our security, we appreciate the commitment that the United States has shown to our region and Europe as a whole, and we attach great importance to continued U.S. engagement in European security."
The European Union
• Information from a wide variety of sources confirms the existence of such an attack. It seems to indicate strong evidence that the Syrian regime is responsible for these attacks as it is the only one that possesses chemical weapons agents and means of their delivery in a sufficient quantity.
• In the face of this cynical use of chemical weapons, the international community cannot remain idle. A clear and strong response is crucial to make clear that such crimes are unacceptable and that there can be no impunity. We must prevent creating a dreadful precedent for the use of chemical weapons in Syria again, or elsewhere.
• The EU underscores at the same time the need to move forward with addressing the Syrian crisis through the UN process. We note the on-going UN investigation on the 21st of August attack and further investigations on other chemical weapons attacks carried out in this conflict. It hopes a preliminary report of this first investigation can be released as soon as possible and welcomes President Hollande‘s statement to wait for this report before any further action. The EU urges the UN Security Council to unite in its efforts to prevent any further chemical attack. To that effect, it encourages the UNSC to fulfil its responsibilities and take all initiatives to achieve this goal. The EU and its member states intend to play a full and active part in that context.
• The EU recalls the individual responsibility of the perpetrators of attacks of this type, who must be held accountable, and the role of the ICC in investigating and judging such acts.
• Only a political solution that will result in a united, inclusive and democratic Syria can end the terrible bloodshed, grave violations of human rights and the far-reaching destruction of Syria. An encompassing diplomatic process leading to a political solution is now more urgent than ever. The initiative for a "Geneva II" peace conference must move ahead swiftly. The EU is ready to provide all support needed to achieve a political settlement and work with partners and international actors, particularly the United Nations.
• The EU will uphold its commitment, as the largest donor, to provide aid and assistance to those in need due to the Syrian conflict. It will maintain its readiness to help the recovery, rehabilitation and transition in Syria, in accordance with the needs of the Syrian people.
The European Union (EUEA)
France will not launch a military assault against Syria by itself, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Wednesday, amid calls by French opposition leaders to put any action to a U.N. Security Council vote.
During a raucous two-hour parliamentary debate, French lawmakers argued about the wisdom of acting against Syria after President Obama decided to seek congressional approval for a U.S. strike. Allies of French President François Hollande accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of repeatedly using chemical weapons against his citizens and said that if the world did not respond with force, he would do so again.
But opposition leaders said France would be in contravention of international law if it acted against Syria without U.N. authorization — an unlikely development in any case because of Russia’s veto power in the Security Council and its implacable opposition to any move against its longtime Syrian ally.
The Washington Post
French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday that he is seeking a coalition of European states to decide on the possibility of military intervention in Syria.
However, he said France would not go it alone if the U.S. Congress opposes an armed offensive against the government of President Bashar Assad.
Instead, he said an American "no" vote would force France to support the Syrian opposition, without providing details.
The Los Angeles Times
On Friday, when the Obama team got 10 other countries to sign a declaration blaming Assad for the gas attack and demanding a strong response, Germany was the only one of five EU countries that did not sign, unlike the UK, France, Italy, and Spain.
By Sunday, Merkel had changed her mind and decided to join the signatories after all. But it was the others who were to blame.
"I decided that Germany would only sign once we managed to find a common European position," she told an election rally in Düsseldorf on Sunday, announcing the abrupt U-turn.
The German prevarication was already causing international ripples.
"Can someone please explain why Germany was the only major western country not to sign onto statement on Syria at the G20," tweeted Ivo Daalder, until recently the US ambassador to Nato in Brussels.
When told Merkel had changed her mind, he added: "Good. Better late than never. I understand Iraq war trauma. My worry was Libya repeat."
But the wobbles in Berlin were on full view a couple of weeks earlier. In the wake of the Ghouta attack, the German foreign ministry issued a statement announcing that if the Syrian regime was found to be responsible "Germany will be among those calling for action to be taken".
Within a hour that statement had been binned and a new one drafted. Instead, Germany would "consider that some consequences will have to be drawn".
Merkel claimed improbably she did not know the other Europeans were backing Obama in the G20 declaration. If true, she has a problem with her staff and her advisers. And she argued she had to wait for the EU statement in Vilnius.
On Monday, she came out strongly in favor of an international response to the massacre last Wednesday. "The alleged widespread use of gas has broken a taboo," Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said. "It requires consequences and a very clear response is needed."
Foreign Minster Guido Westerwelle joined her. Saying the use of chemical weapons would be a "crime against civilization," Westerwelle said: "Should the use of such weapons be confirmed, the world community must act. At that time, Germany will belong to those who support consequences."
Briefing journalists on New Delhi's position on Syria, as articulated by the prime minister at the G20 dinner, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia said India was totally opposed to the use of chemicals weapons and any stock pile must be destroyed.
But he equally made it clear that it was not in favour of unilateral action -- something the US has been threatening, much against the opposite views of several countries, notably Russia and China.
"The prime minister said we need to be certain about the facts, keeping in mind past experience we need to be certain it has happened, even if the probability indicates it has happened. So we need to see what the UN inspectors come up with," Ahluwalia said.
"The prime minister said whatever action is taken must be within the UN auspices and not outside of it. He also said armed action must not be made for regime change."
In fact UN secretary-general has already warned that any unilateral military strike against Syria without the world body's sanction would be illegal.
“Indonesia’s stance is clear. President Yudhoyono has said that, while affirming that the use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians cannot be accepted, we need to ensure who actually carried out the attacks. In this sense, we should wait for the UN’s inspection team to announce the result of its investigation,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa. . . .
To be sure, Israel is not putting obstacles in the way of a US strike, and there is strong support from the Israeli public. A poll last week by the conservative daily paper Israel Hayom found that two-thirds of Israelis are in favor of such a strike, even though roughly the same percentage of respondents said it would likely draw Israel into the war.
But Israeli leaders have largely been quiet on the issue, and while the main pro-Israel lobby has pressed congressmen to support the proposed strike, it has been done more in the context of upholding world order rather than protecting narrow Israeli interests.
“This critical decision comes at a time when Iran is racing toward obtaining nuclear capability,” said the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in a Sept. 3 statement. “Failure to approve this resolution would weaken our country's credibility to prevent the use and proliferation of unconventional weapons and thereby greatly endanger our country’s security and interests and those of our regional allies.”
Nor is there much evident pressure from Israeli officials in Washington.
“I don’t think they’re lobbying, I think some people are interested in their view of how [a US strike] would affect them,” says Josh Block, CEO of The Israel Project in Washington and a former AIPAC spokesman. “Most people are focused on the fundamental implications for global security…. It has very little to do with Israel and far more to do with Syria and their allies Iran and Hezbollah and what kind of world we want to live in.”
Israel has already launched several air strikes against key Syrian weapons depots over the past year, according to international news reports, and also took out a Syrian nuclear facility in 2007. Syria’s failure to retaliate to any of those attacks indicates confidence in Israel’s deterrent capabilities.
Israel expects the Syrian regime to respond to any US strike with some degree of restraint, given the fact that robust retaliation would likely trigger a devastating response from Israel.
"I think Bashar [al-Assad] will react in some way," said Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni, who recently retired from a long career in the Israel Defense Forces, most recently as defense attaché in Washington. “But I think he understands that the meaning of attacking Israel might have very severe consequences to Bashar's ability to continue his regime."
Christian Science Monitor
Prime Minister Enrico Letta said on Thursday Italy would not join any military operation against Damascus without authorization from the United Nations Security Council.
"If the United Nations doesn't back it, Italy will not participate," he told Italy's RAI state radio, but added that Italy fully backed international condemnation of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"The international community has to respond strongly to Assad and his regime and to the horrors which have been committed," he said, referring to reported chemical weapons attacks blamed on the Syrian government.
The Jerusalem Post
1. Japan is deeply concerned by the reports that chemical weapons were used in the outskirts of the Syrian capital city of Damascus on August 21, and that large numbers of citizens were killed, including women and children. Japan will be paying the utmost attention to this matter, and is hoping that the facts will be clarified promptly through inspection by the United Nations inspection team.
2. The use of chemical weapons is not permissible under any circumstances, and Japan intends to continue its diplomatic efforts toward the immediate cessation of all violence in coordination with the international community
The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, who hosted the meeting, put it more bluntly in targeting Syrian President Bashar Assad, speaking of “more and more evidence that the Assad regime is behind all these crimes. We can’t just ignore this.”
The National Post
Dutch security officials have no hard evidence the Assad regime in Syria carried out a poison gas attack on Damascus last month, MPs leaving a special briefing on Wednesday told reporters. The two Dutch security services have analysed all the information presented by the US and briefed the various party's foreign affairs spokesmen. The contents of the briefing are secret, Nos television reported. 'I am not allowed to say anything, but I am still not convinced,' ChristenUnie MP Joel Voordewinde told the Nos. Socialist MP Harry van Bommel said he had not heard anything new. Lessons Foreign minister Frans Timmermans has said repeatedly the Netherlands must draw its own conclusions about what happened in Syria. 'The past has taught us that we must not automatically accept what other countries tell us,' the minister is quoted as saying. The minister was referring to claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction made in 2003. They later turned out not to be true.
Mr Key continues to condemn the attacks and stuck to the line that he would prefer any military response to be backed by the United Nations Security Council.
However, he has not yet ruled out providing "moral support" to any US-led action being carried out in the Arab state.
Talks between world leaders at the G20 Summit underway in Russia have failed to make any headway on the issue.
But Mr Key today repeated his call for the United Nations Security Council to take a stand on the Syria issue.
"We believe the actions that have taken place in Syria are outrageous, there is no place in the world for chemical weapons," he said.
"We continue to make the case very strongly, that individually and collectively, the members of the UN Security Council need to stand up against what has taken place in Syria."
But he said he also felt sympathetic to the US position over the conflict.
"In the end we also acknowledge and recognise the various parliaments around the world are debating this issue and that will certainly take place in the Congress ultimately in the United States next week.," said Mr Key.
"And we understand the views the countries are taking and the frustration they are potentially feeling from the inaction at this point of the UN."
The Polish prime minister said on Wednesday that Warsaw “does not plan to participate in any kind of intervention in Syria.”
He further said that currently no one in the world, including himself, “has the solution ready” on how to stop the violence in Syria.
South Africa does not support military intervention in Syria because such an action has not been sanctioned by the UN Security Council, a government officials said on Friday.
South African Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Ebrahim Ebrahim said at a media briefing in Pretoria that his country was concerned with political unrest in Syria.
South Africa condemns the alleged use of chemical weapons that resulted in the deaths of innocent people in the District of Ghouta in the eastern Damascus last month, he said.
"The use of these weapons in Syria is of serious concern, which we condemn. No cause could ever justify the use of weapons of mass destruction," Ebrahim said.
He, however, cautioned that South Africa will not support military action against Syrian authorities without the mandate of the UN Security Council.
"The UN Charter, which is the supreme standard of international law, is clear that only the United Nations Security Council can mandate the use of military force, and only if other measures are deemed insufficient in bringing about a peaceful resolution of a conflict situation," he said.
South Africa calls on countries to give UN inspectors a chance to conclude their investigation on whether the Syrian authorities used chemical weapons against its own people.
"Military intervention will serve no other purpose than hurting the possibility of a speedy diplomatic solution to the conflict and no effort should be spared to convene the proposed Geneva II Peace Conference as soon as possible.
"We are concerned that the use of chemical weapons, as deplorable as it is, will detract from the larger picture of finding a sustainable resolution to the conflict in Syria, which should remain the primary focus of the international community," said Ebrahim.
Spanish diplomatic sources said Monday that any use of force in Syria must be based by supported legal standings and expressed hope the Security Council would play a vital role on the international scene and in the crisis.
The Spanish news agency (EFE) quoted sources as saying that the Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo phoned various European foreign ministers from Italy, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom on the issue in order to review the latest developments in Syria.
The sources stressed the importance of the completion of the UN inspector mission's role in Syria, including a comprehensive report on last Wednesday's chemical attacks on a Damascus suburb, which it considered a "red line." The sources also expressed grave concern over the ongoing tension in Syria, adding that the situation was being monitored very closely.
The Kuwaiti News Agency
Speaking at a regional NATO conference in the Latvian capital, Riga, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said the West was being short-sighted regarding the instability sweeping the Middle East.
"Let's be realistic. We have an escalating civil war in the entire Levant...the only thing I can say that would have a reasonable chance of success would be to go in with armies and stay there for 30 years and try to do some real nation building. Appetite for that? Non existent," Bildt said.
"It is an immensely complex problem. There is not a simple solution. We will have, on the European side, to stay engaged with this part of the world for decades to come in every single respect," Bildt added.
Turkey said it would join an international coalition against Syria, even if the U.N. Security Council fails to reach consensus on the issue of suspected chemical weapons attacks, its foreign minister said in an interview published Monday in Turkey’s Milliyet newspaper.
"If a coalition is formed against Syria in this process, Turkey will take part in it," Ahmet Davutoglu told the Milliyet.
"After the inspection, the United Nations needs to make a decision on sanctions. If there's no such decision, other options will be on the agenda," Davutoglu said.
The United Kingdom
Ed Miliband said: "Can the prime minister confirm to the House that he will not use the Royal Prerogative to order the UK to be part of military action, given the will of the House that has been expressed tonight, before there has been another vote in this House of Commons?"
David Cameron replied: "I can give that assurance. Let me say the House has not voted for either motion tonight. I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons but I also believe in respecting the will of this House of Commons."
The United States
Excerpt of statement by President Obama: "In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted. Now, after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. This would not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground. Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope. But I’m confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out.
Our military has positioned assets in the region. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose. Moreover, the Chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive; it will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now. And I’m prepared to give that order.
But having made my decision as Commander-in-Chief based on what I am convinced is our national security interests, I’m also mindful that I’m the President of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. I’ve long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. And that’s why I’ve made a second decision: I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress.
Over the last several days, we’ve heard from members of Congress who want their voices to be heard. I absolutely agree. So this morning, I spoke with all four congressional leaders, and they’ve agreed to schedule a debate and then a vote as soon as Congress comes back into session.
In the coming days, my administration stands ready to provide every member with the information they need to understand what happened in Syria and why it has such profound implications for America’s national security. And all of us should be accountable as we move forward, and that can only be accomplished with a vote.
I’m confident in the case our government has made without waiting for U.N. inspectors. I’m comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that, so far, has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable. As a consequence, many people have advised against taking this decision to Congress, and undoubtedly, they were impacted by what we saw happen in the United Kingdom this week when the Parliament of our closest ally failed to pass a resolution with a similar goal, even as the Prime Minister supported taking action."
The Los Angeles Times
Kerry said the US had tracked the Syrian chemical weapons stock for many years, adding that it "was controlled in a very tight manner by the Assad regime … Bashar al-Assad and his brother Maher al-Assad, and a general are the three people that have the control over the movement and use of chemical weapons.
"But under any circumstances, the Assad regime is the Assad regime, and the regime issues orders, and we have regime members giving these instructions and engaging in these preparations with results going directly to President Assad.
"We are aware of that so we have no issue here about responsibility. They have a very threatening level of stocks remaining."
Kerry said Assad might avoid an attack if he handed every bit of his chemical weapons stock, but added that the Syrian president was not going to do that. He warned that if other nations were not prepared to act on the issue of chemical weapons, "you are giving people complete licence to do whatever they want and to feel so they can do with impunity".
Kerry said the Americans were planning an "unbelievably small" attack on Syria. "We will be able to hold Bashar al-Assad accountable without engaging in troops on the ground or any other prolonged kind of effort in a very limited, very targeted, short-term effort that degrades his capacity to deliver chemical weapons without assuming responsibility for Syria's civil war. That is exactly what we are talking about doing – unbelievably small, limited kind of effort."
SYRIA JOINT RESOLUTION FOR MARKUP
To authorize the limited and tailored use of the United States Armed Forces against Syria.
Whereas Syria is in material breach of the laws of war by having employed chemical weapons against its civilian population;
Whereas the abuses of the regime of Bashar al-Assad have included the brutal repression and war upon its own civilian population, resulting in more than 100,000 people killed in the past two years, and more than 2 million internally displaced people and Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, creating an unprecedented regional crisis and instability;
Whereas the Assad regime has the largest chemical weapons programs in the region and has demonstrated its capability and willingness to repeatedly use weapons of mass destruction against its own people, including the August 21, 2013 attack in the suburbs of Damascus in which the Assad regime murdered over 1,000 innocent people, including hundreds of children;
Whereas there is clear and compelling evidence of the direct involvement of Assad regime forces and senior officials in the planning, execution, and after-action attempts to cover-up the August 21 attack, and hide or destroy evidence of such attack;
Whereas the Arab League has declared with regards to the August 21 incident to hold the “Syrian regime responsible for this heinous crime”;
Whereas the United Nations Security Council, in Resolution 1540 (2004) affirmed that the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons constitutes a threat to international peace and security;
Whereas in the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003, Congress found that Syria’s acquisition of weapons of mass destruction threatens the security of the Middle East and the national security interests of the United States;
Whereas the actions and conduct of the Assad regime are in direct contravention of Syria's legal obligations under the United Nations Charter, the Geneva Conventions, and the Geneva Protocol to the Hague Convention on the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, and also violates standards set forth in the Chemical Weapons Convention;
Whereas Syria's use of weapons of mass destruction and its conduct and actions constitute a grave threat to regional stability, world peace, and the national security interests of the United States and its allies and partners;
Whereas the objectives of the United States use of military force in connection with this authorization are to respond to the use, and deter and degrade the potential future use of weapons of mass destruction by the Syrian government;
Whereas the conflict in Syria will only be resolved through a negotiated political settlement, and Congress calls on all parties to the conflict in Syria to participate urgently and constructively in the Geneva process; and
Whereas the President has authority under the Constitution to use force in order to defend the national security interests of the United States:
Now, therefore, be it,
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This joint resolution may be cited as the “Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against the Government of Syria to Respond to Use of Chemical Weapons”.
SECTION 2. AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES.
(a) AUTHORIZATION-The President is authorized, subject to subsection (b), to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in a limited and tailored manner against legitimate military targets in Syria, only to: (1) respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction by the Syrian government in the conflict in Syria; (2) deter Syria’s use of such weapons in order to protect the national security interests of the United States and to protect our allies and partners against the use of such weapons; and (3) degrade Syria’s capacity to use such weapons in the future.
(b) REQUIREMENT FOR DETERMINATION THAT USE OF MILITARY FORCE IS NECESSARY- Before exercising the authority granted in subsection (a), the President shall make available to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate his determination that—
(1) the United States has used all appropriate diplomatic and other peaceful means to prevent the deployment and use of weapons of mass destruction by Syria;
(2) the Syrian government has conducted one or more significant chemical weapons attacks;
(3) the use of military force is necessary to respond to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government;
(4) it is in the core national security interest of the United States to use such military force;
(5) the United States has a military plan to achieve the specific goals of responding to the use of weapons of mass destruction by the Syrian government in the conflict in Syria, to deter Syria’s use of such weapons in order to protect the national security interests of the United States and to protect our allies and partners against the use of such weapons, and to degrade Syria’s capacity to use such weapons in the future; and
(6) the use of military force is consistent with and furthers the goals of the United States strategy toward Syria, including achieving a negotiated political settlement to the conflict.
(c) WAR POWERS RESOLUTION REQUIREMENTS-
(1) SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION- Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, 50 U.S.C. § 1541, et seq., the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution, within the limits of the authorization established under this Section.
(2) APPLICABILITY OF OTHER REQUIREMENTS- Nothing in this resolution supersedes any requirement of the War Powers Resolution.
SECTION 3. LIMITATION. The authority granted in section 2 does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Syria for the purpose of combat operations.
SECTION 4. TERMINATION OF THE AUTHORIZATION FOR THE USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES.
The authorization in section 2(a) shall terminate 60 days after the date of the enactment of this joint resolution, except that the President may extend, for a single period of 30 days, such authorization if –
(1) the President determines and certifies to Congress, not later than 5 days before the date of termination of the initial authorization, that the extension is necessary to fulfill the purposes of this resolution as defined by Section 2(a) due to extraordinary circumstances and for ongoing and impending military operations against Syria under section 2(a); and
(2) Congress does not enact into law, before the extension of authorization, a joint resolution disapproving the extension of the authorization for the additional 30 day period; provided that any such joint resolution shall be considered under the expedited procedures otherwise provided for concurrent resolutions of disapproval contained in section 7 of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1546).
SECTION 5. SYRIA STRATEGY.
Not later than 30 days after the date of the enactment of this resolution, the President shall consult with Congress and submit to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives an integrated United States Government strategy for achieving a negotiated political settlement to the conflict in Syria, including a comprehensive review of current and planned U.S. diplomatic, political, economic, and military policy towards Syria, including: (1) the provision of all forms of assistance to the Syrian Supreme Military Council and other Syrian entities opposed to the government of Bashar Al-Assad that have been properly and fully vetted and share common values and interests with the United States; (2) the provision of all forms of assistance to the Syrian political opposition, including the Syrian Opposition Coalition; (3) efforts to isolate extremist and terrorist groups in Syria to prevent their influence on the future transitional and permanent Syrian governments; (4) coordination with allies and partners; and (5) efforts to limit support from the Government of Iran and others for the Syrian regime.
SECTION 6. CONGRESSIONAL NOTIFICATION AND REPORTING.
(a) Notification and Provision of Information. Upon his determination to use the authority set forth in section 2 of this Act, the President shall notify Congress, including the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, of the use of such authority and shall keep Congress fully and currently informed of the use of such authority.
(b) Reports. No fewer than 10 days after the initiation of military operations under the authority provided by Section 2, and every 20 days thereafter until the completion of military operations, the President shall submit to the Congress, including the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a report on the status of such operations, including progress achieved toward the objectives specified in Section 2(a), the financial costs of operations to date, and an assessment of the impact of the operations on the Syrian regime's chemical weapons capabilities and intentions.
SECTION 7. RULE OF CONSTRUCTION. The authority set forth in Section 2 of this resolution shall not constitute an authorization for the use of force or a declaration of war except to the extent that it authorizes military action under the conditions, for the specific purposes, and for the limited period of time set forth in this resolution.
Full Text of Draft, via al-Jazeera
While this is all very interesting, it is also worth noting that on the 6th the United States and several other nations released the following joint communique on Syria (quoted in full below from the White House website):
The Leaders and Representatives of Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America made the following statement on the margins of the Group of 20 Nations Leader’s Meeting in Saint Petersburg, Russia:
The international norm against the use of chemical weapons is longstanding and universal. The use of chemical weapons anywhere diminishes the security of people everywhere. Left unchallenged, it increases the risk of further use and proliferation of these weapons.
We condemn in the strongest terms the horrific chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21st that claimed the lives of so many men, women, and children. The evidence clearly points to the Syrian government being responsible for the attack, which is part of a pattern of chemical weapons use by the regime.
We call for a strong international response to this grave violation of the world’s rules and conscience that will send a clear message that this kind of atrocity can never be repeated. Those who perpetrated these crimes must be held accountable.
Signatories have consistently supported a strong UN Security Council Resolution, given the Security Council's responsibilities to lead the international response, but recognize that the Council remains paralyzed as it has been for two and a half years. The world cannot wait for endless failed processes that can only lead to increased suffering in Syria and regional instability. We support efforts undertaken by the United States and other countries to reinforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.
We commit to supporting longer term international efforts, including through the United Nations, to address the enduring security challenge posed by Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles. Signatories have also called for the UN fact finding mission to present its results as soon as possible, and for the Security Council to act accordingly.
We condemn in the strongest terms all human rights violations in Syria on all sides. More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict, more than 2 million people have become refugees, and approximately 5 million are internally displaced. Recognizing that Syria’s conflict has no military solution, we reaffirm our commitment to seek a peaceful political settlement through full implementation of the 2012 Geneva Communique. We are committed to a political solution which will result in a united, inclusive and democratic Syria.
We have contributed generously to the latest United Nations (UN) and ICRC appeals for humanitarian assistance and will continue to provide support to address the growing humanitarian needs in Syria and their impact on regional countries. We welcome the contributions announced at the meeting of donor countries on the margins of the G20. We call upon all parties to allow humanitarian actors safe and unhindered access to those in need.
European signatories will continue to engage in promoting a common European position.
- - - -
Long story short? Consensus may be developing, but it is spotty, damaged by the Iraqi-American War's diplomatic mistakes, and very inconsistent.
2. Why has it gone this far?
Like all wars, the ingredients for the the Syrian revolution were present well before they were ever ignited. Consider:
(1) The established regime is brutally repressive of dissent, meaning there is little safety valve for expression of dissatisfaction;
(2) The regime privileges certain ideological, religious, and ethnic identities at the expense of others;
(3) Syria is in the Levant of the Middle East geographically, an area awash in easily available weapons thanks to nearly a century of intermittent interstate and intrastate warfare, often involving non-state actors sponsored by in-theater and out-of-theater states;
(4) Syria is equally awash in demonstration effects thanks to the ongoing Kurdish nationalist rebellions in Turkey and Iraq, the ongoing radical Shi'a and Sunni fundamentalist movements in Iraq, and the destabilizing effects of the Arab Spring, all amplified by transnational refugee movements and mass communication on unprecedented scales;
(5) The Great Powers (especially Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Iran, and Saudi Arabia) are aggravating the situation by making this into a proxy war (perhaps part of what is increasingly being described as the multipolar "Cool War"?), providing access to training, intelligence, weapons, and experienced militants;
(6) Key intergovernmental institutions (especially the United Nations) are in a gridlock thanks to flaws in decision-making apparatuses and conflicting interstate norms of incredible importance - specifically the taboo on using weapons of mass destruction and the taboo on using interstate force without Security Council sanction in a non-defensive manner.
(7) The "War on Terror," while effectively undermining the largest and most powerful radical Islamic fundmentalist non-state actors, has not eliminated them as a threat but in fact caused their adaptation into smaller, more independent, cellular organizations that are also more ideologically fractured and more comfortable with transnational movement and ad hoc support; and
(8) The weak global economy in in the early 21st Century has created powerful incentives for disengagement or weak, inadequate institution-building and conflict-resolution engagement among the Great Powers.
3. What about the chemical weapons?
What the interstate community agrees on:
Chemical weapons have been used many times in Syria, resulting in the highest causalty numbers from a weapon of mass destruction since the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.
The United Nations weapons inspectors were given far too small a window, both spatially and temporally, to gather data to determine definitively the kind of information necessary and warranted for their investigation.
What the interstate community does not agree on:
Who used these weapon?
There are four opinions -
The False Flag Option - Syria and Russia claim they were used by disestablishmentarians attempting to force the hand of the West into intervention;
The Establishment Option - The US, UK, and France insist they were used by the regime as part of their suppression of disestablishmentarian forces, probably in order to minimize losses due to urban conflict; this was ordered by Asad;
The Alternate Establishment Option - Ditto, except that the orders to use these weapons were given by officers in the field, not Asad, either for reasons of plausable deniability or as a product of internal factionalism. Germany increasingly seems to be leaning this way;
The Wait-and-See Option - Many nations have opted to reserve judgement until United Nations investigations are complete, allowing them more time and room to manuvere diplomatically and giving them the powerful tool of UN legitimization.
What kind of weapons were used?
Most reports seem to indicate the chemical used was sarin gas, though the Syrians are generally acknowledged as having many other types of weapons distributed in caches across the nation.
4. What are the benefits, costs, and risks associated with intervention?
A very good question and, honestly, one that is awfully tough to answer.
There is really only one definite benefit that can come from a limited strike on Syria, but hot dog is it a doozy - that is that the international community will, at least to some minimal degree, be enforcing the taboo on chemical weapons use through a punitive response. There also could be the advantage of weakening the regime vis-a-vis the disestablishmentarians that they become willing to come to the negotiation table, brokering a peace that is stable and perhaps pluralistic - though frankly, that is a lot more difficult to achieve and far more difficult to imagine.
Indeed, the US, France, and their allies couldn't even directly target the chemical weapons stores of Syria since bombardment thereof could result in the widespread release of toxins from the storage facilities, creating a far worse human tragedy than what the strikes themselves aimed to avert.
The costs of such an action are difficult for us to appraise from outside of the "classified" zone, but some things that immediately come to mind include the immediate costs of the military hardware and manhours - easily these will reach into the tens of billions of dollars, one imagines. Furthermore, costs will include substantial diplomatic capital - it is difficult to imagine that relations with those nations, great and otherwise, and non-state actors that oppose military strikes on Syria won't suffer substantially, not to mention the validity of intergovernmental organs aimed at maintaining an international system that doesn't slip back into the bad-old-days of the pre-war international system.
Furthermore, if airstrikes will entail risks - risks of anti-aircraft fire threatening manned aircraft, threats of land to sea assaults on naval forces, and risks of being drawn deeper into the conflict if unanticipated results leapfrog from the strikes - which will almost certainly happen, to a lesser or greater degree. Add to this Syria's ambiguous promise of "repercussions" - a less than veiled threat that pro-Syrian non-state actors are likely to increase their anti-American/anti-French/etc. activities in an effort to increase costs and deter further action (one imagines primarily against American embassies and military bases, as well possibly soft targets, possibly in the US, but definitely in areas like Iraq, Saudi Arabia, etc.).
5. Why does the United States hold that chemical weapons constitute a “red line”?
Three kinds of weapons are considered to be particularly heinous in the modern war system - nuclear weapons, biological weapons, and chemical weapons. These weapons are very different from one another save for one critical point - they are all messy. None of them allow surgical strikes, or even the illusion of precision. Rather, the destructive potential of each lies in their scale, the fact that all serve as area denial weapons after use to a greater or lesser degree, and their sheer horror - there is typically little defense against them, survival is often undesirable, and civilians are just as likely to be injured, if not more so, as combatants.
Yet, nonetheless, these weapons have a value - their sheer horror makes them essentially usable - indeed. the mere potential that they might be used deters states from from engaging in lower level forms of violence that are likely to result in sliding up the tactical or strategic scale. This then mutually deters states with these weapons, or even the potential capability to have these weapons, from engaging in warfare with one another. This, more than anything, is likely responsible for the absence of great power warfare since the end of the Second World War.
The thing is, it depends on a belief - a taboo if you will - everyone must credibly believe that everyone else might use weapons of mass destruction, or equivalent levels of violence, in response to a first use of such weapons. Remove the taboo and war becomes generally more rational as a policy, and war using these weapons becomes infinitely more likely.
6. Why do the Russians hold that intervention in Syria without UN authorization would be an act of illegal international aggression?
Because they're right.
Virtually ever nation in the world, including every member of the United Nations, is committed under international treaty to avoid using force as a mechanism of dispute resolution (because violence does solve problems, just not always in a way that is preferable). As such, unless a state is acting in self-defense or in defense of another state illegally attacked, there is only one organ which may legally determine that the use of force as an offensive tool is legal - the United Nations Security Council.
Now, let me be clear - this prohibition is on the use of force internationally - intrastate war is still wholly a legal question of each respective state - UNLESS the UN Security Council gives international actors the right to intervene.
In theory, then, this shouldn't be a problem - nation-state X commits atrocity Y so the UN allows intervention, on human rights grounds, by coalition Z. Easy peasy.
Except that the Security Council has five permanent members, each of which can, for any reason they see fit, veto any act of the Council. These states are all supremely powerful - they are the largest manufacturers and sellers of weapons, they have militaries that are both nuclear-equipped and intercontinental in their reaches. The problem is that they have widely variant assumptions about what is and isn't ethical, what states are and are not violating interstate norms, what those norms should be, and of course very different realpolitik interests - seriously, compare and contrast the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, and China - we're talking about serious complications getting these nations to agree to anything on the table, especially getting them to do it with speed.
Of course, that is how it is supposed to work - it is supposed to slow down hot tempers and ideological zealots, prevent the great powers from butting heads, tie their hands a little bit, force them to make concessions on their particular value systems in the name of peace. Which is great.
Until it isn't.
7. What about Syria's failure to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention?
The simple fact of the matter is that Syria hasn't ever signed the instrument of international law that forbids them from using chemical weapons in the way that they are alleged to. Now, that doesn't mean they aren't beholden to the law - after all, I am still beholden to stop at stop signs and global acclaim for a principle is pretty compelling, but still, it ain't a bad argument given that Syria is a sovereign state - possibly a clear example of the difference between law and justice.
So, there it is. It isn't satisfying. It isn't neat and pretty and fit for a lovely bow. But friends, it is the messy, God's honest truth. Now we have only to make decisions based upon it.