Missiles in Syria a welcome departure from diplomatic norm

Aidan Denehy, Opinion Editor

The month of April has thus far been a difficult one for the Trump administration in terms of diplomacy. Currently, Trump has to carefully negotiate two very threatening situations with two hostile countries- Syria and North Korea. However, the reactions of these nation’s Superpower allies have been completely different thus far. In my opinion, these reactions seem to predict the future of how American relations could progress.

Since the article deals primarily with Assad’s use of chemical weapons, and the international response to his atrocities (or lack thereof,) I will gloss over the issue of North Korea. However, I will say that the Chinese seem genuinely concerned over the idea of North Korean nuclear armament, and my expectation is that they may be ready to act as responsible members of the international community in preventing an escalation of aggression with a nuclear state.

However, the topic at hand is Assad. Let’s get this out there- I’m fully supportive of Trump’s extremely limited use of military force against the Syrian government in response to their absolutely unjustified use of nerve agents against a civilian population. If anything, it’s too little, too late.

While 59 missiles may seem like many, if we examine the weapons platform used, the Tomahawk cruise missile, it isn’t quite as much as it sounds. The Tomahawk is essentially designed as a low-cost, short-range weapon which can be used in number to saturate an area with firepower. Sending one cruise missile would have achieved nothing, given the inherent limitations of such a system. The volume of weaponry used indicates that there were multiple targets, and the goal was likely to crater the runway to the point that it would no longer be viable (although in this aspect the strike was a failure.)

flickr/Naval Surface Warriors
U.S.S. Shiloh launches a Tomahawk cruise missile against Iraq, 1996.

However, more than that, it represents the fact the United States will not allow the continued use of chemical weaponry, especially against innocent civilians. There are certain times when diplomacy is simply too slow to act. In a situation where women and children are being murdered with nerve gas, it is not the time to argue whether or not ‘we really had a right to do something.’

Chemical weapons are wrong. Period. There is simply no reason for chemical weaponry to exist any longer. Chemical weaponry is inherently damaging to the environment, as its effects linger long after the immediate danger has passed. I would also argue it is a weapon which has much more potential to do harm to civilians than to military targets- where most modern militaries have structures and vehicles sealed against chemical weapons attacks, and soldiers are trained and equipped to survive chemical strikes, it’s rare that any normal civilian owns a functioning, military standard gas mask capable of protecting them from clouds of noxious gas that shut down their nervous system and cause them to choke on their own mucous.

Given the fact that chemical weaponry is more survivable to a military than nuclear weaponry (which kills indiscriminately,) and given the fact that these weapons are easily affordable, attainable, and usable, they don’t serve as any sort of military deterrent either, or at most a very minor one. Although a world without chemical weaponry may be an optimistic dream that’s too much to wish for, the least the United States can do is demonstrate that she will not tolerate the usage of these weapons in any capacity.

The Obama administration, of course, pledged and failed to stop Russian-backed aggression from the Assad regime against civilian populations, with and without chemical weaponry. A deal was brokered in 2013 which provided Syria and Russia with the responsibility of disposing of Syria’s chemical weapon stockpile. Clearly, that hasn’t happened.

The fact of the matter is the Putin doesn’t care whether or not he has innocent blood on his hands. His hands are already stained with the blood of Russian minorities and political opponents, so staining his allies with a cloud of children’s tears and Sarin gas doesn’t seem to bother him. The Russians have proven time and time again that they do not care about international norms, the UN, or ‘doing the right thing’- they will do what they feel is necessary to keep Assad in power, even if that means allowing atrocities like this to occur.

So, if Russian relations have been ‘damaged’ as their foreign ministry claims, let that be. As for me, I don’t much care to have good relations with a foreign power that allows the chemical massacre of women and children. News flash; last time a madman murdered his own people with chemical weapons, we had several wars to stop him. That man was Saddam Hussein, who used mustard gas against the Kurds and the Iranians throughout the 1980’s and 90’s.

The time before that? I’m sure many people are familiar with the holocaust and with Adolf Hitler, who used pesticides and chemical weapons to murder innocents as well. The Japanese allegedly used chemical weapons as well. We may have normal relations with Japan and Germany now, but not with the same governments that used chemical weapons against their own people, or people they subjugated.

Whether or not the Russians approve of it, the time for change has come in Syria. Assad has demonstrated that he either cannot or will not cease his usage of chemical weapons against ‘undesirables.’ The Russians will have to accept such a change, or the international community has a commitment to make them accept it. Although Russia seems monolithic, the reality is that they will not survive on their own. Like it or not, they need the rest of the world. And, like it or not, the world doesn’t need chemical weapons.