Sep 16, 2013 | Clough Room 102
Dr. Bob Kennedy, Professor, INTA Legalities of military action under international law & US Constitutional issues associated with the use of military force
Dr. Margaret E. Kosal, Assistant Professor, INTA WMD dimensions and potential US military responses
Dr. Jenna Jordan, Assistant Professor, INTA Alternative force strategies and Hezbollah
Dr. Larry Rubin, Assistant Professor, INTA Implications for regional security
Dr. Adam N. Stulberg, Moderator: Associate Professor and Co-Director of CISTP, INTA< >
A prolonged and bloody civil war, millions of displaced people and refugees, and the use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians have catapulted Syria into the international limelight in recent weeks. Domestically, the Syrian crisis has incited rigorous debate about whether or not the US should intervene, and if so, how. Internationally, the world has awaited a UN Security Council resolution, watched closely as a framework formed between the US and Russia on the removal of these weapons, and contemplated the proper response from the international community. In order to help the Georgia Tech as well as wider scholarly and policy communities better navigate through this highly complex crisis, the Center for International Strategy, Technology, and Policy (CISTP) at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs convened a panel of experts to discuss the legal and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) dimensions of this crisis, its ramifications for regional security and the various non-state actors involved, and the roles that the US and Russia play in resolving this issue of chemical weapons.
On the legality of US actions should it chooses to intervene, Professor Bob Kennedy cautioned against interpreting from the “Red-Line” position that President Obama has taken to mean that the President has the legal right to wage war against Syria, citing that such a right constitutionally belongs to Congress. He further highlighted that US actions would not have international legal footing unless authorized by the UN Security Council, and that the strong “Red-Line” rhetoric that seemed to have driven the US policy could disincentivize behavioral changes from the Assad regime.
Noting the special role chemical weapons have played in this crisis, Professor Maggie Kosal emphasized that chemical weapons are not an artifact of history and warned against the policy tendency in recent years of treating it so. She advocated the need to invest in basic research as a way to establish better monitoring and verification techniques, suggesting that improved technologies can serve as a useful deterrent, and commented on the technical feasibility over the ambitious plan to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile in the recently agreed upon framework between US and Russia.
Aside from the WMD complications, the Syrian crisis also can be situated in the larger regional security context in terms of the historical Sunni-Shia divide as represented by the Saudi supported rebels and the Iran-allied Assad regime, according to Professor Larry Rubin. He suggested that the recent agreed framework between the US and Russia is unlikely to end the domestic disputes, and this bargain mimics the Libyan case two years ago and can potentially put the US into a double bind by reinstating the Assad regime as an acknowledged and legitimized member of the international community.
Underneath the regional power dynamics, commented Professor Jenna Jordan, the situation on the ground for the various non-state actors is quite messy. She explained that Syria has been an important route for Iranian support of Hezbollah. This means that whoever ultimately controls Syria will have great ramifications for Hezbollah and Lebanon. At the same time, the opposition force to the Assad regime itself is highly fragmented, with constant infighting between the relatively moderate and secular movements such as the Free Syrian Army and the more religiously motivated Al Qaeda elements such as Jabhat Al-Nusra.
Whether the recently developed American and Russian involvements would allow an opportunity for the moderate groups to consolidate or bolster support for more extremist elements remains to be seen. Prior to opening up the floor to general Q&A, Professor Adam Stulberg commented briefly on Russia’s perspective on the Syrian crisis. He suggested that one could frame Russia’s interest in terms of the status-quo oriented conservatism in Putin’s administration, the pragmatic concern over regional stability paired with cynicism towards US actions, and the competitive drive to reestablish Russia’s role in the region by opportunistically exploiting the inherent policy difficulties the US faces in dealing with this crisis.
Questions touching on various aspects of this complicated issue were discussed during the Q&A. The panel entertained questions regarding how other states are interpreting the US action in this matter and what the message is that the US can best hope to convey, what the implication of US credibility is as a result of this crisis, and whether or not Russia can be induced to play a more constructive role. The panel also addressed concerns over the US policies on the refugees and the applicability of Responsibility to Protect (R2P), assessed the potential end-goal for the US in the recent framework with Russia, and contemplated the risks and opportunities should the Assad regime be deposed before the conclusion of the event.