UN green light not needed for Syria strike, UK says

Downing Street cites humanitarian relief as justification for military action against Assad regime

British Prime Minister David Cameron (photo credit: UK Department for International Development/Flickr)
British Prime Minister David Cameron (photo credit: UK Department for International Development/Flickr)

The British Government issued a statement Thursday stating that if military action against Syria were blocked at the UN Security Council, the United Kingdom would still have legal license to “take exceptional measures” against the Assad regime to alleviate the humanitarian catastrophe.

Ten Downing Street stated that it sought a UN Security Council resolution under Chapter VII which, among other things, would “authorize member states… to take all necessary measures to protect civilians in Syria from the use of chemical weapons.” But “if action in the Security Council is blocked,” the statement read, “the UK would still be permitted under international law to take exceptional measures in order to alleviate the scale of the overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe in Syria by deterring and disrupting the further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.”

Prime Minister David Cameron’s office released intelligence and legal documents meant to bolster the case that chemical weapons were used by the Syrian government and that retaliation would be justified. The documents were made public in advance of what is likely to be an emotionally charged debate in the British Parliament Thursday afternoon.

Lawmakers had been recalled from their summer recess for an urgent session on the matter

In addition to a legal summary, Downing Street released the Joint Intelligence Committee assessment that concludes it was “highly likely” that the Syrian government was responsible for the chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 that killed hundreds of civilians.

Jon Day, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, says in the report that assessments indicate the Syrian government had already used chemical weapons on a smaller scale since fighting escalated in 2012.

“A clear pattern of regime use has therefore been established,” he said.

Thursday’s statement was the strongest signal yet by London that it would be willing to use military force against the Assad regime without a green light from the UN. It came a day after US State Department officials said Wednesday that Washington would act with or without approval from the United Nations Security Council.

State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf repeatedly emphasized that “Russian intransigence” in its opposition to measures that would weaken embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad had caused a logjam in the UN.

“We’ve consistently said that we support Security Council action, but we heard nothing different from the Russian delegation today than what we’ve heard in recent months. So we had no reason to believe that efforts at the Security Council would result in any other outcome than previous efforts,” Harf said, speaking shortly after the Security Council failed to advance a British-sponsored resolution against the Syrian government’s alleged chemical weapons attack last week.

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