Casus Belli: The Link in Trump’s strike on Syria Shayrat airbase in Syria (satellite image released by the U.S. Department of Defense)

T
his is in response to the article titled “Opinio Juris: The Missing Link in Trump’s strike on Syria”. The incidents that occurred on the breaking hours of dawn on 7th April, i.e. the launch of 59 tomahawk missiles at the Al Shayart airfield in Syria and the subsequent events that followed.

To understand the impact of this attack, we must consider not only the law, which does deserve its due consideration, we must look at how the Trump administration is unwinding. The Trump administration and how a majority of American administrations execute their functions move beyond the visible facets of global politics. The protection of American interests ensures that circumstances, both internally and externally, will always lay bare towards that one initial premise.

The situation of Bashar-al-Assad had possibly been the best in the recent past. With the Russian assistance it had, Assad had consolidated his power and position internally, the rebels were on guard and the United States had declared that ousting him was not a priority.

This will be a bipartite article wherein, we shall address the pre-emptive facts that lead to the strike and then deal with the American use of force.

The facts preceding the US strike on Syria

The 2013 report on the discovery of the nerve agent Sarin was what garnered the attention of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The Syrian Government had denied responsibility of both use and knowledge of these weapons to the OPCW. The OPCW in 2014, confirmed that the reported cylinders found by the Syrian Government had indeed contained Sarin.

The Obama administration’s attempt to disembark on the use of brute force to address the crisis in Syria and come to a resolution with the Syrian Government to become a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was the potentially the most rational method of dealing with Syria. This resolution was on the reports that the Syrian Government was, in fact, in possession of chemical weapons and no official confirmation was provided to that allegation. The only behaviour that could be conclusively drawn is that of the American intervention before uniform international consensus on an issue.

In 2016, a spokesman for the Jaysh al-Islam rebel group admitted that some “forbidden weapons” were used against the Kurdish militia and civilians in the Sheikh Maqsood neighbourhood. The substance used still requires official confirmation, but the Red Crescent claims that symptoms from the survivors point towards the use of chlorine gas or other similar agents.

The OPCW was still in the process of conducting its investigation and fact finding mission, which began in 2014, with respect to the alleged chemical weapons being harboured by the State of Syria. This organisation has still not released a confirmatory report with respect to the Syrian Government holding chemical weapons. The most recent report merely confirms that, “victims were exposed to sarin or sarin-like substances”.

The American Use of Force

As mentioned above, the Assad Government held a relatively secure position on the diplomatic end. And if that is true, what would motivate Assad to draw more attention towards him, by using sarin (as alleged by the Turkish authorities), killing not only small rebel groups but also children? Assad knows that since 2013, the American military threat of retaliation had deescalated. Scholars agree that this move would be irrational on part of Assad and the possibility of external factors at play is entirely plausible.

The possible reason for this attack from the Western perspective towards the internal crisis in Syria could be that as stated by Bente Scheller, of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, “You are at our mercy. Don’t ask for international law. You see, it doesn’t protect even a child.” Yet I am sceptical about the fact the Assad regime would take this measure. The people living in Syria, i.e. those who neither strongly oppose the Assad regime nor are part of the rebellion against the government were victims to this chemical agent. Assad didn’t have to send them a message asserting his dominance and such an aggressive message at that as well. From Assad’s perspective, it would make sense if he had faced strong opposition from these groups which warranted the use of such an extreme measure.

Here we address the American use of force. The American use of force has historically been in favour of the “peace process”, yet their attempts to achieve peaceful ends have been through aggressive means. In international discourse the peace process is by definition– any action which is executed by the United States. In Western scholarship, there are few to none articles that mention that the United States is in opposition to the peace process. A data analysis of the New York times in the 1990’s shows that there were 900 mentions of a “peace process” and not a single one cited an instance where the United States was opposed to the peace process.

Now to draw a parallel between the criticised instability and political stance of the Trump administration and the Tomahawk strike in Syria. The Trump Administration arrived with a lot of criticism not only with respect to policy agenda set forth in their election campaign but also with respect to his military stance and Trump’s capacity as the Commander-in-Chief.

The initial response to Trump was that his actions would possibly be rash, premature, and irrational. There can be no doubt that Trump didn’t take this lightly. Trump’s response to his critics was the attack on the 7th April. Trump demonstrated to the world community that his actions were well thought out and were warranted and that he too stood for the peace process. The United States aggression towards the use of chemical weapons in Syria was not seen as a jus in bello but rather as casus belli. Yet, his actions spiralled out of control with the use of the Mother of All Bombs (MOAB) in Afghanistan. No sooner than Trump demonstrated that he could quite possibly be a composed and intelligent Commander-in-Chief.

After the 7th, the American use of force in Syria was no longer disguised as the humanitarian approach as claimed by the Trump administration. The subsequent days were followed by attacks on villages and supposed rebel groups by not only the US by also US led coalitions.

These attacks, delegitimized the US approach towards the peace process under Trump were primarily on the reported villages with rebel groups to the Assad regime. It would be speculative but fair to assume that the current United States Government is trying to initiate a proxy war to further the domestic racialisation in the United States as well as racialisation in Europe. The Trump administration has dropped the previous stance for the sales of arms to the Middle East and began the resupply of arms into Bahrain. This could be an economic step but the agenda to continue global hostility towards the crisis in the Middle East and against Islamic States should also be considered. This is also speculative but it could a prospective measure by the United States.

The historic approach of the United States and their use of force has not been with respect to achieving peace but rather to further US interests. The current circumstances are no different. Trump seeks global legitimacy as a composed leader and Commander-in-Chief and his actions were initially in that direction but as time passes the world recognises that he isn’t executing his actions strategically and they are novice at best. This can be seen with respect to his attempt to deal with North Korea but the United States Navy was reported to be in the Indian Ocean, far away from the North Korean coast.

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