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Ahlin and Bildt: Stand Up to Obama!

Do not legitimise a military solution in Syria. By Peter Weiderud.

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Time is running out for Syria. The gas attack has drastically heightened political tensions, and the risk of a military attack led by the US, for the purpose of sanctioning the Assad regime, looms.

I call it a 'risk' not because there's a lack of justification for holding the Syrian regime responsible, but foremost because a military intervention will hinder a political solution to the conflict.

There's also a tangible risk of the conflict spreading. This is felt in the uneasiness of the people of Iraq where I'm currently visiting. Nor is there a lack of parallels between the US attack on Iraq ten years ago and what's building up now in Syria.

Then as now chemical weapons were used as a justification for an invasion. The security council were undecided, the UN were to seek clarity, but they weren't permitted to complete their assignment.

After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, it turned out the 'proof' the US supposedly had didn't exist. There are few people today who doubt chemical weapons were used in Syria, but it's not been established who used them.

In May, Carla del Ponte published a UN report which concluded that it was the rebels rather than the government who were behind the use of sarin. But that information, built on interviews with victims, was subsequently 'toned down'.

It's unfortunate that political leaders, not only in the US but also in the middle east and Europe, don't allow the UN investigators to do their job before making unequivocal statements and crying out for military revenge.

Carl Bildt is one of the more cautious European foreign ministers. There we can perhaps find a parallel to another US military intervention which many people cite: NATO's bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo crisis of 1999.

I was employed back then as a speechwriter for foreign minister Anna Lindh, and I took part in the preparation of the Swedish response, where we regarded the attack as illegal, albeit legitimate. Carl Bildt was head of his party back then, and also UN high representative for Bosnia, and my impression was he, in the context of party deliberations meant to strengthen the Swedish position, was the most cautious of the right wing leaders, and well grounded in rule of law.

The Swedish position on the Kosovo crisis was also a coming guideline for my party's position on the principle of responsibility to protect, or R2P. A military intervention requires a decision by the UN security council, but in emergency situations, when the security council prove incapable of assuming responsibility, one cannot exclude some other broad ruling based on rule of law.

But this requires a number of criteria be met, and not just complete clarity as regards responsibility. Amongst other things, all diplomatic and political efforts must be exhausted, and one must ascertain that a military intervention will not worsen the situation or result in other even more dire consequences.

This holds true for Syria and the middle east and also for international politics in general. 'R2P' is one of the most important recent nuances in rule of law. But if the concept is abused or is used sloppily or is used as a pretense for the vested interests of other nations, it leads to political disaster.

The UN investigators must be allowed to complete their job. The UN must also exhaust all possibilities to achieve a political solution. It's time for Ban Ki-Moon to himself travel to Damascus. It was by assuming responsibility at the highest level that his predecessors Dag Hammarskjöld and Kofi Annan were able to solve extremely difficult conflicts.

The killing must stop. All too many nations take a partisan stance for either the regime or the opposition, in a way that gives both sides hope that there can be a military solution. There is no military solution. If the world around would take a unified stance for a political solution, chances would increase dramatically.

Sweden is a part of that 'world around'. And I therefore beseech Carl Bildt, Urban Ahlin, and the others who now must consider Sweden's position on a coming US military attack:

Don't let military shortcuts undermine rule of law and political solutions, and do not legitimise a military intervention based on what we know today.

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