The U.N. role, framing the issue, the realities

The United Nations has warned the United States that “punitive” action taken against Syria would be illegal without Security Council approval.

Due to the complexity of international law, the legality of an attack without U.N. approval is up for debate. Regardless of the legality, the willingness of the Obama administration to go into Syria alone shows how highly ineffective the U.N. is when responding to human-rights abuses caused by government actors.

The reason for such innateness is the destructive veto power possessed by each of the five permanent members of the Security Council. The United States will not receive U.N. approval or military support because Russia and China have made it clear they would use their veto power to prevent any type of intervention. Theoretically, every member could vote for intervening and it would take just one veto to derail any action.

While the veto should not be completely revoked, limiting its power is necessary so the U.N. to be more effective in responding to human-rights abuses. For example, the U.N. should adopt a veto override procedure similar to ours (i.e., requiring two-thirds of member nations to override). This suggestion would not go over well with Security Council members — including the United States. Without any type of reform, however, the veto power will continue to force the U.N. to sit on the sidelines and watch human atrocities being carried out.


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How we frame an issue often seeds a logical or at least reasonable conclusion, so I hope Congress demands to see the Syria issue framed in the following ways:

• The U.S. long-term strategy relative to our worldwide commitments.

• Long-term peace in the world.

• Long-term peace in the region.

• Lowest loss of life over the next five to 10 years.

• Lowest loss of life in the next 12 months.

• Prevention of the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

• Justice for war criminals.

In my view, the U.S. long-term strategy relative to our worldwide commitments creates context for all of the other analyses. The overlap in strategy and tactics that emerge from each of these vantage points is where our answer probably comes from.


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Syria’s Bashar Assad is a war criminal. He should be brought to justice at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Even with precision missiles we would kill innocent civilians. Who among us would be willing to sacrifice a spouse or child to “make a point” that the use of poison gas is a crime? Assad cannot hide forever; someday he would face justice. Which will prevail: bellicose threats costing many lives, or the steady path of justice?


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Walter Pincus (“Can a U.S. response in Syria really help?” Sept. 4) writes that bombing Iraq in 1998 stopped Saddam Hussein from getting nuclear arms, and so we should bomb Syria. I am a chemist. Any chemist knows a lot more about chemical weapons than Pincus does.

The technology to make highly enriched uranium or plutonium for nuclear bombs is very complicated. And to make anything better than a huge, not-that-potent, Hiroshima-type bomb also requires extremely sophisticated machining and electronics. It is easy to knock a country out of the nuclear arms race.

But chemical weapons are just chemicals. Any pesticide or pharmaceutical plant can make nerve gas. Some of the older chemical weapons are frighteningly easy to make. And some of them are nearly as lethal as nerve gas. Worse, in a way. If nerve gas doesn’t kill you, you usually recover your health after a while. That’s not true of all of the older gases.

Worse yet are biological agents. Making them is not much more complicated than making whiskey. There are companies here in the metro area that could do it. Biologicals are the real threat.

Now if Obama says, “Assad is a murderous SOB, and I’m gonna kill him,” that’s one thing. Maybe he can do it. But if he says, “I’m gonna stop Assad from using gas,” he’s either badly informed or blowing smoke.

JOSEPH SMITH, Minneapolis

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Students go overseas in capable hands

After putting our son on a plane last night to Rome for a semester abroad, I looked through my Facebook account and realized we were not alone. Scotland, Salzburg and Asia were destinations of several of my friends’ children doing the same thing. I want to thank the airline pilots, airplane staff and airport staff for moving our most precious cargo to new destinations and discoveries.

LIZ KNUTSON, Minneapolis

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This, too, could pay for air conditioning

Maybe we don’t need to look beyond the borders of Minneapolis to find funding for air conditioning in the schools. I just read that close to $1 million has been given to mayoral candidates in the upcoming election. That would cool a few classrooms on hot days.

DON MUSSELL, Eden Prairie