Last updated: 3 September, 2013

Little merit in Syria strikes, says EU Parliament defence chief

The head of the European Parliament’s defence committee cast doubt Tuesday on the utility of “punitive strikes” on Syria and insisted that the options for an eventual diplomatic solution are “more open” than people think.

The United States and France are leading a push for military strikes against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in response to an alleged August 21 chemical weapons attack that Washington says killed more than 1,400 people.

French conservative lawmaker Arnaud Danjean said that intelligence produced by the Socialist government in Paris was not conclusive.

“Questions remain as to the precise nature of the products used and over ‘who decided what’,” he told AFP in Brussels.

Chemical weapons could have been used in Syria by “autonomous” forces seeking to “pin blame” on Assad, he said.

“There remains much speculation and many questions need to be answered,” he added.

US President Barack Obama has said he is confident he will win “prompt” Senate and House votes authorising military action shortly and French President Francois Hollande has described the attack as a threat to security at “global level.”

But Danjean said the use of punitive strikes by Western powers “does not strike me as a particularly pertinent solution.”

“We will hit Assad for a few hours — but if he comes back with a massacre the next day using conventional weapons, what will we do then?”

He said military action on the Afghanistan hideouts of Osama bin Laden in 1998 did not prevent the 9/11 attacks, and strikes against Bosnian Serbs in Sarajevo in 1995 failed to prevent the Srebrenica massacre.

Action against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein did not prevent the plight of civilians there from worsening either, he said.

“Such limited strikes have no impact beyond giving (the West) confidence by saying ‘at least we have done something’,” Danjean said.

He argued too that the diplomatic context was not as bad as some believe despite Moscow blocking any concerted international response at the United Nations.

Russia may have maintained its backing for Assad but would find it increasingly awkward to do so if there is overwhelming proof that he organised the chemical attack, Danjean said.

At the same time, the European Union needs to find and adopt a common position based on action at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

“Whatever you say, you must remember that the Russian position is not a comfortable one,” Danjean said.

“If proof is overwhelming, it will be very difficult for (President) Vladimir Putin to maintain his unwavering support of the (Syrian) regime.

“Look at what’s happening in Iran (where) influential voices are saying the actions of the Assad regime are unacceptable.

“Little changes like these can shift the bigger diplomatic picture — I think the game is more open than people believe.”