President Obama has sensibly opted to seek support from Congress on Syria, which provides a window of time to approach another body that should offer more than moral support: NATO.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization must be part of an international effort to respond to the crisis in Syria, beginning immediately with punitive strikes following the highly probable use of chemical weapons by President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. The president, the secretaries of defense and state, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should all approach their counterparts to secure NATO action.
Such action could be justified based on self-defense, owing to the threat posed to Turkey, a NATO member that has backed Mr. Obama’s call for an American-led intervention; the overall threat posed by weapons of mass destruction; and, more controversially, on the evolving international doctrine of a “responsibility to protect.” NATO has not moved forward so far, because of the absence of a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing action against Syria, but that is not required under the rules of the alliance — indeed, NATO has previously acted with force without such approval, notably in Kosovo in 1999.
Despite the potential unpopularity of such action — particularly following Parliament’s vote on Aug. 29 against Britain’s use of military force — such a mission is at the core of NATO’s role in the 21st century. While NATO had a Security Council resolution to enforce in Libya, in 2011, the alliance went into Kosovo without such approval. That could be the case in Syria, with a strong push by the United States and its allies France and Turkey, which have pledged to support an intervention in Syria. As with Libya, not every nation would need to actually provide forces (only about half did so in Libya), so long as all supported the basic principle of engagement.
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