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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Interviewed About Syria, Use of Force, and Norms

Monday, Christopher Flavelle of Bloomberg interviewed me about the various norms at stake in the Syria debate. We discussed international norms limiting the use of force and the implications of using force to punish chemical weapons use. I'm not confident that a US retaliatory strike would meaningfully deter future use of chemicals. It might be an effective military action in Syria (by destroying capabilities), but would future dictators be deterred?

Flavelle ended up quoting me in his story published September 10:
In fact, the norm against the unauthorized use of force may be more important than the norm against chemical weapons, which are held by a small number of countries. By contrast, "norms limiting the use of force are seen as centrally important to most states," according to Rodger Payne, chairman of the political science department at the University of Louisville.
I was accurately quoted, though Flavelle and I talked about the problem of Security Council authorization. Essentially, one permanent member can block action desired by a global consensus.  The international community needs to figure out a way to authorize the use of force that is at least somewhat less onerous than the current procedure. States acting collectively ought to be able to prevent future Iraq-type invasions, if opposed by a very large number of states, but allow potentially desirable actions, such as limited interventions to protect civilians or prevent certain kinds of terrorist or WMD attacks.

Also, we didn't really talk about this, but chemical weapons are relatively easy to manufacture (their use dates back a century, after all), which means that dozens of states could make them if they wanted. That means the proposed strike might have implications for many other states in the future.

Finally, I also stressed that the norm against chemical weapons has actually been solidified if not strengthened these past few weeks by the fact that so many members of the international community are outraged by the alleged Syrian use. There are many other ways to signal the international community's displeasure, including sanctions, resolutions condemning the action, etc.

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