Comment on the recent cruise missile diplomacy

The cruise missile strike was conducted by the three nuclear powers in NATO. Its influence on the 24 hrs news cycle is huge, while its influence on the future history of Syria will likely be limited to some people killed and some buildings demolished.
It looks like mindless great power gaming to me - and a most uninspired one, utterly lacking a strategy towards a desirable or at least acceptable outcome. The West didn't and almost certainly won't "win" in Syria - it merely participated in extinguishing the self-consuming daesh strawfire.

Regular readers know it, but I'll still repeat:
Such cruise missile diplomacy is illegal under article 1 of the North Atlantic Treaty and other treaties that were signed, ratified and are in effect.

It's thus illegal in the United States as well. Article VI of the United States constitution says so.

The pro-war/pro-great power gaming folks assert that this isn't so because the president is commander of the armed forces and a mere federal law supposedly cannot limit his orders to the military, but those people cannot explain why the president then isn't allowed to murder just about every foreigner for no reason. After all, murder is but outlawed by a mere law.
Well, maybe they think POTUS can legally murder 6.7 billion people, but the 95% non-sociopaths of mankind surely agree that something would be utterly evil and wrong in that interpretation of the U.S. constitution.

I am in disgust of the reactions of those politicians of non-involved countries who welcome or even only tolerate such aggressive behaviour by allies. Such behaviour is 90% of what Germany did that led to the First World War; it tolerated aggression by an ally.

Maybe one or two horrible wars later mankind stands a chance of understanding that such aggressive, violent foreign policy is wrong regardless of faux or real legal excuses. Hopefully, some future generations will scratch their heads in confusion and disgust about the widespread toleration of killing by executive policy decision in peacetime.
We were at that point back in 1944 already. It's too bad that Western civilisation relapsed.



  1. I understand having a problem with the fact that the missile strike is illegal, but aren't you worried about the legality and morality of letting a government use chemical weapons against their own citizens? Do you not think its worth disregarding one rule to protect an arguably more important one?

    1. http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.de/2011/03/draft-for-new-german-security-policy.html

  2. Just out of interest, do you have an alternative course of action? It seems to me that if bombing civilians with chemical weapons becomes a 'normal' part of warfare then sooner or later we will end up with one being deployed on the streets of London or Paris (or a stadium!). We already have had chemical weapons used twice(!) in the last few years in the UK so the threat is real.

    Assad was given plenty of warning the strikes were coming and these were really just a slap on the wrist - I imagine those facilities were evacuated days ago.

    I understand that the legal basis of these strikes are shaky at best, but I just cant think of an alternative (UN resolutions would get blocked by Russia, we are already sanctioning Syria and supplying more weapons to the opposition would just result in more bloodshed).

    What do you imagine is the endgame if Chemical weapons are openly used with no international response?

    1. It's easy to find an alternative to an ineffective action. 100 million € spent on movie production should yield about the same entertainment value.

      Chemical munitions are used in Syria because there's war, and the root cause of that war and the war in Iraq is factionalism. They don't have left vs. right programmatic/ideological politics. It's an "us vs. them" of ethnic-religious groups.
      The Sunni Arabs in Syria perpetually feel oppressed because the Assad regime uses minority support as its pillars. Sunni Arabs in Iraq perpetually feel oppressed because their Western-style majority rule democracy reliably pushes their minority out of positions of power on the national level.

      The only way to bring this region peace (aside from conflicts regarding Israel) is to move towards political systems with huge minority protection, similar to what Lebanon had before its Republic descended into civil war under pressure of outside forces.
      Head of governments from this group, head of state from another, head of parliament from yet another and so on - participation for all relevant ethnic-religious groups in national government.
      And then there needs to be a strong push for nation-building (in the minds) and programmatic competition instead of factionalism.

      The Western powers could help with this; they could negotiate towards such an end (tolerating that the Russians keep military bases in Syria and Assad remains a political leader), and bribe anti-Assad opposition into consent (educate their children, pay bribe money, offer Western passports as backup plan, bribe and consult them to have a headstart with political party-building).
      We could also educate war refugees in support of such a political settlement before they return. I'm thinking of lecture and roleplaying (in which they only achieve an objective for the greater good if they cooperate politically).

    2. I agree with your solution for Syria, and that is still possible after those air strikes. My worry is a bit more global in scale:

      The use of chemical weapons seems to have been quite effective in ending the fighting in Eastern Ghouta. As I understand it, it broke the will of the remaining fighters and saved the Syrian army from a bloody assault on a defended urban area (which given their chronic manpower and morale issues was pretty important). Other military groups will take notice of this result and conclude that chemical weapons are effective at terrorising civilians in urban areas into submission and are a less risky alternative to assault. The threat of force used against them may lead them to conclude that on balance they are not worth it and that seems to have largely been the case for the last hundred years.

      If chemical weapons begin to be widely used in conflict zones, it is pretty likely that a state or armed group will attempt to use them against a European country. A successful chemical attack on a metro system, stadium etc. could be devastating and could provoke further bloodshed as the attacked nation seeks to respond against the perpetrators.

      In my opinion it is best to try and prevent the use of chemical weapons in the first place and a few extra airstrikes in the chaos of the Syrian war is not the same as 'murdering foreigners for no reason' (especially since the US already has declared an interest in the war when they sent troops to Syria).

      I am interested in the alternative though - how do you feel about the recent proliferation in the use of chemical weapons, and what options do European countries have to protect themselves from them?

    3. The default position should be to not kill. This means the dovish side doesn't need to present any alternative solution (to violent counter-chemical warfare efforts) as long as the pro-violence party doesn't have any effective solution.
      Evidently, getting involved in the civil war and bombing Syria did NOT prevent further chemical warfare (either this or there was no chemical attack recently).

      This is about the narrative, and the narrative is very important. It's the pro-killing party that needs to justify its opinion and actions first.

      It's the killing that requires justification, not the abstinence from killing.

    4. Your solution though is a long term plan for the country more than a direct response to the use of chemical weapons. Many people belieive that a statement must be made that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated, which i think many people would agree is the right thing to do even if it does require killing people.

      I do agree though the 3 powers do not have a coherent strategy though that has long been the case amongst the western powers. There is a strong backlash to dealing, messing, around in these countries down to guilt over past imperialism, happy to let 3rd world burn etc. While i personally like your plan, my problem is, as you are probably aware, to many people in political circles who would not allow that action to be implented.

    5. The problem is that to kill people doesn't keep others from using a weapon of their choice. This deeply ingrained "war works" mentality is a poor substitute for rational thinking.

      Ideologues do not require real world confirmation for their bias in order to stick to it. They just do. The "war works" ideology thus lingers on despite all-too much evidence that it's mostly wrong.

    6. You say that but if Assad truly believed we would seriously degrade his military power if he uses chemical weapons, how can that not have some deterent value? I'd like to think im not of the war works mentality but violence and the threat of force can be used to modify behaviour.

    7. It was tried and failed already. He got warned, chemicals got used in Khan Shaykhun chemical attack, he got bombed, chemicals got used, he got bombed ... the theory that "war works" failed already.

      Massive attacks as retaliation would be more deadly than the chemical warfare was.

      And none of this is actually of interest. We may think we could prevent further violence in our cities by threatening to illegally assassinate usual suspects in retaliation for any stabbing incident. That would be illegal and isn't acceptable, period.

      Keep in mind all troops and/or civilians who got killed by cruise missile diplomacy were innocent regarding the policies that supposedly provoked the cruise missile diplomacy. Make this your litmus test for cruise missile diplomacy:
      If cruise missile diplomacy kills innocents and you are innocent, would you still support cruise missile diplomacy if the next time it would kill you or someone innocent you love?

      It's wrong and illegal, period.

    8. It fails because Assad knows the strikes will be announced and limited in scope. If his forces underwent a three day campaign of aircraft and cruise missile strikes he might have a different view. Personally, I believe it’s a waste of our time. Syria doesn’t border the U.S. doesn’t offer anything of trade value and is strategically unimportant. Now, someone gases my country then we blow em to shit.

  3. I do not believe thee strikes are "illegal" under U.S. law, but they will not result in behavior change, but will expose bystanders to death and maiming for no justifiable reason.

    Warfare is nasty enough in and of itself; waging ineffective warfare (that is: war lacking reasonable purpose, method, end-state) *is* immoral, because it is killing with no path to settling the issue(s). Why bother?

    Assad cannot back down; to do so would invite not only his death, worse his family's destruction, and the unthinkable: extermination of the Alawite tribe.

    Assertions of "evil," or insanity, or other descriptors are irrelevant: Assad has no room to compromise, there is no credible western alternative for what comes after Assad, and we have no real stomach to force the issue anyway.


  4. First of, nobody has proved that the Russians or Assad government did the chemical attack. Which makes the attack uncalled for until it is verified, and then may they have a reason to strike.

    Also, it made zero sense for the SAA to use chemical weapons in the attack. The opposition had already agreed to surrendered in 48 hours.

    Why would they use chemical weapons to just kill a select few civilians so that the West had a cause to strike them.

    It makes zero sense. It's political, social, tactical and strategic suicide.