By Matthew Spivey
The rebel-controlled city of Douma, in the East Ghouta region of Syria, was subject to a horrific chemical weapons attack on 7th April 2018 that left 43 dead. The Syrian government has denied any involvement, whilst the French government has released claims that they have solid proof exposing the Syrian regime’s direct involvement in the use of Chlorine-based weapons against their own citizens. The chemical weapons attack on Douma took place exactly a year to the day since the Shayrat Missile attack conducted by Trump in 2017 to destroy the Shayrat Airbase believed to be the base of the aircraft which operated a chemical weapons attack in Syria on 4th April 2017. History is repeating itself, and the strikes conducted by the US, Britain and France have been forced into fruition as a result of the repetition of abhorrent chemical weapons attacks.
Theresa May has been clear that ‘we cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised’, and the strikes on Syria should, therefore, be seen as a limited act of aggression to send a message to all nations that chemical weapons will not be tolerated. The strikes targeted three separate sites believed to be holding chemical weapons, therefore quelling the opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn’s, concerns that the civilians of Syria have already faced enough hardship as thousands ‘have already been killed and millions displaced’. These strikes, however, are not aimed at the innocent civilians (of whom none were harmed by these recent strikes) but rather at the Assad regime’s air bases to remove the possibility of future such chemical attacks.
The morals of this debate, therefore, become distorted between the prevention of further chemical weapons use and the wellbeing of the Syrian civilians. Corbyn suggested there should now be a ‘diplomatic lead to negotiate a pause in this abhorrent conflict’, whilst it is apparent from the previous American strike on Syria last year, that lessons are not being heeded. May has emphasised, though, that ‘the lesson of history is that when the global rules and standards that keep us safe come under threat we must take a stand and defend them’. Therefore, it becomes apparent that there is an international obligation to condemn the actions of the Syrian regime; to ignore the horrific murder of Syrian men, women and children would be to accept chemical weapons attacks and normalise them.
The situation is further complicated by the wider political context. Donald Trump, in his announcement of the strikes taking place, added comments to provoke the Russian and Iranian governments. He addressed both of Syria’s ‘allies’ probing ‘What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?’ The purpose of the strikes is to ‘reinstate the global consensus that chemical weapons cannot be used’. Yet Trump’s involvement of Putin and his aggravation of the situation on the social media platform, Twitter, have brought criticism onto the strikes as being a chance taken by Trump to intensify his conflict with Putin. However, despite the transparent attempt by Trump to manipulate these strikes into a more selfish political agenda, these strikes are still primarily ‘to establish a strong deterrent against the production spread and use of chemical weapons’.
Corbyn has been quick to send a damning letter to May, outlining his concern that the UK Parliament was not included with a say in whether the strikes occur or not. Corbyn has made clear his view that ‘the UK Prime Minister is accountable to Parliament, not the whims of a US President’. Yet May’s action is been based upon an international urgency to respond to the intolerable crime of chemical weapon use. May has reassured Mr Corbyn that ‘we would have preferred an alternative path, but on this occasion there is none’ and that the decision to send these strikes was ‘absolutely in Britain’s national interest’. Therefore, the strikes to Syria ‘will also send a clear signal to anyone else who believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity’.
Britain must now focus on not only sending air strikes to Syria, but must also understand the international role the UK plays in reasserting that chemical weapons are not condoned. May must now consider the need for us to aid the innocent civilians in a regime which has been exposed as internally corrupt. The next step should, therefore, be for May to reconsider the UK borders and the refuge offered to those most affected by the Assad regime. The recent air strikes are one step towards an international front to combat corrupt regimes and chemical weapons use, but there should now be a focus on a diplomatic sanctioning of Syria in order to quell the tensions Trump has brought to the fore, and also to unhinge the Assad regime.
Photograph: Robert Sulliva via Flickr