On April 14, a barrage of 105 missiles rained down on western Syria, unleashed by three of the P5 nations in the United Nations—France, Great Britain, and the United States. At its eighth year, the Syrian civil war has been wreaking havoc within the region and has led to the despondent flee of close to 14 million displaced refugees seeking humanitarian relief. With Bashar al-Assad’s recent chemical attacks, the arguably sporadic President Donald Trump asserted he and his allies could not stand by and witness such atrocious, inhumane acts, thus leading to the “precision strikes” against targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities. Last April, Trump ordered an attack against a Syrian airbase after a government warplane dropped bombs possibly containing the nerve agent sarin. With this month’s joint attacks, only time will tell what this means for the future of international intervention into Syrian affairs.
“The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread, and use of chemical weapons,” Trump said. “Establishing this deterrent is a vital national security interest of the United States.”
Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, reported that the targeted facilities were stricken at 4 a.m. local time, highly decreasing the likelihood that civilian deaths resulted. Nevertheless, he concedes that the Syrian government’s missile defense systems may have caused civilian casualties, however minimal the number.
However, questions have been raised regarding the moral and legal integrity of this deed. Jeremy Corbyn refers to them as “legally questionable” and accused Theresa May of “trailing after Donald Trump” in this attack. As she had not sought parliamentary approval nor waited for a UN-led investigation of the chemical attacks, he finds the recent events unsettling and calls upon the international community to reconsider its actions.
In addition, the alleged purpose of the joint airstrikes–“restore deterrence against further regime use of chemical weapons,” according to Andrew Weber, former assistant Secretary of Defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense–was not necessarily fulfilled either. Since Syria’s unheld promise to forsake the development of a nuclear arsenal in a 2013 deal, the Assad administration has not seemed ready to give up. Syria’s foreign ministry issued a statement that these recent acts of “aggression will not affect the determination and will of the Syrian people and their armed forces to continue pursuing the remnants of … terrorism and defending Syria’s sovereignty.”
Although in principle, the airstrikes may have seemed purposeful and justifiable, reconsideration of what they have accomplished is essential to ensuring the de-escalation of this chronic conflict. Beginning with one of the first aggressive acts of intervention by a western liberal democracy since the dawn of the civil war, this chain of “punishment” airstrikes continues to grow in degree. If we are to expect status quo and equilibrium in the future–and with North Korea’s recent promise to rid its administration of nuclear weapons–the realization that airstrikes are not the most effective means of accomplishing this goal is essential. Our other options must be considered, and if none are present as of today, then we must discover some, lest chaos and destruction. One more attack may mean two more nations getting involved in a joint airstrike. One more attack may mean another world war. One more attack may mean an approach to–or the arrival at–a point of no return.