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US missile attack on Syria: A reckless intervention (.hindu)

The American air strikes on Syria raise questions of legality and purpose

The U.S. missile attack on a Syrian airbase, which President Donald Trump ordered after civilians in the rebel-held Idlib province were hit with chemical weapons causing the deaths of at least 80 people, marks a departure in American policy towards the war-ravaged country. Though President Barack Obama had repeatedly said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should go, he resisted calls for military action in this regard, primarily for two reasons: he wanted the U.S. to stay focussed on the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and was wary of dragging the U.S. into a direct confrontation with Russia, which is backing the regime. Even Mr. Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, had said that Mr. Assad’s future was up to the Syrians. But then came the chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun, leading Mr. Trump to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles on the al-Shayrat airbase in Homs. On the face of it, it appears to be a bold move intended to take Mr. Assad to task for his actions. But in truth, the Trump administration has risked escalating the Syrian crisis to far more dangerous levels. Once the brouhaha over the attack settles, Mr. Trump will face the question of what he really achieved from the missile strike. Did it establish any deterrence in Syria? Will it help in the long run to mitigate the suffering of the Syrians or bring the civil war to an end?

The strike also raises questions about its legality. The UN Charter clearly states that any attack on another country needs Security Council approval unless it is an act in self-defence. On the ground, the U.S. action seems to have cemented the alliance between Moscow and Damascus further, with the former sending a warship to the Mediterranean and threatening to halt a “deconfliction” channel, a hot line between the Russian and U.S. defence ministries to avoid direct confrontation in Syria. Mr. Trump could have waited for the UN to complete its probe into the chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun before initiating military action, while simultaneously working to build a consensus on Syria at the UN Security Council. The U.S. and other countries could also have put more pressure on Moscow to rein in Mr. Assad, and offered support to the peace process backed by Russia and Turkey. If the last six years of the deadly civil war in Syria offer a concrete lesson, it is that there are no quick fixes to this crisis that has political, sectarian and geopolitical dimensions. Removing Mr. Assad forcibly may sound purposeful, but it risks a direct confrontation between the U.S. and Russia and could result in the deaths and displacement of many more Syrians, triggering another wave of refugees. The primary focus of the international community should be on ending this war, not on lighting new fires.

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