Sadet Karabulut: In the wake of Syria, is it still not clear?

26 September 2018

Sadet Karabulut: In the wake of Syria, is it still not clear?

International law's a great idea, but should never form an obstacle to the interests of the state. That's what, in a nutshell. Ko Colin of the Netherlands Institute of International Relations (aka the Clingendael Institute) wrote recently. In other words, conducting foreign policy would become extremely difficult if the international legal principle of non-intervention were to be taken literally. 

Wow! It takes some nerve to make this claim in the week that the Dutch media revealed that the Netherlands has for years been aiding and abetting Jihadists, other human rights abusers, and allies of Al-Qaeda in Syria, including by supplying battle suits, communications apparatus and pick-up trucks with which it's pretty certain that war crimes have been committed. The supply of these goods is, according to legal experts, against the law, On Thursday there's a hearing on the matter in Parliament.

Colijn denounces non-interventionism on the grounds that is gives too much space to tyrants such as Assad. He fails to provide any arguments to back up this assumption, which is widely supported in the West. 

It's strange that it's Western interventionism in Syria (the Netherlands was not the only state to  provide rebel groups with supplies) that he seized upon in order to make his point. After all, it's not at all controversial to state that the West's deployment there did little good. Indeed, analysts say that what it achieved above all was to prolong the bloody civil war. Koos van Dam, who as the Dutch ambassador to Syria played a role in this debacle, and who blames in part the Western powers for what has happened, shares this view. 

In places other than Syria Western interventionism against tyrants (with too much space?) has led to disaster. In Iraq Saddam Hussein was toppled from his throne, which no-one regretted, but then a devastating civil war broke out. This American war, based as it was on lies, was supposed to be directed at terrorism, but the fact is that both Al-Qaeda in Iraq and later ISIS were the direct consequences of reckless US action, which was supported by the Netherlands. 
More than a million people lost their lives in the violence that followed this illegal intervention. Libya, where NATO aided the rebels with its air power, was also no success story. The fall of  Gaddafi – once again no reason to shed tears – led to total anarchy in which the only law was the rule of the strongest. Militias armed to the teeth rule the roost there, and the citizens are the fall guys. The country has become, moreover, a hotspot for migrants, many of whom die in the deadly crossing to Europe.  

The question is what Western intervention can possibly bring us in the near future. President Trump seems to have set his sights on Iran, and we're expected to fall to our knees. The game, in which military actions are certainly on the table, is being played for high stakes. Will international legal orthodoxy soon have to be abandoned for foreign policy top be effective? 

It is to be hoped not. If there is one lesson to be drawn from the warlike politics of recent decades, it is that the world was better off with less Western interventionism. 

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