This weekend, coalition forces from Britain, France, and the United States launched a coordinated air missile attack against Syrian government bases linked with the production and regulation of chemical weapons.
The first air strike was launched on Friday night AEST at three targets in Syria; one on the outskirts of greater Damascus, the Syrian capital, and two others further north near the city of Homs.
US President Donald Trump issued a statement saying the strikes were a response to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against the people in the district of Douma, which killed at least 78.
He says the US has proof that forces under the command of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used weaponised chlorine during an air strike on April 7.
“The Syrian regime again deployed chemical weapons to attack innocent civilians, this time in the town of Duma … this massacre was an escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use,” President Trump told the media conference.
“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regimes stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.”
French President Emmanuel Macron supports President Trump’s claim, and further coalition sources contend that symptoms of the victims and toxicology reports indicate the presence of sarin gas.
Assad’s government has denied the allegations, and directed blame towards Syrian opposition forces.
Assad is backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose representative on the United Nations Security Council earlier this week blocked a proposed UN independent investigation into the attack.
These strikes are the most damaging direct military action by the US government towards the Syrian regime since the 2017 strike against the Shayrat Airbase.
In a statement to the press on Saturday afternoon, Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne confirmed that no Australian forces were involved in the strike.
President Assad has promised retaliatory measures.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull supported the action, saying on Saturday the strikes sent an ‘unequivocal message’ to the Assad regime and its allies, condemning all use of chemical weapons.
“The use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances is illegal and utterly reprehensible. The Assad regime must not be allowed to commit such crimes with impunity,” the Prime Minister said.
Mr Turnbull also described the action as being ‘calibrated, proportionate, and targeted’. But what does this carefully constructed response actually mean, when looked at closely?
Before any rash retaliation could be made by coalition forces, larger external factors had to be assessed. The first was whether or not a strike would inadvertently hit foreign forces. If Russian or Iranian civilians were caught in the destruction, there would be massive political ramifications, especially since President Putin had warned the US against unilateral action following President Trump’s threats throughout the week.
A second concern would also be whether the US would risk angering Assad’s allies and alienating sections of the global community by being seen to make a direct assault on the Assad regime. Ostensibly, the US’s primary concern in the region is to combat ISIL, and an air strike on government forces serves as an example of Washington once again de-stabilising another Middle Eastern system of governance.
While at first it seems counter-intuitive to advertise any impending military incursion, President Trump allowed the allies of Assad to distance themselves from the chemical plants and therefore the action is one of denunciation and prevention, rather than one that yields a punishing death toll. Even though this move further fractures US-Russian relations, it does not yet shatter them quite like it could have.
‘Proportionate, and Targeted’
One of the primary reasons why chemical weaponry is internationally prohibited in warfare is because the horrible death one suffers from sarin, VX and other nerve agents is not a fair or proportionate way to end a life – even in battle. Proportionality is an imperative factor to consider when engaging in any kind of pre-emptive or retaliatory response, and here Mr Turnbull praises the coalition for its specific targeting of chemical weapons sites. Out of six known chemical weapons bases in Syria, this weekend’s strike destroyed three. The move is an attack less on the Assad regime, and more on the infrastructure that allows for the kind of visions the world saw at Douma and Khan Shaykhun.
AROUND THE WORLD
Here is what other world leaders had to say:
(@EmmanuelMacron) April 14, 2018
“The situation in the Middle East is in such chaos that it has become a threat to international peace and security. And today Syria represents the most serious dimension of that threat.”
(@antonioguterres) April 14, 2018
Statement by the Ambassador Antonov on the strikes on #Syria:
“A pre-designed scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences.
All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris.”
& Russia in USA 🇷🇺
(@RusEmbUSA) April 14, 2018