It is easier to start wars than to end them. It is easier to blame others than to look inward, to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path”. Excerpt from speech in Cairo, June 2009 by Obama.
In the first week of September 2013, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee considered Syria strikes at the Capitol Hill. The Committee approved a resolution authorizing limited U.S. military intervention in Syria, setting the stage for a contentious debate in the full Senate the following week on the use of force. While presenting the point of view of the White House, John Kerry made a rather interesting statement. "President Obama is not asking America to go to war," the secretary of state and a former chairman of the committee John Kerry stated, who denied that strikes would prelude deeper US involvement. "If Assad is arrogant enough, and I would say foolish enough, to retaliate to the consequences of his own criminal activity, the US and its allies have ample ways [of responding] … without going to war." (The Guardian, September 3, 2013). Military strikes apparently, are not within the ambit of war according to this rhetoric. Since no boots on ground were requested by Obama in his present request to the Congress, therefore US was not going to another war. Not against Syria anyways.
This uniquely misdirected approach struck me as an extremely interesting way of defining a war. I decided therefore to look up the definition of war. John Keegan in his “History of Warfare”, states; war is a universal phenomenon whose form and scope is defined by the society that wages it. War is also defined as an armed conflict between nations or factions within a nation; warfare. It is also explained as; to be in a state of hostility or rivalry. Even a definitive outcome of the war may not decide upon the reason for the conflict.
War begins where diplomacy ends. In the earlier times, countries fought a war with massive standing armies. The armies of nations at conflict, met in battleground. The combat decided the fate of the outcome of the war. Modern day warfare is not just fought with standing armies. The modern day warfare has many other battlegrounds where the war is fought. Some of the grounds may be economic, trade, psychological, media, sectarian, religious and ideological. Proxy war is another well-practised method of fighting on foreign soil without “boots on ground”. For Clausewitz; (Prussian soldier and scholar) in current military conflicts raging around the globe, diplomacy, fighting, and reconstruction all go on simultaneously. Clearly, warfare is now between groups, not just states, and our terminology defining warfare must reflect this.
Irrespective of what kind or mix of kinds of war it may be, it is inevitably political. In the waging of a modern warfare, those involved cannot possibly remain apolitical. In today’s war non-state actors can inflict at least as much damage as the state actors. Attempted aerial bombing of a target with some degree of accuracy, with the aim of limiting collateral damage is known as precision bombing. This does not mean that precision bombing in exclusion to other kinds of combat tactics is not war. Destruction of an armed facility, a building, any construction, in an area causing minimal damage to the surroundings is an example of precision bombing. Ladies and gentleman and Mr John Kerry; America’s proposed measure against Syria, is very much war. Friends do not drop missiles on your country. The term precision is relative. It is relatively precise keeping in view the present technology available to man but it does not mean, by any long shot that every single missile fired will find its target but yes, it will be safe to assume most will. Therefore there will be minimal collateral damage. Yet there will be collateral damage. “Precision bombing" was notably attempted by the United States Army Air Forces over Europe during World War II, as it was believed that heavy bombers could accurately bomb targets from high altitude using the Norden bombsight.
It is also subjective whether or not war, once started on a limited scale, will continue to remain limited. Syria and her allies will react. The theater of war can expand. This possibility cannot be ruled out. It will depend upon the retaliation by the country against whom US is going to war. In wars, reactions cannot be predicted to precision. Once committed, US can and will be forced to expand the war theater as and when required. At this point in time, it may or may not have intentions of doing so, but whether or not this actually happens will depend on how events take shape over the next few weeks as there are other actors involved in this unfolding drama.
Secretary of State John Kerry opened the door to sending American troops into Syria if Bashar Assad’s regime collapses and al-Qaida-linked extremist groups stand to get their hands on his chemical weapons.( Olivier Knox, Yahoo! News) US it seems are well aware that the future of the “limited strikes” as they insist on calling this war, is at best, unpredictable. As Clausewitz states, “War in reality is never absolute because it is never final -- even a defeated state may still recover. For these reasons, the dynamic that leads to extremes fades, and the political purpose which governs the conflict reasserts itself”.
The Syria Joint Resolution for Markup Section (2) (b-1) titled ‘Requirement for determination that use of military force is necessary’ states; “the United States has used all appropriate diplomatic and other peaceful means to prevent the deployment and use of weapons of mass destruction by Syria.” In other words, it presupposes that all avenues of diplomacy and any other possible means that do not include the use of force have been explored, put in practice and failed to deliver before resorting to military force. However, by a 10-7 vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the resolution that authorizes a limited military response, giving Obama an initial victory in his push to win congressional approval. This in spite of the rule embedded in the UN Charter that member states cannot attack other states. Only two exceptions release them from obeying this law. The first exception is if so authorized to do so by a Security Council resolution, the second is in pure self-defense. In the case of Syria, UN Security Council has been not passed any such resolution and United States has not been attacked in any way by Syria.
How the US will restrict itself to a limited war as envisaged is anybody’s guess. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C. who was elected in the tea party-fueled Republican wave of 2010, asked Kerry at the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “Is the power of the executive branch so intoxicating that you have abandoned past caution in favor of pulling the trigger on a military response so quickly?" Maybe he too was reminded of the relevant provision in the Syria Joint Resolution for Markup.
Mike over to Mr John Kerry please.
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.