Can state sovereignty be more important than a humanitarian crisis?

The rule of Bashar al Assad caused more than one hundred thousand deaths in the Syrian civil war. This did not lead the World to action. However, when he used chemical weapons to kill thousands of his own countrymen the world deemed this an unacceptable action. The US was prepared for a limited set of strikes to show Assad that one would not accept this kind of behavior and where the line is drawn. But then the option to make Assad give up his chemical weapons appeared on the horizon and it was what the US could negotiated with Russia. This ultimately became the deal that left Assad in duty.

The moral dilemma here is that Assad, a man responsible for mass murder, is still in office. There is no effort to put him in front of a court and trial him for what he has done. After actions that almost caused a military strike by the US he only had to give up his chemical weapons and was in return left in office.

On the other side, what is there to do? Putting him in front of the international court of justice or the international war criminal court of justice would be the right thing to do. Just as with Slobodan Milosevic, who committed crimes against humanity in the Kosovo war. But how would you get Assad to appear in front of such a court. Most likely you would have to gain a hold of him via force which means boots on the ground in a sovereign state. Protecting the sovereignty of states should be in everybody’s interest. So what weights more, the justice that needs to be done to the thousands of people killed by chemical attacks ordered by Assad or the state sovereignty of Syria and of states in general in situations like this?

I would argue that the humanitarian considerations should be more valuable than state sovereignty in this case. The message sent to other dictators, totalitarian leaders, despots and the like is just way too soft. The way Assad got away with this, with a clap on the fingers cannot be in the general interest of the world. This is not justice. Taking this to a personal level the argument is clear: if I kill my neighbor with a gun and get caught I should not be able just to turn the gun in to the police and then go back to whatever I was doing before.

Tags: Ethics, International, Realtions, Syria, and

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I am focused on Syria for my project too. I really like that way you are trying to bring this moral dilemma to surface in a different standpoint. I sort of took the stance from the U.S. standpoint, or what is President Obama going to do or should do. I like how you are trying to show how important state sovereignty is. The metaphor is also great, but I think maybe you need to present the metaphor like this. The world is a neighborhood with houses of different sizes and people. You shouldn't as the father of the household be able to kill another member of your household i.e. your wife, your children, then turn the gun into police and continue being the father. In U.S. I am positive this type of domestic violence would leave any father going to prison for eternity. However, if there is no police enforcement I think it may be very important then for the neighborhood households to intervene and not let this father of one particular household continue to interrupt the peace of the neighborhood. This is maybe why neighborhood or (humanitarian intervention) is a necessity, because you are correct no leader of any household should be able to return to whatever they are doing after evil of this sort. 

I really enjoyed your presentation today in class. I think your dilemma is really well-framed and explained clearly. It's an interesting question about whether or not the focus of justice should be on the people killed by chemical attacks or Syria's sovereignty. I agree that some sort of action should be taken to capture Assad. You had said in class that obviously it will take awhile for a plan to fall in place that would work in grabbing him. What type of plan do you envision as being effective in capturing him?


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