SACC statement on the US airstrikes in Syria

SACC is appalled by the chemical attack at Khan Sheikhoun on Tuesday and deplores last night's cruise missile strike by the US against a Syrian government airbase at Shayrat. These events risk escalating the Syrian conflict still further, with potentially calamitous consequences for the Syrian people and for regional and world peace.

We remain opposed to all acts of war by foreign powers in Syria, but as a UK-based organisation we particularly stand against military intervention by the UK and its allies.

We also remain opposed to the massive, systematic and continuing assault on the people of Syria carried out by the Syrian government since 2011 and to the widespread disregard for human rights by forces on all sides of the conflict.

The political consequences of the US airstrike are potentially very serious, but its immediate human cost appears to have been much lower than either the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack, allegedly by the Syrian Government, or last month's bombing of an Aleppo mosque by the US. The Airwars project estimates that airstrikes in Syria and Iraq by the US-led coalition resulted in almost 1000 civilian non-combatant deaths in March. This represents an alarming increase in the coalition's contribution to the mayhem in the region.

The use of chemical weapons has been a disturbing but minor part of the bonfire of international human rights law and humanitarian law that has marked the Syrian conflict so far. This includes torture, mass executions and the targeting of civilians by artillery and airpower, especially by Syrian Government forces. It also includes the killing of civilians by Russian, US and UK forces in circumstances that at best amount to reckless disregard for civilian life.

The international ban on the use of chemical weapons, like the widely-ignored international ban on torture, is an exceptionally clear-cut element of international law and must be respected. The images that emerged from the apparent chemical weapon release at Khan Sheikhoun on Tuesday are a grim reminder of what could lie ahead if the ban is not taken seriously. An independent UN investigation into the attack is urgently needed, followed by internationally agreed measures to hold those responsible to account.

The unilateral US action is not an affirmation of international law, but a challenge to it. Without UN Security Council authorisation, or evidence that Syrian forces were on the point of launching an attack on the US, it is very difficult to understand how there can be any legal basis for the US attack. With the US apparently now killing more Syrian civilians than Russia, it is impossible to accept that its action was motivated by humanitarian concerns. It is just part of the US escalation of a complex war against multiple enemies competing for influence in Syria.

It is unclear whether the US airstrike was a step towards long-term escalation of the wider contest between the US and Russia and away from the supposed Trump-Putin rapprochement, or whether it was intended as a more nuanced and symbolic act of armed diplomacy. It was dangerous and unacceptable in either case. And in either case, it is perfectly clear that the airstrike was driven above all by Donald Trump's domestic political concerns.

SACC is gravely concerned about the widespread expressions of support for the airstrike, both within the US and internationally, and especially about the statement made today by Prime Minister Theresa May. Support for the airstrike risks eroding the rule of international law and normalising Donald Trump's reactionary presidency. 

The path towards a peaceful, just and decent future for the Syrian people is to lower the international stakes, not to raise them. 

Photo: Cruise missile launched towards Shayrat airbase from USS Ross, 7 April 2017. By  MC3 (SW) Robert S. Price © US Department of Defense