After the British parliament voted in favor of airstrikes in Syria, University of Louvain physicist Jean Bricmont says international law must be central in dealing with Syria and the Islamic State
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. The British parliament has voted to authorize air strikes in Syria, more than two years after it voted against such a proposal in 2013. Here are some of the exchanges that took place between Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: But I hope that at the end of it all the House will come together in large numbers for Britain to play its part in defeating these evil extremists, and taking the action that is needed now to keep our country safe. LABOUR PARTY LEADER JEREMY CORBYN: Whether it’s a lack of strategy worth the name, the absence of credible ground troops, the missing diplomatic plan for a Syrian settlement, the failure to address the impact of the terrorist threat, or the refugee crisis and civilian casualties, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Prime Minister’s proposals for military action simply do not stack up. PERIES: The news comes a day after U.S. Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, said the U.S. will deploy a specialized expeditionary targeting force of 200 personnel to fight ISIS in Iraq, exceeding the 50 special operations forces already authorized by President Obama in October. It also comes as German parliament is poised to approve a plan that would send 1,200 troops, planes, and ships to Syria along with other military forces. This would be the first time since World War II that Germany has sent troops to fight anywhere. To discuss all of this from Brussels is Jean Bricmont. Jean is a mathematical and statistical physicist at the University of Louvain, and he is the co-author of Fashionable Nonsense and Humanitarian Imperialism. Jean, thank you so much for joining us today. JEAN BRICMONT: Thank you very much for having me. PERIES: Jean, with more U.S. military personnel headed for Iraq and the increased British, French, and now German military in Syria, do you think more military force and increased coordination between the coalition members will defeat ISIS and bring about an end to the civil war in Syria? BRICMONT: I think if they want to defeat ISIS they should coordinate with the Russians and the Syrian state, for one thing. And they don’t, as far as I know. The other thing is of course that there should be a coordination between all the state actors. If the state actors can’t agree among each other, and that means Turkey, Iran, the Syria and the Iraqi states, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Western powers, et cetera, and Russia, then I don’t see how that’s going to come. And of course the state actors are not trying to coordinate or to get to an agreement. And then of course then you have to see what to do with the non-state actors like the Kurds, ISIS, et cetera, and the Palestinians. I mean, it’s a big mess. I mean, it’s too complicated for a simple individual like me to tell you what the solution would be. But certainly it seems to me that the population of the West should realize that they have put themselves in great danger, at least in continental Europe, because the continental Europeans can’t protect their borders anymore. And so that they’ve created a big danger for themselves with this policy of intervention. And the policy of intervention was the root cause of the problem. Now, to solve them I have no idea, that I’m afraid to–that’s my conclusion. But I don’t see why going gangster-like again, against international law intervening in Syria, without coordination, without agreement with the Syrian state, without, with the danger of collision with the Russians, as we have seen with the Turkish, the Turks destroying a Russian plane. I don’t know what to, what’s going to happen. I cannot be a prophet, because it’s a very dangerous and complicated situation. What I find remarkable is, for example in Paris, there was a demonstration about climate change. But there is no demonstration whatsoever about war and peace. Nothing at all. And there is no political movement which actually even reflecting on these things. PERIES: Now, negotiations in terms of bringing about a peaceful solution is apparently underway. Is it possible for negotiations to produce beneficial outcomes for the majority of Syrians if the principle decision-makers around the table are those ones that are dropping bombs and funneling arms and providing funding to opposition groups in Syria? BRICMONT: Well, the point is that of course, negotiation must occur between people who are fighting. Otherwise it doesn’t make any sense, like the Vietnam war ended when there was negotiation between the Vietnamese and the Americans. But here they have to, of course they have pretended to make negotiation without involving the Syrian government, without asking the Iranians, et cetera. They have to put everybody, all the actors around the table and try to see how they can find a solution. But of course, ISIS itself will be out of the equation, I suppose. And it’s not clear then it means you have to [inaud.] defeat them militarily. And like I said, no knowledge of how strong they are, how much popular base they have, let’s say, at least in Iraq. So that it will be difficult to defeat them. After all, the United States has been fighting terrorism supposedly in Afghanistan since 2001, and what has happened there? Or 2002, and what has happened there? When did they, where is the victory? I don’t see the victory? And terrorism is, ISIS-like terrorism is spreading in Africa, and spreading elsewhere. And they are waging war in Yemen, et cetera. I mean, I don’t see any solution in their policy, because they have created an impossible solution for themselves. I’ve always been critical of this violation of international law, but I never thought that it would be that bad from their point of view, that the backlash would be what happened in Paris, now. And now they’ve created a situation, I don’t know. I mean, of course the Palestinian, Palestine-Israeli conflict is going on, and there’s no solution to that, either. Nobody has any idea about how to put pressure on Israel. Nobody dares do it because of the domestic pressure in the United States and elsewhere. So a complete mess. I see, okay, I would like to say, okay, there’s a solution. But I don’t see any solution. PERIES: Jean, let’s unpack this a little bit in terms of who actually wants this war, and who’s fighting or arguing to prevent it. BRICMONT: Well, it depends which war you are talking about. There are several wars. The Turks, the Turks are fighting the Kurds. They are supporting the Sunnis in Syria. The Saudis are supporting the Sunnis. There is a lot of Sunni-Shiite war, whatever we think of it. And of course the U.S. has been supporting both the insurrection and now fighting the insurrection, supposedly. The Russians have a consistent policy. I don’t know if they will succeed. The Russians at least obey international law. They go with the mission of the Syrian state, and they fight along the Syrian state. Now, whether they will win or not, the future will tell. I don’t know. They seem to think that the Syrian rebels are just a bunch of relatively isolated rebels and terrorists that can be defeated militarily. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong. I don’t know, future will tell. I’m not expert in relationship of force. You know, we have created this situation–I mean, there was of course the illegal invasion of Iraq, but it was much more. There’s been the war in Libya which was also illegal, at least to the extent that it was carried on. The–I mean, all these, giving weapons to people in foreign countries, illegal from the point of view of international law. And international law was the only solution we found after the war to avoid generalized war, because the Germans had been intervening in other countries before the war, and that’s what led to World War II. So the only way to avoid that is to [inaud.] for international law. But then they came with the responsibility to protect, and so on and so forth. And they always thought that, you know, the humanitarian war heroes, as I call them, or the alleged human rights defenders, always come and they say well, we’re going to fix the problem by intervening and by bombing and supporting this and that [inaud.], et cetera. And now they [hit at] what was entirely predictable and what’s [inaud.] that people hid in international law after the world war, trying to avoid any huge mess, conflict which this–conflict between everybody and everybody. Because there are several, you know, groups waiting in the Middle East now. There’s the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Lebanese, the Hezbollah, the Kurds, the Sunni and the Shiite. Sorry, the [inaud.] government, the Syrian government, ISIS, and there are several groups in the opposition. And then there’s Russia. I mean, we are heading towards World War III, as far as I’m concerned. That might be a possibility. The only thing, as I said, the only thing that prevents World War III are the atomic weapons. It’s ironic because people like Einstein and [Russell] and so on after the war were worried about the atomic weapons. But now the atomic weapons is actually, you know, something that keeps the peace because nobody wants to go to atomic war. And everybody realizes that it will be mutually assured destruction. At least realized that in the ’60s. So nobody wants to go there and nobody wants to start a full-scale conventional war, because they know that’s going to lead to nuclear war after a while. A short while, actually. Otherwise it will be–and sure, there would be a war between Russia and Turkey. There would be a war in Ukraine. There would be a war–there would be a war between big powers all over the place if there were no nuclear weapons. So it’s very ironic. But the question is, how long will it last? PERIES: Right. And everyone puts a lot of emphasis on defeating ISIS as being the crux of bringing about a peaceful solution in the region. But is it possible to even be at the table speaking of bringing about a solution when your policy is interventionist, in terms of all of these countries that are now fighting it out in Syria? BRICMONT: Defeating ISIS would be, you know, would be, I mean, that’s also defeating the Taliban. Are the Taliban defeated now? I don’t know. You see–and what about the equivalent of ISIS in the sort of, you know, similarly-minded people, if I may say so, in Libya, in Mali, in other countries. What are we going to do? Are we going to defeat terror? I mean, they seem to be an endless, an endless problem, because there is constant war between us and the [Middle Eastern] world, which is seen at least by some as being a total religious war against them. And then they react by religious fanaticism. But that’s–. You know, as I say, I mean, I certainly don’t think that we are going to help by intervening there. The Russians are in a different situation, because they stick to international law and their relationship to that part of the world is different in the sense that they have not had this interventionist policy, they don’t have this colonial policy in the past, at least not in the Middle East. And so maybe their intervention might do something, I don’t know. I know certain Syrians who are happy that they intervene. But whether that will be successful or not, that remains to be seen. And in Iraq I think it’s a totally different ball game, because the Sunni population is clearly, you know, has rejected the Shiite state. And I don’t see how the Shiite state or the Iraqi state is going to regain the entire territory that it has lost. PERIES: No matter which way you cut it, Jean, the Russian bombs are falling on civilians, and that is not going to create a very receptive position for Russia in Syria, either. BRICMONT: Well, that depends, of course, on which–yes, of course. But of course there are other civilians who are support–I mean, those who are in the government controlled zones. I mean, just because they kill civilians, it may be unpleasant, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t win. After all, lots of civilians were killed in World War II, when World War II was [once]. And the Algerian war–I mean, the Algerians killed French civilians and so on. I mean, we may not like the killing of civilians, but that doesn’t mean that the war can’t be won. But of course, whether it will, as I say, I mean, I’m unable to know how it’s going to turn out, because the Sunni world is quite big. And of course to the extent that the Sunnis in case may see the war as against them, then of course that’s going to create a bigger and bigger mess. PERIES: All right, Jean, I thank you so much for joining us today. BRICMONT: Thank you very much. PERIES: Thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.