The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. It could further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.
Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are extremists of all stripes battling the government.
From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the U.N. Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else would constitute an act of aggression.
No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces.
It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force.
The world reacts by asking: If you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: If you have the bomb, no one will touch you.
We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.
I welcome President Obama’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. I studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism. It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
Vladimir V. Putin is president of Russia. This is excerpted from a commentary published Thursday in the New York Times.