In an interview this morning on National Public Radio (NPR), Ambassador Samantha Power noted:
"If we take military action in this context, it will be a legitimate, necessary and proportionate response to this large-scale and indiscriminate use of chemical weapons by this regime."
The Ambassador made reference to the situation in Kosovo, when the Security Council was deadlocked and essentially paralyzed and unable to act.. One supposes this could have been due to its member nations’ being unclear about whether a ‘crime against humanity’ in a place far away then demanded that each of those member nations had a vital interest in taking action to intervene with another to enforce the UN Charter under Article 51.
The Ambassador explained further, this morning:
"In this case, you have the grave breach of such a critical international norm in terms of the ban on chemical weapons use," Power said. "It is very important that the international community act so as to prevent further use."
In her remarks about the use of chemical weapons in Syria on Friday,Ambassador Power was extremely careful about her language in framing the Obama Administration’s case for the rationale in his considering the use of force through some debilitating military action that would halt the deployment of chemical weapons in Syria.
The UN Security Council members representing Russia and China have steadfastly declined three recent resolutions thus far on this issue, and while many believe that they are waiting for additional evidence in order to form an adequate judgment, others characterize their position as favoring an alliance with nations in the Eastern hemisphere, generally.
The position of the Secretary-General is two-fold, guided by the premise that the UN Charter has set forth procedures for the resolutions of disputes which he relies upon and acknowledges that it would be unlawful for any member nation to intervene with another member nation except when such actions have the approval of the Security Council – or when a nation is acting in self defense.
The Ambassador began by explaining that Syria is important to U.S. national interests for several reasons. Since Syria geographically “lies at the heart of a region critical to U.S. security, a region that is home to friends and partners and one of our closest allies,” it is vitally important to our interests, she argues.
"It is important because the Syrian regime possesses stores of chemical weapons that they have recently used on a large scale and that we cannot allow to fall into terrorists’ hands.It is important because the Syrian regime is collaborating with Iran, and works in lockstep with thousands of extremist fighters from Hezbollah.”
The fourth reason the Ambassador explained, is that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a humanitarian crisis, as was a similar case in Kosovo.
Not only have the Syrian people “suffered unimaginable horror these last two and a half years,” she argues but because the use of chemical weapons in Syria – in defiance of the universal norm against this, and its being unlawful – constitutes a threat not only against U.S. interests but is an aggressive act against human dignity itself, and is a crime against humanity.
Ambassador Power said that she was there to explain why the costs of the Administration’s not taking “targeted, limited military action” would represent an even greater risk to the U.S. and to the world’s interests in preserving and protecting the interests of humanity, rather than to “move forward in the manner that President Obama has outlined.”
The Ambassador brought the issue to life in a personal way:
“What comes to mind for me is one father in al-Ghouta saying goodbye to his two young daughters. His girls had not yet been shrouded, they were still dressed in the pink shorts and leggings of little girls. The father lifted their lifeless bodies, cradled them, and cried out “Wake up...What would I do without you?... How do I stand this pain?” As a parent, I cannot begin to answer his questions. I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to feel such searing agony. …
There are many reasons that governments representing 98% of the world’s population – including all 15 members of the UN Security Council – agreed to ban chemical weapons. These weapons kill in the most gruesome possible way. They kill indiscriminately – they are incapable of distinguishing between a child and a rebel. And they have the potential to kill massively. We believe that this one attack in Damascus claimed more than 1,400 lives …”
Ambassador Power explained that the U.S. has exhausted other options. The Administration has made efforts to engage the Syrians directly and requested that the Russians, the UN, and the Iranians send similar messages, to no avail.The U.S. then appealed to the UN to create a group of inspectors and then for a period of six months, worked to assist their gaining access, “on the logic that perhaps the presence of an investigative team in the country might deter future attacks.”
Noting that the international system founded in 1945 was "designed specifically to respond to the kinds of horrors we saw play out in World War II," the Security Council's promise has yet to "live up to its responsibilities in the case of Syria."
Expressing the belief that at this point it would be rather “naïve” to expect Russia to alter its position and permit the Security Council to “assume its rightful role as the enforcer of international peace and security,” the Ambassador noted ruefully that “the Security Council the world needs to deal with this urgent crisis is not the Security Council we have."
Many Americans recognize that, while we were right to seek to work through the Security Council, it is clear that Syria is one of those occasions - like Kosovo – when the Council is so paralyzed that countries have to act outside it if they are to prevent the flouting of international laws and norms … In this instance, the use of limited military force can strengthen our diplomacy – and energize the efforts by the UN and others to achieve a negotiated settlement to the underlying conflict.
This is the right debate for us to have. We should be asking the hard questions and making deliberate choices before embarking upon action. There is no risk-free door #2 that we can choose in this case.
Ambassador Power's first career was as a journalist. Her most recent book is "Chasing the Flame: One Man's Fight to Save the World," a biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello, "whose work for the U.N. before his 2003 death in Iraq, was emblematic of moral struggle on the global stage. She is also the author of "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide," which won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction.