International Law Studies


Tim McCormack


Why has the use of chemical weapons in Syria engendered such a substantive multilateral response in stark contrast to almost every other egregious international law violation perpetrated against the civilian population? Various theories have been offered but the explanation has little to do with humanitarian concerns for Syrian victims and is more readily explicable by unusual (in the Syrian context) alignment of U.S. and Russian national interests. Bashar al-Assad was convinced to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention, to surrender his stockpiles of chemical weapons and to co-operate with international investigators deployed under UN Security Council auspices amid a cacophony of demands for accountability. In contrast, virtually all other egregious war crimes have been met with nothing more than verbal indignation. As with chemical weapons, there have been repeated demands for accountability but successive attempts to secure UN Security Council referral of the Syrian situation to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court have been vetoed by Russia and China. First appearances may prove misleading. For all the efforts to respond to alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, the international community is no closer to holding any responsible individuals accountable than is the case for any other of the lamentable myriad of war crimes. In the face of appalling carnage unfolding before our very eyes, the complexities of the crisis expose the impotence of the international community to protect the benighted population of Syria.