A red line against chemical warfare

Syria's  civil war remains an open, weeping sore, as Russia and Iran continue their support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in a brutal conflict which seems unlikely to end soon.

Syria is surrounded by Turkey and Iraq. Although most of the Western powers consider the country and its leader pariahs for the toll they take on their own people, Mr Assad continues to receive much support from Russia and Iran.

The conflict has endured for seven years, starting as rebel forces tried to overthrow the regime. Progress was made but Mr Assad managed to fight back and has gained strategic control over large areas of the country.

The fall of Eastern Ghouta was a pivotal moment for Mr Assad.

But the latest accusations he authorised the use of chemical warfare was a step too far for United States President Donald Trump. He, along with British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron, launched military strikes against Syria's chemical weapons infrastructure, including a research centre, storage facility and command post.

Western nations rushed to side with the US, Britain and France in the attacks, including Canada, whose Prime Minister Justin Trudeau might have been the one global leader to urge caution.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took a measured approach, saying New Zealand ``accepts'' why the US, Britain and France responded to the violation of international law and the abhorrent use of chemical weapons against civilians.

The Government has followed the line of countries like Brazil, Peru and Argentina, nations which have looked towards the United Nations Security Council to find a way to prevent the escalation of military conflict in Syria. The South American countries are calling for moderation from all parties involved in Syria, something the New Zealand Government appears to support rather than aligning itself with the major global powers.

Ms Ardern may find herself explaining to the likes of France and Britain why this country has taken such a stance.

Mr Trump, Mrs May and Mr Macron have drawn a much sharper red line than former US president Barack Obama and there will be a need to explain the consequences if Syria continues to use chemical weapons against its own people.

The latest strikes are being called a ``one-time event'', but Mr Trump has threatened further action should Syria use chemical weapons in the future.

Russia and Iran are yet to feel the effects of Mr Trump's threat they will ``pay the price'' for their continued support of Mr Assad. Military action is being ruled out, meaning tougher trade sanctions will be evoked.

Both Russia and Iran consider Syria, and at least for now Mr Assad's survival, as a vital interest. Mr Assad's position has strengthened considerably in the year between Mr Trump's military strikes.

The narrow strike conducted at the weekend places a boundary around the war Syria, Russia and Iran are waging, without the US becoming a direct combatant.

The US and its European partners have a narrower military interest in Syria - the defeat of the Islamic State caliphate, a task much closer to completion.

Ending, or deterring, chemical weapon warfare is in the best interests of the US, although a wider involvement in the Syrian conflict is clearly not.

The Middle East is seen by Mr Trump as a troubled place as he again confirmed it is not the role of the US to fix the troubles. The fate of the region lies in the hands of its own people.

Mr Trump is likely to see the latest missile strike as a victory and move on, although perhaps his opponents will not see it in the same way.

The US remains ``locked and loaded'' if Syria again uses chemical weapons, something which must chill the hearts of both Mr Trump's supporters and enemies.


 

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