The U.S. has launched another attack on Syria. Unlike the attack in spring last year, the latest military action, which was much larger in scale, was conducted jointly with the UK and France. Air strikes in areas near the capital Damascus were meant as strong pressure on the Assad regime, which is striving to remain in power.
Although Syria’s backer, Russia, has denied that the Assad regime used chemical weapons, there have been many instances of chemical attacks in the country which the regime is strongly suspected of being responsible for. President Donald Trump explained that it was necessary to take action with the UK and France to demonstrate “righteous power.”
Questions remain as to whether this attack was legitimate under international law. Since the attack on Libya by the U.S., British, and French in 2011 based on a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution actually complicated the situation, was military action really the best option?
Russia has vetoed proposed UNSC resolutions on the Syria situation 12 times, rendering the international community unable to deal with the humanitarian crisis there. Although there might be criticism that the United Nations is dysfunctional, there is no denying that Russia is mainly responsible for this.
It goes without saying that the civil war in Syria will not end as a result of the U.S.’s military action. The U.S. military’s attack on the Assad regime’s bases with 59 cruise missiles in April 2017 did not change the situation.
This was because the Trump administration had not been keen on making diplomatic efforts to end the civil war. More than 100 cruise missiles and air-to-surface missiles were used to attack three chemical weapon facilities in the latest attack, but rather than a one-time military attack, what is needed are long-term political efforts.
The U.S. needs to change its mindset now. The Trump administration regards Syria merely as a battlefield to mop up the extremist Islamic State (IS) forces. That is why Trump began to call for the early withdrawal of U.S. forces once the IS was deemed to be on the decline.
Although Trump has stopped talking about withdrawal from Syria, he evidently does not have a clear strategy on Syria. Furthermore, Trump used provocative language in asking Russia and Iran, which support the Assad regime, to change their attitude in his statement on the airstrikes.
However, if Russia, angered by his statement, gives greater support to the Assad regime, the Syrian government forces will gain even greater advantage, thus aggravating the humanitarian situation. Has Trump thought about this point?
The U.S. plans to decide on its policy on the nuclear agreement with Iran by mid-May. There is concern that forces in both countries favoring revoking the agreement will gain momentum if U.S.-Iran relations worsen as a consequence of the Syria attack. The abrogation of this agreement will further destabilize the Middle East situation.
The attack may also have an impact on North Korea issues. North Korea, which has friendly relations with Syria and Iran, supported Syria’s construction of nuclear facilities.
Trump probably overruled administration officials cautious about the attack and went ahead with the military action because he did not want to be seen as weak-kneed ahead of the U.S.-DPRK summit taking place in May or June. Yet the possibility remains that Russia and Iran may persuade North Korea to obstruct a denuclearization agreement with the U.S.
The Syrian civil war that has lasted for more than seven years has resulted in more than 350,000 casualties and over 10 million refugees. Unless the U.S. and Russia overcome their differences and work together, this war will turn into a quagmire. “Righteous power” ought to be used to help resolve the humanitarian crisis. (Abridged)