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Military strike in Syria: a political message, military utility, good law

(B2) The various American, French and British officials have taken turns since the start of the strikes to explain and justify the need for military strikes on Syria. Three series of arguments were used: the political message, military utility, respect for international law

Due to time difference and the leader of the coalition, the Americans spoke first. Immediately after the strike, President Trump spoke followed by a detailed press briefing from the US Secretary of Defense and the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, in order to explain the decision. On the French side, the President of the Republic spoke in a press release overnight, followed by an early morning press conference of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Armed Forces in France, and a technical briefing from the Armed Forces. On the British side, a video message recorded by Theresa May was broadcast, followed by a Defense press release.

Florence Parly and Jean-Yves Le Drian in front of the press (credit:

A political message

Send a clear message

The aim of the strikes was to send a very clear message to the Syrian leaders " that they should not commit another chemical weapons attack for which they will be held responsible said US Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis. " On April 7, the regime decided to once again defy the norms of civilized people showing callous disregard for international law by using chemical weapons to murder women, children and other innocent people. We and our allies find these atrocities inexcusable »

A red line crossed

« Dozens of men, women and children were massacred with chemical weapons [in Douma on April 7], in total violation of international law and United Nations Security Council resolutions underlines French President Emmanuel Macron. " The facts and the responsibility of the Syrian regime are beyond doubt. The red line set by France in May 2017 has been crossed »

The end of impunity

This hit " will also send a clear signal to anyone else who believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity assured British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Ending the erosion of the international norm on chemical weapons

« We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to be normalized – in Syria, on the streets of the UK or anywhere else in the world » said Theresa May, also referring to the Salisbury attack. “ We cannot tolerate the erosion of the international norm that prevents the use of these weapons. […] History teaches us that the international community must defend the global rules and norms that keep us all safe. This is what our country has always done. And what we will continue to do. »

A collective security objective

End the production of chemical weapons

President Trump has denounced chemical attacks “ monstrous ". The strike " aims to put an end to the production of chemical weapons he said.

Degrade Bachar's chemical strength

The strikes are expected to result in a long-term degradation of Syria's chemical and biological warfare capabilities, said US Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford. “ The strike was not only a strong message to the regime that their actions were inexcusable, but it also inflicted maximum damage without this representing an unnecessary danger to civilians”.

An attack on our collective security

« We cannot tolerate the trivialization of the use of chemical weapons, which is an immediate danger for the Syrian people and for our collective security. » said Emmanuel Macron. Stopping the atrocities is “ in vital national interests from the United States, said James Mattis.

A limited response, within the framework of international law

A proportionate response

« Our response has been limited to the capabilities of the Syrian regime to produce and use chemical weapons assured Emmanuel Macron.

No intervention in the war

« This is not about intervening in a civil war. It's not about diet change » said Prime Minister Theresa May, as if to refer to the action taken in Libya. “ This is a limited, targeted strike that does not further escalate tensions in the region and does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties. »

An intervention justified by the violation of international commitments

« The Syrian regime had made a commitment to completely dismantle its chemical arsenal. In September 2013, the Security Council took note of this commitment and decided by its resolution 2118 that Syria must stick to it, under penalty of incurring measures falling under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. recalled the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian. " Chapter VII has a clear meaning: it is the use of military measures to compel those who threaten international peace and security. » (1)

The Assad regime was warned

« The chemical escalation in Syria is not acceptable, because, since the declarations of the President of the Republic, everyone was warned of the consequences of a violation of the commitments made by the Syrian regime before the international community. said Jean-Yves Le Drian. " Bashar al-Assad's regime knew what it was exposing itself to by once again employing these heinous weapons against its people, by once again deliberately choosing to trample on international law. »

And now ?

New strikes if…

« We are ready to maintain this response as long as the Syrian regime is ready to keep its arsenal said US President Donald Trump. " Allied forces ready to continue action if Assad continues to use these banned weapons “, added his Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

Establish a mechanism for establishing responsibilities

France and its partners will resume, “ as of today [Saturday], their efforts at the United Nations to allow the establishment of an international mechanism for establishing responsibilities, to prevent impunity and to prevent any attempt by the Syrian regime to relapse » specifies Emmanuel Macron. NB: This mechanism, which existed since 2014, was not renewed in 2017, blocked by a Russian veto.

A parliamentary debate in France and the United Kingdom

« Parliament will be informed and a parliamentary debate will be organized » in accordance with article 35, paragraph 2, of the Constitution, indicates Emmanuel Macron. A debate which should not raise any questions in France where parliament is only informed after the fact. In the United Kingdom, the atmosphere is more stormy. The British Prime Minister is the subject of severe criticism, particularly from the opposition, for having gone beyond the tradition, put in place after the intervention in Iraq, of information and prior debate in Parliament.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) A delicate interpretation. Resolution 2118 of September 27, 2013 (§21) effectively provides for this measure but on the decision of the United Nations Security Council: “ In the event of non-compliance with this resolution, including the unauthorized transfer or use of chemical weapons by anyone in the Syrian Arab Republic, it will impose measures under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations ».

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).