“All options are on the table” – Is the West considering action against Asad through NATO?

Given the recent chemical attack on civilians in Syria, there have been renewed calls for intervention against the Asad regime. France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabio said “something must be done”. The UK’s William Hague, “we can’t allow the idea in the 21st century that chemical weapons can be used with impunity”. Finally Barack Obama when asked about Syria in a CNN interview stressed that the “core national interests” of the U.S. are now involved in Syria’s civil war, “both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region.”.

The question is, what happens next? When asked, the US, France and the UK all seem to be reading from the same script: “all options are on the table” which is international relations speak for either “I am bluffing to force you to negotiate a settlement” or “I’m getting ready to do something so don’t be surprised when I do”. The “Options are on the table” line has been used in the past by Obama himself only months ago on Iran. Nothing has happened there. But then given the recent activity of hyperactive diplomacy from secretary of state John Kerry and other foreign ministers, it’s likely the West really is gearing up to do something. Even without a UN mandate.

With Russia almost certain to continue to veto any UN based military intervention, the West seems intent on some kind of military response short of a direct invasion by ground troops. Looking at the countries currently making the biggest noise about the unacceptability of the use of chemical weapons, that’s the US, France, Britain, Turkey and Poland, they all have one thing in common: they are all NATO members. The possibility remains open of a series of military strikes against Asad’s chemical and missile sites through the old anti-Soviet alliance. This makes sense given that Russia will not allow action through the United Nations and secretary of defence Chuck Hagel himself has said “if there is any action taken it will be in concert with the international community and within the framework of a legal justification”. This all suggests action through NATO and is likely going to have broad support amongst NATO members.

As the calls for a humanitarian intervention grow louder, those nations calling for military action will be furiously trying to build a broad consensus both from within and without the military alliance. However, any move will have to be led by the United States. Whilst secretary of state John Kerry continues his current bout of high powered diplomacy to build support for a military strike, he has spoken to 8 foreign ministers since news broke of the chemical attack. Obama will have to wait for congress to come back from recess on September 6th and will likely get congressional approval on any action on Syria.

With movement of US naval assets in the mediterranean getting poised for any potential action, expect a strike on Syria come October.

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