Syria in the firing line
6 September, 2013
Syria in the firing line
The conflict in Syria has the potential to spread to the entire region and arming Syrian rebels is the best of a bad bunch of options, a University of Waikato law professor says.
Professor Al Gillespie says while arming rebels was a risky proposition, it was preferable to other options such as direct military intervention or simply ignoring the ongoing conflict.
“The risk is another Afghanistan,” he says.
Unquestionably, some – but by no means all - of the rebels are “war criminals, crazies and fanatics” and they share none of the values that we associate with democracy, freedom or equality.
Professor Gillespie is giving a free public lecture about Syria on Wednesday at 5.30pm and again in Tauranga on Monday, 16 September.
He says claims the Syrian regime used chemical weapons on its own people, if proven, would be the “biggest breach of international law in the last two decades”.
“Ethically, we should do the right thing. The question is, what is the right thing?”
Prof Gillespie – who is the author of the History of the Laws of War (2011, Oxford) and The Causes of War (2013, Oxford) - says there are four key factors at play: the Arab Spring, the use of chemical weapons, the United Nations Security Council and New Zealand.
The Arab Spring has seen many Middle Eastern nations in turmoil over the last 18 months. However, the use of chemical weapons has upped the ante, and is clearly some kind of tipping point. The UN Security Council is unlikely to sanction an attack on Syria, which means if the US does intervene, New Zealand will be faced with the decision of either backing the US or the UN.
With New Zealand attempting to win a seat on the UN Security Council, it becomes a no-win situation, although Prof Gillespie thinks New Zealand would back any US moves.
He says the risk of a war involving countries such as Russia or China were slim, but there was a real possibility of it turning into a major regional war.
“The best way for Syria to come out of this is to make it a regional war,” he says.
But still a war New Zealanders should be concerned about.
“Ethically we should all be concerned about mass killing with chemical weapons. Legally, if it is proven, it is the biggest breach of international law in the last two decades, regionally, the conflict could impact on millions of people and politically, we want to be in this game because we want a seat on the UN Security Council.”
Professor Gillespie’s talk, Moral Support for Military Intervention in Syria: The Arab Spring, Chemical Weapons, the Security Council and New Zealand: Why We Should be Concerned takes place in the PWC lecture theatre at Waikato Management School, Hillcrest Rd, on Wednesday, 11 September at 5.30pm and at the Bongard Centre, lecture theatre 106, 200 Cameron Road, Tauranga on Monday, 16 September at 6pm.
Professor Gillespie will also be answering questions in a live Google Hangout from 1pm on Friday, 13 September. For details on how to join the conversation, visit waikato.ac.nz/news-events anytime after 8am Tuesday.