The US, UK, and France have launched a joint airstrike on Syria in response to alleged chemical attacks by President Assad in Syria. The suspected chemical attacks occurred in the Syrian town of Douma, with at least 42 people reported dead. Humanitarian concerns are the justification given for these attacks, with Trump stating in his announcement that the airstrikes were meant to deter the Syrian government from the use of chemical weapons in its ongoing civil war. The use of chemical weapons in warfare has been prohibited under international law since 1899. The Syrian war has been one of the most complicated civil-turned-proxy wars in history, waged by the current Russia-backed Assad government and a slew of warring factions, including ISIS and US-backed rebel groups.
What’s so humanitarian about airstrikes?
The humanitarian justification behind the western strikes, however, has been met with scepticism on many fronts. Firstly, the attacks were launched a day before the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) were due to begin official investigations, meaning the culpability of Assad and the Syrian government remains without proof. Secondly, the decision was struck by all three countries before any congressional or parliamentary approval was sought, bypassing domestic democratic processes in each country. Thirdly, the attack was started without recourse to UN mechanisms specifically designed to handle humanitarian crises. This has led many, including Russian President Putin, to call the airstrikes an act of aggression and a violation of international law.
Such criticisms have rendered thin the humanitarian justification for the strike. This is further compounded by the questionable record of western humanitarian interventions, and the active support that the same western forces are providing to the ongoing atrocities in Gaza and Yemen. Most ominously, given that relations continue to worsen between Russia and the western powers, these attacks will almost certainly heighten the prospect of the Syrian war turning into an all-out great power war.