Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bringing Syria to heel

  • Print

THE United States should not order its armed forces in the Middle East to stand down just yet, but if Syria is serious about handing over its chemical weapons, it would be the best possible outcome to the crisis.

It's possible Syria is merely stalling for time by agreeing to Russia's proposal it dismantle its arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, but the western powers must treat the offer seriously and demand an immediate plan of action.

China also supports the proposal, meaning all five permanent members of the UN Security Council are enjoying a rare moment of agreement.

Syria must show its sincerity by immediately inviting the UN to take control of its chemical stockpiles in return for an American pledge not to carry out its threatened air strikes.

Anything less could set the clock back and renew the drive for punitive action.

The use of American force was not a certainty under President Barack Obama, who is still seeking congressional approval for such action and who had not yet begun the process of establishing the legality of military action. It's possible he may have acted without any authority, at home or in the UN, but that, too, would have complicated the international order.

Without a legal basis, the American case could only have been founded on moral imperatives.

Syria's use of chemical weapons on its own people was a gross violation of humanitarian principles and of international law. It demanded a harsh response, but the hopeless dysfunction within the Security Council, which must be reformed, meant the stamp of UN approval was unlikely.

Some critics have argued the ban on chemical ordnance is both outdated and nonsensical, since bombs, bullets and artillery can cause carnage and suffering far greater than any of the poisonous gases that have been invented by military chemists.

The argument is flawed, however, because it underestimates the insidious, indiscriminate nature of chemical weapons, particularly as they affect civilians.

If the death toll from the sarin gas used in Syria was small relative to the total number killed, it was partly because it was used sparingly relative to the shells carrying high explosives.

In urban warfare, citizens can take cover from artillery, but there is nowhere to hide during a chemical attack. An artillery shell can be aimed, but poison gas drifts aimlessly, killing or maiming every person in its path.

Their random nature -- they can kill friend or foe, depending on the currents of the wind -- also makes them inefficient weapons since they can easily turn on their owners.

Syria's use of chemical weapons against its own people has tested the ability and will of civilized nations to enforce international law and uphold a minimum moral code. Unfortunately, it's a test that found western resolve wanting.

Western sabre-rattling, however, will have proved its worth if it compels President Bashar Assad to destroy his stockpiles.

A bloodless victory that eliminates Syria's weapons of mass destruction is far superior to the risks inherent in armed intervention.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 11, 2013 A8

History

Updated on Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 7:25 AM CDT: adds image

8:50 AM: Corrects spelling of ordnance

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Bowman questioned on financial solutions for city

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 070619 LIGHTNING ILLUMINATES AN ABANDONED GRAIN ELEVATOR IN THE VILLAGE OF SANFORD ABOUT 10PM TUESDAY NIGHT AS A LINE OF THUNDERSTORMS PASSED NEAR WINNIPEG JUST TO THE NORTH OF THIS  SITE.
  • A Canada goose makes takes flight on Wilkes Ave Friday afternoon- See Bryksa’s 30 Day goose a day challenge- Day 09- May 11, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you think e-cigarettes should be banned by the school division?

View Results

Ads by Google