The crisis gripping Ukraine has plunged transatlantic relations to their lowest point since the Cold War and threatens to send Ukraine into an armed conflict with potentially dire consequences for the country and the wider region.
Moscow’s alleged meddling in eastern Ukraine and its earlier annexation of Crimea spurred worldwide rebukes and much international commentary regarding the growing East-West divide. But one aspect that we have heard less about is the corporate struggle for Ukraine’s oil and natural gas. By some accounts, it is this struggle that is as much to blame for the current crisis as any geopolitical tug-of-war between East and West.
Ukraine has Europe’s third-largest shale gas reserves at 42 trillion cubic feet, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. While for years U.S. oil companies have been pressing for shale gas development in countries such as Britain, Poland, France and Bulgaria only to be rebuffed by significant opposition from citizens and local legislators concerned about the environmental impacts of shale gas extraction – includingearthquakes and groundwater contaminationcaused by hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” – there has been considerably less opposition in Ukraine, a country that has been embroiled in numerous gas disputes with the Russian Federation in recent years.
Russia’s state-owned Gazprom, controlling nearly one-fifth of the world’s gas reserves, supplies more than half of Ukraine’s gas annually, and about 30 percent of Europe’s. It has often used this as political and economic leverage over Kiev and Brussels, cutting gas supplies repeatedly over the past decade (in the winters of 2005-2006, 2007-2008, and again in 2008-2009), leading to energy shortages not only in Ukraine, but Western European countries as well. This leverage, however, came under challenge in 2013 as Ukraine took steps towards breaking its dependence on Russian gas.
On Nov. 5, 2013 (just a few weeks before the Maidan demonstrations began in Kiev), Chevron signed a 50-year agreement with the Ukrainian government to develop oil and gas in western Ukraine. According to the New York Times, “The government said that Chevron would spend $350 million on the exploratory phase of the project and that the total investment could reach $10 billion.”
In announcing the deal, President Viktor Yanukovych said that it “will let Ukraine satisfy its gas needs completely and, under the optimistic scenario, export energy resources by 2020.” Reuterscharacterized the deal as ”another step in a drive for more energy independence from Russia.”
The United States offered its diplomatic support, with Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, saying, “I’m very determined to cooperate with the Ukrainian government in strengthening Ukraine’s energy independence.”
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Victoria Nuland spoke at an international business conference sponsored by Chevron on Dec. 13, 2013, after just returning from Kiev where she handed out cookies and sandwiches to demonstrators on the Maidan. In her speech, she urged Ukraine to sign a new deal with the IMF which would “send a positive signal to private markets and would increase foreign direct investment that is so urgently needed in Ukraine.” This is important for putting Ukraine “on the path to strengthening the sort of stable and predictable business environment that investors require,” she said.
Although stability and predictability are not exactly the words that people would associate with Ukraine these days, Western energy companies have continued to maneuver for corporate rights over Ukraine’s shale gas deposits. Last fall, officials were in negotiations with an ExxonMobil-led consortium to explore for hydrocarbons off Ukraine’s western Black Sea coast.
On Nov. 27, the Ukrainian government signed another production-sharing agreement with a consortium of investors led by Italian energy company Eni to develop unconventional hydrocarbons in the Black Sea. “We have attracted investors which will within five to seven years maximum double Ukraine’s domestic gas production,” Yanukovych said following the agreement.
At the time of Yanukovych’s ouster in February, Chevron and the Ukrainian government had been negotiating an operating agreement for the shale development effort in western Ukraine, and Chevron spokesman Cameron Van Ast said that the negotiations would go forward despite Yanukovych fleeing the country. “We are continuing to finalize our joint operating agreement and the government continues to be supportive,” Van Ast said.
Royal Dutch Shell is also engaged in the country, having signed an agreement last year with the government of Yanukovych to explore a shale formation in eastern Ukraine. When it comes to Crimea, numerous oil companies including Chevron, Shell, ExxonMobil, Repsol and even Petrochina have shown interest in developing its offshore energy assets.
Believing that Crimea’s onshore and offshore fields will live up to expectations, these companies have greatly expanded their exploration of the Black Sea off the Crimean peninsula. Some analystsbelieve that one of Vladimir Putin’s motivations for annexing Crimea was to ensure that Gazprom will control Crimean offshore energy assets – in addition to ensuring the continued use of Crimea as host to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
It is clear that all of these oil and gas companies – backed by their governments, including those of the Russian Federation and the United States – are deeply embroiled in the Ukrainian crisis, with much invested and much at stake. But with their disproportionate influence over Ukraine’s future, it should be kept in mind that the number one responsibility of any corporation is to increase profit margins for its shareholders, not necessarily to promote the democracy or sovereignty of the countries they are operating in.
This is particularly the case for Chevron and Shell, both of which have been implicated in major human rights violations in Nigeria. Chevron has been accused of recruiting and supplying Nigerian military forces involved in massacres of environmental protesters in the oil-rich Niger Delta, and Shell has faced charges of complicity in torture and other human rights abuses against the Ogoni people of southern Nigeria.
With this in mind, the Ukrainian people – whether in the east of the country or the west – might want to rethink what is meant by “energy independence,” and whether the future they seek can truly be met by placing their hopes in the benevolence of foreign oil and gas companies.
Secretary of State John Kerry misled the American people last summer when he assured them that the U.S. government knew for a fact that the Syrian government was responsible for the Aug. 21 Sarin gas attack outside Damascus, an incident that killed several hundred people and nearly prompted a U.S. military assault.
The two rocket specialists -- Richard Lloyd, a former United Nations weapons inspector who is now associated with Tesla Laboratories, and Theodore A. Postol, professor of science, technology and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- concluded that the rocket's limited range meant that it couldn't have come from Syrian government-controlled areas as delineated by a map released by the Obama administration last August.
Yet, in a State Department speech on Aug. 30, Kerry declared -- with what can now be called false confidence -- that the U.S. government knew that the attack was launched by the Syrian government from its territory. He also implied inaccurately that the U.S. intelligence community was in accord with these claims, and he dissembled when he asserted that the Obama administration had declassified evidence to let the public make up its own mind. No such evidence was ever released.
With the U.S. military poised to bombard Syrian government targets, Kerry declared, "Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed and re-reviewed information regarding this attack and I will tell you it has done so more than mindful of the Iraq experience. We will not repeat that moment. Accordingly, we have taken unprecedented steps to declassify and make facts available to people who can judge for themselves."
However, while Kerry made reference to alleged phone intercepts and other alleged evidence of Syrian government guilt, none of it was ever released for independent analysis. Instead, the U.S. government put out a map showing where rockets carrying nerve gas supposedly had landed -- in parts of Damascus controlled by the rebels -- and contending that the launch sites had been in government-controlled areas.
"We know where the rockets were launched from and at what time," Kerry said. "We know where they landed and when. We know rockets came only from regime-controlled areas and went only to opposition-controlled or contested neighborhoods."
Kerry also hyped the emotional case for war by presenting claims about casualty totals that now appear to have been wildly exaggerated and based on more dubious intelligence.
"The United States government now knows that at least 1,429 Syrians were killed in this attack, including at least 426 children," Kerry said, citing a number that the Wall Street Journal later reported was derived from applying facial recognition software to videos of bodies posted on YouTube by the Syrian opposition and then subtracting bodies in bloody shrouds. This bizarre methodology produced the number 1,429, which was about four times higher than numbers provided by doctors on the scene.
But Kerry pitched the story to the American people as lacking any doubt regarding the guilt of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "This is what Assad did to his own people," Kerry declared. Then, in what was clearly a call to war, Kerry added, "So now that we know what we know, the question we must all be asking is: What will we do?"
Though President Barack Obama avoided some of the specific falsehoods contained in Kerry's Aug. 30 speech, he pronounced the same conclusion about the attack coming from a government-controlled area and mocked skeptics of his administration's case as essentially irrational.
"The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on August 21st," Obama said during his Sept. 24, 2013 speech to the UN General Assembly. "These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood, and landed in opposition neighborhoods. It's an insult to human reason -- and to the legitimacy of this institution -- to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack."
The Crucial Maps
It was this proclaimed certainty from Kerry and the White House that persuaded some Americans, especially those in Official Washington, that the Assad regime was responsible for the Sarin gas attack. Other possibilities, such as an intentional provocation by radical Islamist rebels or a tragic accident, were shunted outside the borders of respectable debate.
The conventional wisdom was solidified in September when Human Rights Watch, which had been advocating for U.S. military intervention in Syria, and the New York Times produced another map supposedly tracing the flight paths of two rockets recovered by UN inspectors back to alleged launch sites, 9.5 kilometers away at a Syrian military base.
But holes in that analysis quickly appeared -- at least at a few Internet sites -- since only one of the rockets was found to contain Sarin and the other rocket not only was clean of chemical weapons but also clipped a building in its descent making any precise calculation of its point of origin impossible.
The HRW/NYT "vector analysis" ultimately collapsed when independent analyses were performed on the one recovered rocket that did carry Sarin and had landed east of Damascus in the Zamalka neighborhood. Munitions experts calculated that its range was probably about two kilometers, not even a third of the distance needed to have originated at the Syrian military base northwest of Damascus.
In the latest analysis dated Jan. 14, rocket specialists Lloyd and Postol concluded that the rocket also could not have come from anywhere in what the Obama administration's original map had delineated as regime-controlled areas. The scientists noted that an independent UN assessment reached the same conclusion on the missile's range...
"This indicates that these munitions could not possibly have been fired at east Ghouta (the suburb that includes Zamalka) from the 'heart,' or from the eastern edge, of the Syrian government controlled area shown in the (U.S.) intelligence map published by the White House on August 30, 2013."
Lloyd and Postol then noted the serious policy implications of their findings:
"This mistaken intelligence could have led to an unjustified US military action based on false intelligence. ... Whatever the reasons for the egregious errors in the intelligence, the source of these errors needs to be explained. If the source of these errors is not identified, the procedures that led to this intelligence failure will go uncorrected, and the chances of a future policy disaster will grow with certainty."
Failed Checks and Balances
Yet, also troubling was how Official Washington, including the mainstream news media, again rushed to judgment on an issue of war or peace without responsibly and skeptically assessing the government's evidence.
While Kerry and Obama in speeches on Syria both referenced the painful experience of the Iraq War -- launched in 2003 based on bogus intelligence about Iraqi WMD and Saddam Hussein's ties to al-Qaeda -- the only lesson that Kerry and Obama seemed to have learned was to withhold as much of the supposed "evidence" as possible from the public.
Instead of actually declassifying evidence and making it available so people could judge for themselves, the administration released a "Government Assessment," which contained not a shred of proof regarding the Syrian government's guilt that could be independently reviewed by the public. Kerry also left the misleading impression that there was a consensus in the U.S. intelligence community regarding Syrian government guilt.
But I was told that a number of U.S. analysts held strong doubts about who was responsible, which was why the Obama administration didn't release a National Intelligence Estimate, which would have listed various dissents. Rather, the White House put out what amounted to a "white paper" filled with assertions but lacking any actual evidence and concealing the degree of disagreement among U.S. intelligence analysts.
Now, it turns out that Kerry and Obama were simply wrong in their certitude about where the Sarin-laden rocket originated, since the missile lacked the range to fly from government-controlled areas to the impact site in Zamalka.
There is the other unsettling reality that -- a decade after the Iraq War when the New York Times and other major publications published false stories about Iraq's WMD -- Official Washington's institutional checks and balances again failed to expose the government lies and distortions on Syria in a timely fashion.
Indeed, a prominent non-governmental organization (Human Rights Watch) and a leading news outlet (the New York Times) compounded the Obama administration's deceptions by extrapolating on the false information and thus solidifying a misguided conventional wisdom. Skepticism about the U.S. government's claims regarding the Syrian Sarin attack was largely marginalized to Internet sites, such as WhoGhouta and our own Consortiumnews.com.
More than three months after nearly contributing to another U.S. military strike based on false intelligence, the New York Times grudgingly admitted its error -- albeit buried 18 paragraphs into an inside-the-paper story (compared to the front-page treatment of its high-profile allegation of the Syrian government's guilt).
The only positives from this Syria replay of the Iraq lies are that the conflict-weary American people were not stampeded into another rush to war; some in Congress did voice restraint rather than bombast, although some of the Republican criticism may have come from their knee-jerk partisan reaction to oppose whatever President Obama was proposing; and ultimately Obama did seek a diplomatic solution in which the Russian government brokered a deal in which Assad agreed to surrender his chemical weapons (while still denying responsibility for the Aug. 21 attack).
Yet, if Secretary Kerry and other war hawks in the Obama administration had had their way, the United States would have launched military attacks on another Mideast country based on what now appears to have been false intelligence, if not outright lies.
Don't count on a female Saudi playwright writing a 21st century remix of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger starring a bunch of non-working class Saudi royals. But anger it is - from King Abdullah downwards; not only at the UN's "double standards" but especially - hush hush - at the infidel Obama administration.
No wonder the House of Saud's unprecedented self-beheading move was praised only by the usual minion suspects; petro-monarchies of the Gulf Counter-revolution Club, aka Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as well as Egypt, who now depends on Saudi money to pay its bills and barely survive.
Kuwait shared Riyadh's pain, enough to send "a message to the world". The UAE said the UN now had the "historical responsibility" to review its role. Bahrain - invaded by the Saudis in 2001 - stressed the "clear and courageous stand". Cairo said the whole thing was "brave".
How brave, indeed, to lobby Arab and Pacific nations for two years, and to spend a fortune training a dozen diplomats in New York for months just to say "no" when you get the prize. The House of Saud would have replaced Pakistan with a Pacific seat; Morocco stays until 2015, in an African seat. As early as five months ago the Saudi seat was considered a done deal at the UN.
NSA-worthy torrents of bits have flowed speculating over the Saudi's alleged "reformist agenda" or "principled position" on R2P (the Responsibility to Protect doctrine), Palestine and turning the Middle East into a weapons-free zone.
To his credit, King Abdullah had advanced a plan for Palestine since 2002 based on a two-state solution and a return to the pre-1967 borders.
But there has been no follow-up pressure on Israel; on the contrary, Riyadh is allied with Tel Aviv on setting Syria on fire. That implies no effort to include nuclear power Israel in a weapons-free Middle East. As for the Saudi version of R2P, it only applies to a sectarian "protection" of Sunnis in Syria.
Apart from a few Middle Eastern spots, no one is seriously losing sleep over the adolescent Saudi move - which displays a curious notion of leverage, as in choosing a PR spin reinventing the corrupt petro-monarchy as the "principled" champions of a cause (UN reform) just as they might have a crack at trying to influence it from within.
That would have implied more scrutiny. For instance, this Monday the Human Rights Council, another UN institution, duly blasted Saudi Arabia on its sterling record of discrimination against women and sectarianism, following reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. As a member of the UN Security Council, the discrepancy between the medievalist reality inside Saudi Arabia and its lofty "reformist" agenda would be even more glaring.
I want my kafir fluid A bottle of that precious kafir fluid, Chateau Petrus - much prized by itinerant Saudi princes in London - may be bet that the "dump the UN" decision came straight from the leading camel's mouth. And now that the House of Saud has decided to keep displaying its "influence" from the outside, nothing makes more sense than the resurfacing of Bandar Bush - who this summer was christened by King Abdullah as the man in charge of the Syrian jihad.
The perennial Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal had lunch with US Secretary of State John Kerry at the Prince's very private luxury digs in Paris this Monday. The mystery is which kafir fluid was consumed; no doubts though in the official, harmless spin; they agreed on a nuclear-free Iran, an end to the war in Syria and a "stable" Egypt. Before the Paris bash, during the weekend, Bandar Bush was already in his trademark full gear, openly announcing to European diplomats in Riyadh that he will buy his Syria-bound weapons somewhere else, will dissociate his scheme from the CIA, and will train "his" rebels with other players, mostly France and Jordan.
The Wall Street Journal has the story, which predictably has not surfaced in Arab media (90% of it controlled by different branches of the House of Saud).
Even more interesting is two other pieces of information leaked by diplomats. The House of Saud wanted the US to provide them with targets to be hit inside Syria when Obama's kinetic whatever would start. Washington adamantly refused.
Better yet; Washington allegedly told Riyadh the US would not be able to defend the Shi'ite majority, oil-rich Eastern Province if the Tomahawks started flying over Syria. Imagine the horror show in Riyadh; after all, mob protection against petrodollars recycled/invested in the US economy is the basis of this dysfunctional marriage for nearly seven decades.
So that should lead us to the now much hyped "independent Saudi foreign policy posture" to be implemented in relation to Washington. Don't hold your breath.
As much as the House of Saud is completely paranoid regarding the Obama administration's latest moves, throwing a fit will not change the way the geopolitical winds are blowing. Iran's geopolitical ascent is inevitable. A Syrian solution is on the horizon. No one wants batshit crazy jihadis roaming free from Syria to Iraq to the wider Middle East.
The Saudi spin about creating "a new security arrangement for the Arab world" is a joke - as depicted by Saudi-financed shills such as this.
The bottom line is that an angry, fearful House of Saud does not have what it takes to confront benign protector Washington. Throwing a fit - as in crying to attract attention - is for geopolitical babies. Without the US - or "the West" - who's gonna run the Saudi energy industry? PhD-deprived camels? And who's gonna sell (and maintain) those savory weapons? Who's going to defend them for smashing the true spirit of the Arab Spring, across the GCC and beyond?
Perennial Foreign Minister Prince Saud is gravely ill. He will be replaced by a recently appointed deputy prime minister.
Prince Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, the king's son. Instead of a "principled" stance against "double standards", the House of Saud move at the UN feels more like nepotism.
Sibel Edmunds has some interesting findings on the evidence that the US says proves that Syria used sarin against its own population. You can follow her links and look at the videos yourself.
Key findings are:
(1) Most the footage is of children.
(2) There is almost a total absence of adult corpses next to the bodies of the children.
(3) There is almost a total absence of parents, especially mothers, coming to claim the bodies of the dead children.
(4) There is virtually an absence of the sound of ambulances in the background of the videos.
(5) The testimonies being used against the Syrian government include those of individuals claiming to have smelled the chemical that was used whereas sarin is an odorless gas.
(6) The testimonies that most the victims were found in their homes are at odds with the claims by the same people that most the victims could not be identified.
(7) The same footage is used for videos with different scenarios.
(8) There is different footage that proves that the bodies were being arranged and moved around for display and specifically for filming; for example we see the body of a little boy in a red shirt that was filmed in Zamalka and then in filmed again among different bodies in Jobar and the inanimate bodies of at least nine of the children that filmed in Kafarbatna also oddly appear at makeshift morgue in Al-Majr a few hours later.
(9) The same couple appears as parents looking for their children in two different videos and each time they claim a different child as theirs among the corpses.
(10) The same groups that have been involved with posting and disseminating the videos that the US Intelligence Community has selected have also tried to pass pictures of Egyptian civilians killed in Cairo’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square as Syrian victims.
(11) Children that are still breathing in Zamalka are just filmed and left alone without medical treatment.
(12) In one video, where it is stated that all the bodies are those of the dead, it can be seen that some of the corpses are being injected by syringes with an unknown liquid.
(13) There is no knowledge or evidence that public funerals took place for the large number of victims that surpasses 1,460 people.
(14) In breach of all cultural norms and last rites, no public announcements about the dead or their funerals were made.
(15) There is no more than 500 people in all the videos, even when all the bodies that appear in different videos are added to the count.
(16) In two videos of the same location with a difference of about one hour and forty minutes the entire medical teams changes in the middle of an emergency.
(17) The identities of the dead have largely been left unknown, especially by the anti-government groups archiving and disseminating their pictures.
(18) In the footage of one burial only eight people are buried and three of them are not even covered in the “compulsory” ritual shrouds.
As a result these questions emerge:
(1) Why such a high rate of dead children?
(2) Why are the bodies of children being displayed with a virtual absence of adult corpses?
(3) When adult corpses are seen, why are the unusually segregated?
(4) Where were the parents?
(5) If the parents died with their children, why are the bodies of adults virtually absence, especially with the bodies of the children?
(6) If the parents were not killed, then where are they? Why are they not looking for their children?
(7) According to the cultural norms and gender scripts of Syrian society, children are almost always found with their mothers. So why is there a relative absence of women and specifically mothers in the US Intelligence Community’s nominated videos?
(8) How was it possible that all these children died alone?
(9) There was virtually no outdoor movement in East Ghouda after the attack. How were all the bodies transported to the burial sites without anyone noticing?
(10) What was being injected into the dead bodies? Do you need to give medication to corpses at a makeshift morgue?
A public prosecutor completed his indictment as part of the probe into the chemicals seized in the southern province of Hatay on Sept. 12, claiming that jihadist Syrian rebel groups were seeking to buy materials that could be used to produce highly toxic sarin gas.
The indictment, which included transcripts of several phone conversations between the suspects involved, said that a 35-year-old Syrian citizen, identified as Hytham Qassap, established a connection with a network in Turkey in order to procure chemical materials for the al-Nusra Front and jihadist Ahrar al-Sham Brigades.
The indictment rejected the legitimacy of the suspects’ claim that they were unaware the chemicals they tried to obtain could be used to produce sarin gas.
“The suspects have pleaded not guilty saying that they had not been aware the materials they had tried to obtain could have been used to make sarin gas. Suspects have been consistenly providing conflicting and incoherent facts on this matter,” the indictment said.
Prosecutors also indicated that Turkish dealers of the chemical materials told the prime suspect Qassap during their phone conversations that two of the eight chemicals he was trying to acquire were subject to state approval.
The indictment also contained Qassap’s testimony where he confessed his links with the Ahrar al-Sham Brigades and moved to the city of Antakya following the instructions of its leader, Abu Walid. “After I arrived in Antakya, other rebel groups had come into contact with me. While some had asked me for medicine and other humanitarian aid supplies, others wanted to obtain military equipment,” he told prosecutors.
A total of 11 people were arrested during the investigation launched late May after police received a tip suggesting that some Syrian rebel groups were looking to procure materials that could be used to produce chemical weapons.
Qassap and five Turkish suspects have been arrested while five others have been released. The other Turkish suspects were also released after lab tests proved that chemicals seized during the operation were not sarin gas.
Russian Premier Vladimir Putin offered an op-ed in the New York Times yesterday. About Syria.
RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.
Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.
The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.
No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.
The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.
Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy inSyria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.
Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.
From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.
No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.
It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”
But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.
No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect.
The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.
We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.
A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action.
I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations.
If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.
My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.