The Harvard Gazette interviews its own R. Nicholas Burns, the Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations at the Harvard Kennedy School on Syria and the choices the US and other countries face. Burns served as US Ambassador to NATO, in the US State Department, and other roles.
Among other comments, Burns says of Syria: “It’s of vital interest to the United States to see that chemical weapons are not used in the world. We have adhered to chemical weapons treaties since just after the First World War, and there’s been a prohibition for nearly a century on the use of chemical weapons in peacetime or in war. If Assad has now used chemical weapons — and the evidence is very strong that he has, the administration has mounted a very convincing case of that — then the chemical weapons genie will be out of the bottle. What’s to stop other dictators from using chemical weapons if there’s no effective international response?”
“So, in effect, what President [Barack] Obama is proposing is to enforce international law, the chemical weapons convention, by striking at Syria’s military assets, its airfields, its air force, its command and control, its artillery, to intimidate him and to deter him from ever using chemical weapons again, and warning that should he use chemical weapons, there will be another response. I think that’s the heart of the issue now that President Obama has put before the country.”
“The last thing I’d say is that international law is normally enforced by international institutions, in this case, say, the United Nations. But the United Nations is divided. The Russians and Chinese are vetoing action. So it really is left to the United States to enforce international law and to make this prohibition against chemical weapons work.”