Gabriel Banda Peace Notes, 03: Syria War and Nick Clegg Intervention Test

Gabriel C BandaSyria War and the Nick Clegg Intervention Test

 By

Gabriel C Banda

RECENTLY, marking the tenth anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Britain’s deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, reflected on the controversy of military intervention by external forces.

Writing in The Independent on Sunday of March 17, 2013, Clegg lamented the illegitimacy and illegality of the invasion led by United States president George W Bush and Britain’s Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In opposition during the March 2003 invasion, Nick Clegg says he, his Liberal Democrats party leaders and members, and very significant numbers of the British and world populations had opposed Bush and Blair’s invasion plans and actions.

The invasion was based on weak, unproven, “weapons of mass destruction” grounds and was illegal in international law. The invasion led to much death, injury, displacement, stability, and deep social disharmony affecting many in Iraq, the region, and other parts of the world. We are still living with the deep effects of the invasion.

Nick Clegg is now Britain’s deputy prime minister in a coalition headed by the Conservative Party’s David Cameron. The challenges of intervention are very first hand. To avoid the negative experience of Iraq, Nick Clegg suggests some four factors to consider before intervention can happen.

Clegg’s four “tests” are: Is intervention legal? Does it command local and regional support? Another test is “are we confident intervening will alleviate suffering?” And, the fourth is “Is the United Nations behind it?” He feels that in the absence of United Nations approval, “are there reasons to intervene on clear humanitarian grounds?”

Without consulting him, I will call them the Nick Clegg principles of intervention, some form of “Theory of Intervention,” just as there is the “Just War” theory to consider whether to go to war or not, and issues of fairness and war. In fact, the Nick Clegg principles of intervention cannot be separated from the basic principles of Just War, but must be considered some practical checklist of a particular situation in war. The Clegg principles need to be consistent with Just War principles.

In our MA Peace Studies class at Bradford University in the 1990s, we learnt that Just War principles are a total package. Firstly, the cause should be “just.”  There must be right intention and motive. The authority to wage the war must be legitimate. And the war action must be proportionate. War must be a last resort. The war action should not create problems larger than the problem being dealt with. That war must be able to succeed.

Now, Nick Clegg feels that in participating in the recent military intervention in Libya, his government fulfilled the four tests. But I believe the Clegg principles were not demonstrated in Libya.

The intervention may appear to have been legal through the instruments of United Nations Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973 on Libya. But the resolutions had defects in content and implementation. In addition, the resolutions were used as blank cheque to disarm and remove the Gaddafi regime.

The Security Council did not allow foot soldiers in Libya, yet some forces from the West, and neighbours like Qatar and Sudan, had troops fighting in Libya.

Secondly, to strengthen the Clegg principles, besides the legal question, there should always be the moral question, for apartheid in South Africa was legal but a moral crime. Over Libya, Nick Clegg and the British and France government partners did not pass the Clegg tests.

The principle on local and regional support was difficult for intervention. Both Gaddafi and the rebels had significant support from persons from local groups identifying with various sides. In such case, even after military conquest by one over others, there can be no long term order.

The regional support principle was not met. The African Union, with its experience over various conflicts in Africa, had been opposed to the military intervention and preferred a political settlement. USA’s Susan Rice scolded the African Union position and drove for military intervention. France president Nicolas Sarkozy had a guillotine set on Gaddafi’s head and would not listen to a non-violent solution facilitated by Africa.

The Clegg test’s United Nations presence requisite has been weakened by his discretion on great humanitarian consideration where there is no United Nations approval. Nick Clegg factors allow for intervention outside the UN. As over Iraq, this can become a dangerous window used to justify unilateral action outside official United Nations endorsement.

As the United Nations seems to be forgetting, the world body’s primary role is not only to stop wars, but to put an end to war. UN priority in any conflict should be to avoid military means and move to political settlement.

Many problems have arisen out of the Libya intervention. The Libya intervention contributed to later problems in Mali. I believe the Libya experience, besides showing more questions on contents of the Clegg doctrine, shows that the Clegg tests highlight failures by the intervening UK and allies. The Libya intervention failed the Just War package.

Now, after Libya, Nick Clegg feels his proposed principles should also come in on the Syria civil war, where the UK, France, and other governments support the anti-Assad insurgents.

With the rebels they support suffering unity and purpose concerns and even defeat as in the strategic Qusair town, there may be an urge for Britain and France to intervene. It may be tempting to find a “weapon of mass destruction” type of reason to justify intervention.

Both Syria government forces and the rebels have accused the other of using chemical weapons. As in Iraq against Saddam Hussein’s regime, the external supporters of Syria’s insurgents may rush for some reason around chemical weapons use to justify military intervention on the side of the rebels, or against Assad’s regime.

The Clegg principles will need definite, objective, truth before assigning blame. And what will the interventionists do if it turns out insurgents are the ones that have used chemical and other dirty weapons?

External intervention in Syria is not easy. Syria’s military strength and situation are not like was in Libya. As various forces have learnt the lessons of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, the intervention itself can lead to further problems for everyone, including the invaders. Reality is that, with significant support and resources around the various parties in the Syria war, neither the Assad regime nor the insurgents can hope to rule without major problems if they subdue others by military force and impose themselves onto the whole society.

As in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, in Syria there can be no military solution which will create permanent order. As violence begets violence, the increased military support for the combatants has greatly increased burden and prolonged the reaching of settlement.

The Clegg intervention tests will not succeed in Syria. The size of internal Syrian local support for external intervention is not easy to measure in a society with deepened sectarian and other alignments. Regional support is compromised where some members of the Arab League and Gulf Council are active supporters of forces against Assad.

Because of unpleasant experiences over the Libya resolutions and other factors, China and Russia will not allow some UN Security Council resolution for intervention in Syria. And, yes, open intervention will worsen suffering. The Syria war is already deeply affecting the region, Europe, and the wider world.

External intervention, even using the Clegg principles, may lead to further long-term problems in the complex Syria situation. But, although imperfect, it is important that those in influential positions in UK, France, US, Russia, Arabia, and elsewhere, should, amongst other Just War factors, consider the Nick Clegg Just Intervention test.

 Based in Lusaka, Zambia, Gabriel C Banda is involved in social development, writing and the arts, and observing conflict and peace issues.

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                                                    GCB, June 2013, Lusaka.

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