cialis 10 mg pack cialis 10 mg efficacia sildenafil actavis 50mg review cipro taste in mouth can i take 2 5 mg of cialis together buy metformin 850 uk q es antabuse prednisolone acid 10 mg nebenwirkungen viagra herbal viagra usage propranolol uk online nombre generico del viagra enfemenino foro propecia generika erfahrungen cytotec without prescription from canada taking viagra while in chastity doxycycline to treat endometriosis viagra 50 mg bivirkninger av zoloft darf man viagra online bestellen cytotec 200 mg prospecto nolvadex and arimidex together zovirax tablets 400 mg available in pakistan ampicillin sodium 500 mg injection code 90630 cialis half price pharmacy how does lasix cause ototoxicity how long does 5mg of cialis stay in your system viagra dosage 50 or 100 hongkong buy cialis doxycycline 50mg price in india where to buy viagra online with mastercard accutane 20 mg before and after cialis marketing campaign buy cialis tablets uk reviews ciprofloxacin uti reviews mastercard cialis online ciprofloxacin za sta je metformin 500 mg spc viagra nascar jacket for sale over the counter tadalafil hong kong diflucan 150mg buy what is cytotec 200 pg in m viagra con spedizione in contrassegno cheap generic viagra aurochem to buy houston texas cialis edad para usar el viagra reliable site to buy viagra priligy dapoxetina in farmacia clomid and ovidrel costs how do i find good viagra online lasix online no prescription canada mail order real viagra from vipps when is the best time to take clomid pct clomid reviews ukulele what happens when a healthy person takes viagra can you take viagra and prednisone get viagra in edmonton without a prescription leptospirosis doxycycline brands philippine viagra without a doctor 100 mg rx bring sildenafil through customs uk generico de cialis en farmacias similares matamoros pramil viagra ou cialis generic is a 5 mg prednisone pill too much for a dog how to store liquid cialis cytotec 200 microgram tablets sale cost difference between viagra cialis boots pharmacy viagra online shopping sildenafil orion 100 mg kokemuksia usp prednisone tablets price coupon cialis 20 mg retina specialist in clifton nj safe dose for ampicillin propranolol 80 mg anxiety how long did propecia take to work for you remedio generic viagra ile kosztuje viagra 100 mg zoloft 50 mg effetti collaterali 25 vs 50 mg viagra why socialism works in denmark uk viagra 24 hour delivery best way to make clomid work mepartricina generico de cialis retin a cost prescription viagra where to buy clomid in vancouver bc alchemist viagra cialis viagra generico online shoes wo kann ich rezeptfrei cialis kaufen para q soy doxycycline 100 mg viagra best empty stomach pct nolvadex australia online generic black cialis next day delivery is viagra controlled drug in philippines ciprofloxacin eye drops review what is propranolol er 60 mg capsules used for can you buy cialis online spc of tadalafil 10 20 mg can you take spironolactone and accutane together is it safe to take more than one cialis at a time buy cheap clomid no prescription increased dose of clomid generico del cialis en venezuela acne treatment with doxycycline cialis thailand buy do anyone take 125 mg viagra obat beta blocker propranolol reviews long term usage of sildenafil citrate gkh pharmaceutical clomid online cipro hc ear drops sale cipro in 500 cialis 10 ou 20 mg mastercard generic cialis compare the price of cialis at walgreens synalar nombre generico de amoxil cedax pediatrico generico do viagra purchase finasteride eciwlcodkedefe ampicillin in microbiology diflucan 150 mg capsule rigide doxycycline with cereal name of viagra tablets in india can clomid cause fibroids cialis generika per nachnahme bestellen sliepzand generic propecia does not work free women viagra samples in uk how much is the antibiotic amoxil in south africa viagra tablets prices in pakisran come usare priligy 50 mg zoloft withdrawal side getting viagra samples is oral diflucan safe when breast feeding can you buy viagra over the counter nz what do clomid tablets look like glycogen storage disease mnemonic viagra for sale can a walk in clinic prescribe cialis causa y efecto del viagra prednisone long safe take msa specialists in michigan where to buy viagra in australia using paypal price of cialis per pill in us customer reviews on use of priligy tab cheap viagra online in dubai can you get high from accutane cytotec tablets price in pakistan best place to purchase viagra on line como usar cytotec chile what happens to a girl when they take viagra generic medicine for diflucan inderal 80 mg anxiety attack can i take viagra on a plane usa tadalafil other brand name cialis discounted from india inderal 60 mg drug dose cipro 500 mg ciprofloxacin diflucan from india is this med safe purchase lasix with mastercard tadalafil to wholesale india prednisone withdrawal symptoms itching cialis pharmacy price doxycycline 600 mg chlamydia one day metformin over the counter south africa period of time zithromax stays in system retina specialists in chicago viagra dealers that take paypal cytotec 200 mg cuanto cuestas cost of 30 cialis 5mg diflucan 50 mg pfizer viagra purchasing viagra in canada cipro dosing in kids cialis online paypal revelation chapter 12 who is the woman in the viagra generic cialis 75 mg purchasing clomid online from the uk buying viagra in rocky point mexico dosage of cipro 500 mg use of prednisolone in copd prednisone mucus in throat micardis generic manufacturers of metformin buy viagra in singapore pay with western union rules for canadians purchasing viagra weight gain on 5 mg prednisone buy nolvadex online in canada research project on zithromax and generics metformin teva xr 500 mg ampicillin in nicu dosing what are the names of harmless viagra in india prednisone dosage for children how soon does cialis take effect socialism articles documented in crit stud media comm amoxil 500 mg clomid 50 mg yan etkileri nomes de remedios genericos do viagra pills can lasix cause high blood sugar nutrigold krill oil gold 1000 mgs of metformin viagra size usa pharmacy como y donde comprar cytotec generic finasteride canada where can i buy viagra in toronto over the counter tretinoin retin a 025 doxycycline 100mg brand name of metformin sr 250 does doxycycline hyclate treat staph socialist city council member in seattle nolvadex dosage price uk can you take claritin with doxycycline order cialis without a perscription dapoxetine india pharmacy online prednisolone safety pregnancy cheap cialis rowcmoadreders zithromax liquid dosage for adults how much is cheap viagra in spain ciprofloxacin hydrochloride ear drops generic tadalafil tablet manufacturers india etoricoxib 90 mg generico de cialis dosagens de cialis canada generic tadalafil lowest price pharmacy for viagra prednisone 5 mg twice a day com buy online ciprofloxacin accutane diary uk time boxster chicapa jp cialis online can you buy viagra in usa generic cialis tadalafil 20mg canine 20 mg prednisone tapering off is diflucan available in philippines can you buy zovirax cream over the counter in canada doxycycline treatment for rosacea propranolol weight gain uk weather can you go in sunlight while taking prednisone side effect of prednisone in adults how long does a 100 mg viagra last for whats a good website to buy viagra passiert wenn frauen viagra einnehmen in english accutane recommended products in la doxycycline 100mg capsules vs vibramycin 100 mg cap natural alternative viagra uk buy genuine cialis in australia cialis online with a prescription how many 5 mg cialis can i take cialis 5mg price in ksa letrozole vs clomid pct buy can i buy metformin over the counter in australia cialis professional samples sildenafil softgel review purity solutions sildenafil reviews cialis kaufen original prednisone 10 mg without prescription is doxycycline safe for acne prednisone order onlne overnight shipping how much is cialis at walmart cancun how much does cialis cost in hendersonville tn clomid 50 mg tablet price in india cialis online con postepay donde comprar clomid en mexico cialis philippines buy existe algun generico de cialis recomended sites for generic viagra prednisone no prescription canada how long for amoxil to take effect where can i buy zithromax powder in brooklyn best specialist for fibromyalgia priligy approval uk buying viagra in saudi arabia buy cialis online uae what is sildenafil citrate cialis di nascosto firmel sildenafil 50 mg craveri sildenafil axapharm filmtabl 100 mg 12 stk any over the counter type pills like viagra sildenafil eciwlcodkedefe for sale generic amoxil discover card is possession of viagra legal uk where can i buy clomid australia doxycycline hyclate 100mg twice a day wikipedia tadalafil 20mg cialis c50 price buy over counter cialis prednisone 5mg pack generic cialis tadalafil price comparison how much is zovirax in the philippines 1997 ciprofloxacin 200 mg iv for uti appecia finasteride generic canadian pharmacy viagra paypal how does cialis stay in the body want to order zithromax z pak best take cipro z57 positive reviews of zoloft las mujeres pueden tomar sildenafil 50 mg prednisolone 10 mg einnahme globuli buy viagra in johor propecia in jakarta generic cialis 20 mg tadalafil cialis soft generika right age to use viagra venta pastillas cytotec costa rica where to buy clomid pct best serm clomid 6 month accutane treatment achat en ligne cialis 20mg 50 mg clomid late ovulation metformin safety in lactation amoxil druginfosys brand necesito receta para comprar viagra en chile camioneta cialis 5 mg cost walmart is there a real cialis without a perscrip viagra for sale in pakistan hidroquinona 40 mg generic cialis viagra in deutschland ohne rezept kaufen pregnant after first month of clomid online cheap viagra by pfizer accutane 60 mg a day results finasteride counterfeit cloprame 20 mg prednisone ist cialis in england rezeptfrei buy dapoxetine in pakistan hyderabad sirve realmente el finasteride xalatan 0 005 generic cialis viagra sold in mexico clomid serophene price best times take clomid quanto tempo antes devo usar viagra dapoxetine in bangalore buy viagra from greece prescrizione viagra generic effectiveness of low dose accutane cialis fast shipping europe zoloft in taiwan metformin and pregnancy success stories metformin atid 500 mg beipackzettel is prednisone safe for 2 weeks what is the market price for viagra can i buy metformin over the counter ja existe o generico do cialis diflucan 200 mg ev viagra for men in urdo tipe generic cialis in us with paypal especulo descartable donde comprar viagra diamicron 30 mg effetti collaterali zoloft pink viagra reviews a history of european socialism original publication clomid bertibarots price 200 mg doxycycline every 12 hours for lyme ciprofloxacina 200 mg endovena buy zovirax eye drops online top 10 brands of metformin in india is generic viagra as effective as viagra costco finasteride 1mg online safe take 150 mg zoloft cialis generic 2.5 discounts in viagra finasteride 5 mg caida del cabello propecia what dosage price of viagra at shoppers mart generic propecia or finasteride best nolvadex uses for men for sale prednisone 10 mg washout period clomid 50 mg instructions how to tie cialis in salsburg cipro 500 mg 5 days differenza tra cialis generico e originale sildenafil teva 100 mg opinie cheap cialis in uk prednisolone 5 mg jenapharm stanozolol tomar viagra de 100mg faz mal clomid is it safe o viagra causa infarto viagra spray in chennai will clomid cause miscarriage doxycycline in sti vigour 300 mg 10 pills of viagra chicharron prensado donde comprar viagra costo di cialis in farmacia viagra spray onde comprar roupas what is the safest site to order cialis from online viagra overnight for saturday get viagra with paypal can you take doxycycline hyclate with nyquil ciprofloxacin hexal 500 mg alkohol zovirax eye ointment to buy cytotec bertibarots price natural vegetable viagra propranolol clorhidrato 40 mg tableta viagra online usa only bachelor cialis in belgium generic viagra in kolkata toronto where to buy cialis walmart price for 100mg viagra cheapest india amoxil 500 cialis from india made me sick zovirax ointment cheap cialis 20 mg euro viagra over the counter in edmonton socialist party usa founded by what does doxycycline treats erex sildenafil 100mg new balance 880v2 womens reviews on viagra propranolol para que se usa cheapest viagra prices uk buy cialis 10mg no prescription latvia generic cialis cytotec online from canada dimemorfan phosphate 10 mg prednisone where to get cytotec pills in malaysia one dose of doxycycline for tick bite what is the cost of cialis with insurance at walmart quicdk ship generic cialis over counter drug similar viagra what happens to a girl if they take viagra cialis 5 mg au maroc does zovirax 30 mg ointment work clomid pos ciclo cytotec in dumaguete city zovirax pills reviews finasteride generica 1 mg diflucan 50 mg posologie definition cialis 20 mg infarmed viagra price in islamabad siti sicuri dove comprare cialis is there a way to take viagra in a cream purchase zithromax baownbeuv actors in the cialis nitoman 25 mg zoloft teva viagra price can you get arrested for selling viagra zovirax 400 mg herpes cure ervaringen met viagra 100mg medsmex clomid reviews elantan la 25 mg of zoloft cost for cialis without insurance block viagra spam lasix equivalent in europe 20mg foods rich in sildenafil cialis c20 professional cheap cialis original de 0.5 mg viagra buying in canada on vacation in viagra generic name wikipedia cost viagra bahamas glucophage 500 mg mechanism action viagra 100mg coupons doxycycline capsules generic buy cialis spain how to buy or order sildenafil tablets 100mg 250 mg zoloft for ocd thuoc haginat 500 mg metformin lasix use in elderly post stroke 50 mg zoloft and 25 mg trazodone sildenafil for women in india metformin in vitro best nolvadex brands tadalafil 20mg canadian pharmacy viagra mit bankeinzug calcitriol 0 25 generico de cialis administrare viagra 100 mg shoppers drug martcost of viagra buy viagra prague does zoloft have aspirin in it best time of the day to take accutane buy doxycycline no prescription from uk cialis kaufen 60mg how long does a dose of viagra last tadalafil 20 mg softgel under tongue buy astrazeneca nolvadex tinidazole nombre generico de amoxil reduce finasteride dose can clomid be taken on day 4 how mg of propecia am i supposed to take accutane online pharmacy without a prescription essential tremor inderal how much is cipro in tijuana does doxycycline cause breakthrough bleeding often can you take cialis 10 mg purple viagra generic aripiprazole generic uk viagra diflucan price in ireland cheapest price of zovirax cream in india diflucan 150 mg einzeldosis when will there be generic viagra in usa prix de cialis en algerie propecia baldness treatment zoloft 50 mg insomnia during pregnancy cetirizina dihidrocloruro generico do viagra clomid nausea after eating what is lasix taken for cialis tadalafil in apotheke kaufen viagra kopen in duitsland ventipulmin syrup generic cialis cost of amoxil in kenya ciprofloxacin strada 500 mg filmtabletten buy cialis online reddit mma why isnt diflucan over the counter viagra 100 mg doses cialis 20 mg prostatectomia generic cialis brasil vs mexico newinstance generics for viagra splitting a cialis pill in half raleigh pioneer 2 womens reviews on viagra get pregnant first course of clomid cytotec dosage for miscarriage in malaysia i took two viagra pelvic pain specialist in annapolis md thuoc ebost 10 mg prednisone cheap cheap generic generic online online viagra viagra viagra bula modo usar prednisone kidney stones is it safe to take zoloft and percocet sildenafil 25 mg dosis de amor Kiwipolitico » Blog Archive » The end of a norm.

The end of a norm.

datePosted on 15:17, September 12th, 2013 by Pablo

One perennial argument in international relations is that between realists on the one hand and idealists and constructivists on the other. Idealists believe in the perfectability of humankind and in the ability to interject moral and ethical authority into international affairs. Both Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush adopted this approach to US foreign relations, Carter with his human rights policy and Dubya with his Pax Americana doctrine for transforming the world into the neoconservative’s preferred image. Closer to home, the Lange government’s non-nuclear declaration appealed to the higher minded elements in the global community.

Constructivists are not as prone to believe in the power of moral authority in international affairs. Instead, they believe that the behaviour of international actors can be constrained and regulated  by international norms and institutions. New Zealand’s support for multinational institutions and multi-lateral approaches to international conflict resolution, as well as its support for  international norms such as those embodied in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), are examples of constructivism in foreign policy. Idealists and constructivists dovetail in their belief that multinational institutions and norms can promote better international behaviour than otherwise would obtain.

Realists do not believe this is possible. Realists operate on the premise that because there is no moral, ethical or ideological consensus in international affairs, and because there is no superordinate authority to consistently and effectively enforce its rules of conduct, then the world is effectively in a state of nature (as used by Hobbes). Absent Leviathan in international affairs, states and non-state actors pursue their interests checked only by the relative power of other actors. Self-interest, not morality, rules the day. Classical realists see war as a systems regulator and military force as the ultimate determinant of power. Neo-realists (who emerged in the late 1970s and 1980s) believe that economic power is more important than military might and that the exercise of economic power determines the ability of actor’s to project force in defense of national and self-interest. They used the example of the USSR as a case where military power did not equate or supersede structural power in the long-term course of foreign affairs.

For realists international norms and institutions are nice and ideally preferable, but are no substitute for self-interested power projection as the basis for international stability. Realists see a place for idealist-based international institutions and norms in peripheral areas of international behaviour, but not in core areas of national interest. Thus saving whales can be approached via constructivist means, but securing trade routes and borders cannot.

In the realist view, international actors need to fend for themselves in the last instance, and therefore should approach the global arena with a view to best defending their own interests rather than those of the world community as a whole. Where national power is insufficient to defend core interests, alliances are constructed to do so. Contrary to the perception that realists are military hawks, realism is risk and war adverse in any circumstance where core national interests are not at stake. They do not believe in perfectability campaigns such as democracy and human rights promotion, nor do they believe in wars of choice fought to promote a preferred political outcome or moral ideal. Realism, at its core, is pragmatic and self-limiting.

The Syrian crisis has shown that when it comes to enforcing international norms the global community does not have the will or capability to do so. The bulk of world opinion is against US military intervention to punish the Assad regime for using sarin gas against his civilian population (not once, but a total of at least eleven times in the past 18 months). This occurs in spite of the 1927 and 1993 international bans on chemical weapons and the 1997 international convention calling for the destruction of all chemical weapon stockpiles. The political leadership of the majority of nation-states oppose the use of force to punish Assad for his war crimes (I will leave aside for the moment the question of who did the gassing, as the focus here is on international norm violations). Amongst those who believe that Assad should be punished (including the National government), only France appears willing to go to war. Even the US Congress is divided on the issue.

That is striking. The ban on chemical weapons is one of the oldest international conventions. It has obvious moral weight. It has been ratified by over one hundred countries. Images of the victims of the latest attack have been compelling and transmitted world-wide. One would think, if idealists and constructivists are correct in their views of the international community, that Assad’s transgression of such an important norm would prompt a call to arms by fair-minded people the world over. Yet it has not. To the contrary, it has elicited apathy, denial, disinterest or fretful handwringing by the world at large.

What this demonstrates is that when push comes to shove, pragmatism and self-interest trump idealism and constructivism in world affairs. While seemingly promising on the surface, the Russian proposal to have Syria hand over its chemical weapons to the UN can also be seen as a cynical ploy to give Assad some time to disperse his chemical weapons stores while continuing his counter-offensive against the rebels by conventional means (which the Russians are supplying). I say that because ensuring the transfer of Syria’s several thousand tons of chemical agents will be lengthy and exhaustive process that will require thousands of foreign technicians on the ground in Syria, and assumes perfect cooperation by the Syrian authorities and the rebels in the midst of a nasty civil war. That is an optimistic view at best, and something that idealists and constructivists may believe possible if a negotiated settlement can be reached under the auspices of the UN Security Council.

However, the Russians are no idealists when it comes to foreign relations and international affairs. Instead, they are very much informed by realist notions of inter-state behavior, so it is safe to assume that their proposal has less to do with humanitarian concern and more to do with Russian power projection and strategic interests in Syria and beyond.

One could argue that the same is true for the US and its allies, and that the call for military intervention by the US against the Assad regime has little to do with humanitarian concern or international norm enforcement and more to do with the geopolitical competition between Iran and its proxies (including the Assad regime) and the Sunni Arab world and the West. This view is backed by the misuse by NATO of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine to justify the Libyan intervention. Under R2P foreign military intervention is justified in order to protect vulnerable populations from the depredations of their governments or in the face of government incapacity to defend them against the violence of others. But in Libya it was used as a pretext for forcible regime change over the objections of the Russians and Chinese. Given the outcome, that has for all intents and purposes killed off R2P as an international norm.

The situation with enforcing the norm against use of chemical weapons is even more fraught. Besides the reluctance of the global community to enforce a norm in a conflict in which most have no strategic stake, there is the problem of its prior unsanctioned use. Not only did Saddam Hussein use chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war (with the CIA providing targeting data to Iraq fully knowing that Saddam intended to use chemical weapons against Iranian troop formations). More recently Israel has used white phosphorous (another banned agent) in Gaza and the US used white phosphorous in the Battle of Falluja. In both cases the dense urban combat environment made it impossible to discriminate between civilian and military targets, so their use was arguably criminal even if there were not a ban against them.

In each of these instances the perpetrator used chemical weapons because it was felt to be expedient and because they could get away with doing so. Although there was some hue and cry about their use, no effective action was taken against any of these perpetrators. Only later, in the first Gulf War, was Iraq’s prior use of chemical weapons used to justify the military response to his invasion of Kuwait (and even then his suspected chemical weapons stockpiles were not destroyed by Desert Storm and the US-led alliance refused to help the Shiia uprising against him in the wake of his defeat).

Israel and the US have paid no price for having used chemical weapons in recent years.

Moreover, in spite of the 1997 convention on destroying chemical weapon stockpiles, it is widely believed that most countries that had them at the time (including the US, UK, Israel and Russia), failed to completely eliminate them from their respective inventories. Others, such as Syria, never signed up to the chemical weapons ban and thus have proceeded to develop that capability as a deterrent and a hedge against conventional military defeat.

All of which to say is that at least when it comes to the ban on use of chemical weapons, idealists and constructivists have been proven wrong and realists have been proven right: besides the strategic calculations of many nations that advise against involvement in the Syrian conflict, regardless of the outcome the international norm against using chemical weapons is not worth the paper it is written on. It is, as they say in Spanish, letra muerta.


17 Responses to “The end of a norm.”

  1. Markus on September 12th, 2013 at 16:09

    I go back and forth on whether to welcome or fear the abandonment of the essentially wishful thinking that underpins the international norms approach to international relations. A rule-based society is inherently better than one dependent upon strength.

    Having said which, neither the US nor Russia have completely destroyed their CW inventory. But neither country trains its forces in their use and there is really nothing to suggest anything more sinister than penny-pinching as the reason for their failure to destroy a collection of unusable weapons that are nothing more than toxic relics of the past.

    But the #1 thing protecting us all from CW is ultimately their lack of a place in modern warfare. It is interesting to see that the handful of occasions that have seen them used since WW1 share many qualities with that conflict. Specifically an enemy incapable of protecting itself or retaliating, and relatively immobile fronts.

  2. Markus on September 12th, 2013 at 16:14

    Oh and the other thing that comes to mind. The (Western) public is disproportionately horrified by the use of chemical weapons for a couple of reasons. The first being the generalized horror caused by the thought of being poisoned. The other is of course that have gotten to see women and children, and grown men, twitching and frothing their way to death from organophosphate poison. They have not on the other hand gotten to see the endless parade of shattered bodies shredded by fragmentation bombs and high velocity bullets, because that would be too harrowing for the delicate sensibilities of the audience. Which leaves them with a very flawed understanding of what is happening in Syria.

  3. Pablo on September 12th, 2013 at 16:33

    Markus: I take your point in both comments. Anthony Cordesman wrote a good piece on why chemical weapons are no worse than an IED or mortar attack on a crowded market. Due to space constraints I omitted to write about how advances in weapons guidance systems have made CW delivery more precise yet less viable as a tactical option. Hence their favored utility as a deterrent or hedge against conventional defeat, although as you point out the choice of targets has a lot to do with the ability of that target to retaliate.

    I am still struggling with why Assad or his subordinates would order a CW attack (assuming that they did). He could have pointed the finger at a “rogue” commander or unit to absolve himself, or he could have assumed that he had called Obama’s red line bluff with the more limited CW attacks that preceded this last one. He could have Russian or Iranian guarantees of direct military involvement in his defense even if he did use CW, but that seems highly unlikely. So I am left with the question as to why he would choose to authorize their use if he did in fact take Obama at his word.

    My gut feeling is that he did so because he had assurances from others that he could get away with it in the face of the obvious lack of international consensus on norm enforcement and the reluctance of the US and its allies to get overtly involved in yet another conflict that was not central to their strategic interests (although as I said in the post, a case could be made that Syria is, in fact, central to the geopolitical balance in the ME).

  4. Markus on September 12th, 2013 at 17:00

    I suppose one argument for his turning to CW is that he is actually doing much worse than we think he is and is turning to anything he has to hand. But something about that doesn’t feel right. The “Iran is using Syria to test boundaries and redlines” is somewhat appealing as an argument but again….. Presumably he doesn’t have the resources to lay down effective artillery bombardments in the outskirts of Damascus. Which brings you to the whole, why in Damascus? And why didn’t you jam the cellphone networks, and why and why and why. The last thing you do in this sort of campaign is make it easier for the opponent to secure direct outside intervention, against you. Intervention on your side isn’t that much better but that’s a whole other issue. (I’ll leave that discussion to Niccolo)

    The importance of Syria seems fairly indisputable. But is it important to the US? Probably not. The Obama administration clearly doesn’t care about Israel to anything like the degree of previous administrations, the US gets token amounts of oil from the ME anymore and frankly there is a cynical argument to be made that the US actually benefits from seeing this dumpster fire keep on burning. It consumes the resources of enemies and “friends” that would be used elsewhere to cause us more difficulties. Many of the worst outcomes that are predicted to afflict us as a consequence of the Syrian conflict will be products of its ending, not of its continuing. On top of that, if Turkey and Saudi Arabia aren’t willing to commit themselves to intervening, what should we?

    And of course why would NZ want to get involved at all? Protect international norms, sure, but NZs primary protection in the world is that it is far off the beaten track and doesn’t have anything that anyone else particularly wants, and we are currently in a economic competition and expansion phase of global history. When/if we return to a naked strength pushing and shoving phase international norms won’t be much more use than Neville Chamberlain’s piece of paper.

    And having actually had to take the trouble to view reporting and insurgent video from Syria I feel comfortable saying that given the awful choice I will watch someone die from nerve gas any day over watching them thrash bloody shattered limbs in all directions as their entrails and life’s blood drain out of them onto the floor. Seeing what happens to people who are in a T-72 when its hit by an ATGM ain’t pretty either. But then, burns never are.

  5. Pablo on September 12th, 2013 at 17:22

    The propaganda battle waged on YouTube by Assad loyalists and various rebel factions is morbidly fascinating. It seems that they want to “out-atrocity” each other. Having observed fair bit of the combat reportage, I will say that assuming a firing position that involves holding your weapon above your head or at arms length around a corner and discharging random bursts of small arms fire in the general direction of the enemy is a less than efficient means of waging war.

  6. Hugh on September 13th, 2013 at 06:24

    I think this norm actually died in 1994, when the Rwanda genocide was allowed to happen.

  7. Pablo on September 13th, 2013 at 07:23


    I am not sure what norm you are referring to. The R2P doctrine emerged in response to the Rwanda massacre, and was reaffirmed by UNSC resolution in 2006. It was used as the basis for the military intervention in Libya, with Russia and the PRC abstaining from the vote to authorize the use of force under R2P. R2P is specifically (and only) authorized to respond to genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and/or ethnic cleansing. Needless to say, it would be applicable in Syria but that possibility has not been mooted as a result of the Libyan precedent.

    The Rwandan genocide did not involve CW so is not germane to the discussion here.

  8. Hugh on September 13th, 2013 at 09:06

    I mean more broadly, the norm that international organisations and powerful western countries would intervene in the third world when certain lines were crossed.

    But if we’re going to specifically talk about chemical warfare, surely the norm was broken in 1988 when the Iraqi government used chemical warfare against Kurdish insurgents, to widespread apathy from the international community?

  9. Hugh on September 13th, 2013 at 09:09

    Although on further thought, the Rwandan example, even if not directly relevant, does show that a norm, once broken, can be repaired.

  10. Pablo on September 13th, 2013 at 09:28


    Please read the entire post before commenting. I mention Saddam’s unpunished use of gas in the post. As for Rwanda, there was no formalized international norm against ethnic cleansing at that point. That is why R2P was developed, because it became clear that preventing such atrocities in non-strategic states was of little concern to the international community. R2P was designed to give UN sanction and formal legal basis to preventing or responding to such acts.

  11. Hugh on September 13th, 2013 at 16:28

    Pablo, you mentioned Iraq’s use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war, but the anti-Kurdish campaign wasn’t part of that war – it happened at the same time, but the Kurds weren’t Iranians. I presumed you were talking about Hussein’s unproven use of weapons against Iranian regulars. But, OK, I guess you weren’t.

    My larger point is that when we talk about ‘norms’ it’s usually something less formal than the specific interstate conventions you are talking about. There may not have been a clear interstate agreement to intervene in the case of genocide, but there was a clear, if informal, sentiment among the general population of western states that genocide was horrific and everything should be done to prevent it. Not a formalised one, it’s true, but if we are to speak of norms we need to look beyond the letter of treaties and UN resolutions.

  12. Pablo on September 13th, 2013 at 16:42


    Hussein’s use of CW against Iranian troops is well known but went unchallenged by anyone other than Iran, which is why I used that example rather than the Kurds (since there was an outcry about that use, although the result was the same: nothing happened). I am well aware that Kurds are not Iranians.

    In this post I have focused on formal norms–the prohibitions on CW use in particular–and the lack of enforcement of them. Informal norms such as what you describe have even less standing in international relations because they are subject to interpretation and virtually unenforceable. Formal norms are supposed to be enforceable but in practice often are not.

    Your take on informal norms reinforces my point–they are idealistic in nature and do not hold up under pressure because it is left to individual states to adhere to or enforce them. That is why realism trumps idealism and constructivism.

    In any case we have now, once again, moved off the thrust of the post, so lets conclude this discussion.

  13. Sanctuary on September 14th, 2013 at 17:47

    First of all, the west’s disproportionate horror of chemical weapons is because that (until recently) they have direct experience of the use of them on their own soldiers within living memory during the Great War. Secondly, the norm hasn’t died. Just this specific incident has seen a combination of war weariness and loss of trust in the ruling elites (Snowdens revelations and Iraq revealing the public are regularly told a pack of lies) leading to a public that no longer believes what it’s leadership tells it. In business to politics to the intelligence agencies – at this juncture the elites who run them have run out of credit with the public, and this whole Syrian fiasco is evidence of that.

  14. Pablo on September 14th, 2013 at 18:00


    The CW norm is dead because no one wants to enforce it, and it has not been enforced in the modern past. As I said in the post, the global public is indifferent and political elites are wary. Because the US has played loose with the truth in order to justify the Iraq invasion, there is very little trust in its claims, and although some political elites support the role (such as the National government), both the US public and the world at large are tired of it playing self-appointed global constabulary.

    The issue is why is such a seemingly important norm unenforceable? Realism posits that no major strategic interest is at stake amongst those who could unilaterally enforce it, and the international community is simply incapable of doing so given differences in views. That would seem about right to me.

    Of course the Russian disarmament proposal could be seen as one means of norms enforcement, so it will be interesting to see how things pan out.

  15. Chris Waugh on September 14th, 2013 at 18:26

    Pablo, I think with this:

    “The issue is why is such a seemingly important norm unenforceable? Realism posits that no major strategic interest is at stake amongst those who could unilaterally enforce it, and the international community is simply incapable of doing so given differences in views.”

    You’re right on the money. Saddam’s 1980’s use of CW went unpunished because he was acting in the US’s strategic interests. Assad isn’t (and I’m not convinced he was responsible) but the US would seem to be rather overstretched at the moment, not to mention all the other strategic complications, and this Syria situation looks really amazingly complicated to me (just how many proxy wars are we seeing there?).

    I am extremely curious as to how this Russian proposal will pan out.

  16. Luc Hansen on September 27th, 2013 at 23:27

    There are no international norms. There are only interests.

    The US needs to be held to account for its brutality – white phosphorous, drones – but by whom?

    Obama’s speech to the UN is truly enlightening, or frightening, especially this extract, speaking on the poor buggers who happen to live in the oil rich Middle East:

    “The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure these core interests in the region.”

    In other words, middle finger to you, world, from a Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

    Meanwhile, as the ‘free flow of energy” is assured, the planet will burn.

    I have a 5 year old. I worry about her future because the storm is coming, regardless of the current calm.

  17. Pablo on September 28th, 2013 at 13:47


    From your first sentence I gather that you are a classical realist. Then I read the rest of your comment and recalled previous ones and remember that you are, in fact, quite idealistic in nature. So there is a contradiction in your position. Skepticism is not a true middle ground.

    Moreover, you are wrong. There are international norms, established over the years, by those (as mentioned in the post) who seek to counterbalance the “might makes right” logics that reductionists see as the vulgar logic behind realism. Everything from the Geneva Convention to Laws of the Sea and fishery conventions are, in fact international norms. That they are often honored in the breach, no more than self-enforcing and/or violated from time to time does not detract from the fact that, from time to time, the international community tries to overcome the self-interest rationale that underpins crude realism.

Leave a Reply

Name: (required)
Email: (required) (will not be published)