It is vi­tal we show that the world will not tol­er­ate use of chem­i­cal weapons

The Sunday Telegraph - - Syria Strikes - By Boris John­son FOR­EIGN SEC­RE­TARY

There is a very sim­ple rea­son why it was right for the UK to join our clos­est al­lies in launch­ing strikes against the As­sad mil­i­tary ma­chine. This is about our col­lec­tive fu­ture. It is about the kind of world we want our chil­dren to grow up in. It is about – and ex­clu­sively about – whether the world should tol­er­ate the use of chem­i­cal weapons and the hu­man suf­fer­ing they cause.

Any­one look­ing at the pic­tures from East­ern Ghouta can see the kind of suf­fer­ing in­volved: the foam­ing at the mouth, the floppy bod­ies of chil­dren, and the par­tic­u­lar ter­ror those weapons de­lib­er­ately in­spire. Vile, sick and bar­baric though it is to use such weapons, that is not the prin­ci­pal ob­jec­tion. These mu­ni­tions are not just hor­ri­ble. They are il­le­gal.

It is now cen­turies since hu­man­ity first re­coiled against the use of poi­son in war­fare. The French and the Holy Ro­man Em­pire were so dis­gusted by the use of poi­soned bul­lets that they signed a treaty to ban them in 1675.

It is now al­most 100 years since the great post-First World War treaty to pro­hibit use of chem­i­cal weapons – and in that pe­riod we have seen nation af­ter nation sign up to the global con­sen­sus that this par­tic­u­lar means of killing is evil and should be banned.

And so the global community sim­ply can­not af­ford to turn a blind eye to what is hap­pen­ing in Syria. In 2013, the As­sad regime com­mit­ted to de­stroy­ing its chem­i­cal ar­se­nal, while Rus­sia – the men­tor of the regime – guar­an­teed to over­see the process. Since then, the As­sad regime and Rus­sia have made a com­plete mock­ery of that pledge.

A sig­nif­i­cant body of in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing in­tel­li­gence, sug­gests the As­sad regime was be­hind the chem­i­cal attack at Douma that killed about 75 peo­ple and re­sulted in hun­dreds of ca­su­al­ties. Mul­ti­ple ac­counts lo­cated a regime Mi-18 he­li­copter in the vicin­ity at the time. The op­po­si­tion does not have he­li­copters and no other ac­tor in the Syr­ian theatre is thought ca­pa­ble of launch­ing a chem­i­cal strike of that scale. The only rea­son­able con­clu­sion is that the regime has be­come so hard­ened and cyn­i­cal that it is will­ing to ex­ploit the ex­tra po­ten­tial of these weapons for re­mov­ing en­trenched ur­ban re­sis­tance – in com­plete de­fi­ance of global dis­ap­proval and the norms of civilised be­hav­iour.

The Douma atroc­ity alone would be enough to de­mand a re­sponse. But it is

‘The UK and our al­lies have done ev­ery­thing in our power to de­ter the use of these weapons’

not a one-off. It is part of a pat­tern of use of chem­i­cal weapons by the As­sad regime. In­ter­na­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tors man­dated by the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil have found the regime re­spon­si­ble for us­ing chem­i­cal weapons in four sep­a­rate at­tacks since 2014.

The UK and our al­lies have done ev­ery­thing in our power to de­ter the bar­baric use of these weapons. The EU has im­posed sanc­tions on key fig­ures linked to chem­i­cal weapons use in Syria. We have tried count­less res­o­lu­tions at the UN. But Rus­sia has re­peat­edly shielded the As­sad regime from in­ves­ti­ga­tion and cen­sure, ve­to­ing six UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions, in­clud­ing tor­pe­do­ing the UN-man­dated Joint In­ves­tiga­tive Mech­a­nism set up to at­tribute re­spon­si­bil­ity for chem­i­cal weapons at­tacks in Syria. In­stead, Rus­sia has re­peated its lies and ob­fus­ca­tion, which we have seen in this coun­try since the at­tempted mur­der of Sergei and Yu­lia Skri­pal, in­clud­ing the grotesque as­ser­tion that the UK is some­how be­hind the attack in Douma.

Last year we had a mil­i­tary re­sponse from the US, when about 20 Syr­ian planes were de­stroyed at the Shayrat air­field af­ter the chem­i­cal mas­sacre of civil­ians at Khan Sheikhoun. Now the world is forced to act again – not only to pro­tect those who would oth­er­wise fall vic­tim to As­sad’s mon­strosi­ties, but be­cause un­less we do so, his regime will con­tinue to weaken what has be­come an ef­fec­tive global ta­boo, with hu­man­i­tar­ian con­se­quences for many more. If we do noth­ing, there will be oth­ers who will look at the im­punity of As­sad and ask them­selves: they got away with it – why shouldn’t I?

Yes of course there are diplo­matic con­sid­er­a­tions – but this is about more than diplo­macy. It is about prin­ci­ple. And in its fo­cus on the use of chem­i­cal weapons – and the con­se­quences that must flow – this ac­tion is lim­ited, and we must be both acutely aware of those lim­its and clear about them.

These care­fully tar­geted and cal­i­brated strikes are not de­signed to in­ter­vene in the Syr­ian civil war or ef­fect regime change. The ac­tion was car­ried out to al­le­vi­ate fur­ther hu­man­i­tar­ian suf­fer­ing by de­grad­ing the Syr­ian regime’s chem­i­cal weapons ca­pa­bil­ity and de­ter­ring their use.

At a time of ten­sion in our relations with Rus­sia, it has been im­por­tant to stress that this ac­tion does not en­tail some at­tempt to frus­trate Rus­sian strate­gic ob­jec­tives in Syria. This does not rep­re­sent any ma­jor es­ca­la­tion of UK or Western in­volve­ment in Syria – and we should have the courage to be hon­est about that.

We are stand­ing up for prin­ci­ple and for civilised val­ues. We may not end the bar­barism – but we are telling the world that there is one type of bar­barism that is banned and that de­serves to be banned.

A Syr­ian child waits for treat­ment af­ter the chem­i­cal attack on Douma

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