James Mattis, the United Nations and America’s Involvement in Syria

In a recent “hallway press gaggle”, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and an unnamed member of the media had the following exchange:

Q:  You know, Assad says Iran and Russia were invited into his country, you were never invited in; you’re there illegally.  What legal standing do you have to — to you know, be in Syria?

SEC. MATTIS:  You know, the U.N. said that ISIS — basically we can go after ISIS.  And we’re there to take them out.  But that doesn’t mean we just walk away and let ISIS 2.0 pop back around? as if we’re surprised either.  So we got to get the U.N.-brokered effort in Geneva to take this thing forward.”

So, according to the Secretary of Defense, the United Nations authorized the United States to enter Syria with the goal of eliminating the Islamic State. While, in the mind of Secretary Mattis, this may appear to be the case, in fact, it is not.  Let’s look at what the United Nations has to say.  According to United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3314, an act of aggression is defined as:

Aggression is the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations, as set out in this Definition.

Any of the following acts, regardless of a declaration of war, shall, subject to and in accordance with the provisions of article 2, qualify as an act of aggression:

(a) The invasion or attack by the armed forces of a State of the territory of another State, or any military occupation, however temporary, resulting from such invasion or attack, or any annexation by the use of force of the territory of another State or part thereof,

(b) Bombardment by the armed forces of a State against the territory of another State or the use of any weapons by a State against the territory of another State;

c) The blockade of the ports or coasts of a State by the armed forces of another State;

(d) An attack by the armed forces of a State on the land, sea or air forces, or marine and air fleets of another State;

(e) The use of armed forces of one State which are within the territory of another State with the agreement of the receiving State, in contravention of the conditions provided for in the agreement or any extension of their presence in such territory beyond the termination of the agreement;

(f) The action of a State in allowing its temtory, which it has placed at the disposal of another State, to be used by that other State for perpetrating an act of aggression against a third State;

(g) The sending by or on behalf of a State of armed bands, groups, irregulars or mercenaries, which carry out acts of armed force against another State of such gravity as to amount to the acts listed above, or its substantial involvement therein.” (all bolds mine)

United Nations Resolution 2249 in 2015 did call on UN member states to do the following:

Calls upon Member States that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law, in particular with the United Nations Charter, as well as international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law, on the territory under the control of ISIL also known as Da’esh, in Syria and Iraq, to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL also known as Da’esh as well as ANF, and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with  Al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the United Nations Security Council, and as may further be agreed by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and endorsed by the UN Security Council, pursuant to the Statement of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) of 14 November, and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria.” (my bold)

What was Syria’s response to James Mattis’ comments?  Here is a quote from Syria’s Foreign Ministry as reported by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA):

Syria states once again that the presence of the US forces or any foreign military presence in Syria without the consent of the Syrian government constitutes an act of aggression and an attack on the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic as well as a gross violation of the Charter and principles of the United Nations.

Here is a quote from Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as reported in SANA:

We state the fact of our and Iranian legitimate presence at the invitation of the legitimate government. We also state the fact of the illegitimate presence of the coalition that has been forged by the United States and which carries out military operations, including independent ones, primarily providing support for the opposition armed groups on Syrian soil and in its airspaceOn the contrary, this presence only leads to prolonging the crisis and further complicating it, and this is where the real goal of this U.S. presence in Syria lies.

In fact, SANA reports the following with regard to the American involvement in Syria:

There is indisputable evidence that the United States pretends it is waging irreconcilable struggle against international terrorism in front of the international community, while in reality it provides cover for the combat-ready Islamic State groups to let them regain strength, regroup themselves and advance US interests in the Middle East.

At the very least, unlike James Mattis’ public pronouncements, it certainly appears that the Syrians and their Russian allies are most certainly not in favour of the continued American involvement in Syria’s civil war.  As well, according to the United Nations, Washington’s involvement/aggression in the anti-Assad movement has not been in compliance with international law or the United Nations’ charter, except perhaps in James Mattis’ mind. 

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