September 04, 2013

Kaine Statement On Foreign Relations Vote On The Use Of Military Force In Syria

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, released the following statement today after a resolution authorizing use of military force in Syria was passed out of the Foreign Relations Committee:
“Today I voted for a limited authorization for the use of military force in Syria to respond to Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons to kill civilians, including more than 400 children. A failure to respond to such a blatant violation of longstanding international norms not only signals an acceptance of this atrocity, it also jeopardizes the lives of our servicemembers in combat both today and in the future. For years, countries have refrained from using chemical weapons on our servicemembers because of this international standard and for their safety, we must continue to defend this principle. 

"The resolution approved by the Committee today clearly states that there will be no U.S. combat troops inside Syria, and it is limited in scope.  I applaud the President’s decision to come to Congress for authorization, something that I have called for publicly since the debate over Syria began. Our nation is stronger in military matters when we act in a united fashion. Our servicemembers must be able to rely on the full support of their political leadership when asked to defend our nation. I now call on the full Senate to vote in favor of this authorization. The use of chemical weapons to kill innocent men, women, and children is intolerable and there must be a consequence.”

In July, Kaine announced efforts to reform the 1973 War Powers Resolution in a way that lays out a clear consultative process between Congress and the President on whether and when to engage in military action. Recently, Kaine has called for the President to fully consult with Congress before initiating military action in Syria and advocated a debate on authorization of military action, before or shortly after any strike occurs.



Mr. Chair, I extend my thanks to you and ranking member corker for this process and for the courtesies extended in the amendments that were made. And I am impressed by the thoughts of all my colleagues as I’ve listened to this debate and talked to them both in these committee hearings and individually. I also express my appreciation to this administration; I think it took courage to bring this matter to congress. I urged them to do so. I think it’s the right thing to do for a variety of reasons and I applaud them for doing it.

Mr. Chair, I think the principle that has grabbed me the most and that has led me to support this is the principle that you elaborated yesterday in your opening statement before the committee and it is just that basic fundamental principle that at the top of the pyramid of the relations of nations to each other there is not a more important principle of international law than that weapons of mass destruction not be used against civilian populations without a consequence. I mean, you can think of any other international norm and there are a lot of important ones but there’s not a more important one than this.

There’s an American writer Richard Rhodes who wrote a book called the making of the Atomic bomb and there’s a chapter in there called the long grave already dug about World War I. And it’s about the development of all the chemical weapons technologies that were used during WWI. And even though those technologies only led to a fraction of the casualties of WWI, it is amazing to think back to the aftermath of WWI and that the nations of the world gathered and said ‘there’s just something different about chemical weapons.’ And they passed, through the Geneva Convention, immediately ratified by the United States, the Soviet Union, other nations, Syria ratified finally it in 1968 – a ban on the use of chemical weapons. And not just against civilians, a ban on the use of chemical weapons. This has protected American servicemen and women who have fought battles since the 1920s, they’ve been able to go into horrible battle situations and put their lives at risk but knowing that chemical weapons will not be used against them. And my fear is that if the United States does not stand up for the principle that chemical weapons cannot be used, especially against civilians, no one will stand up for that principle.

In 90 years of international law, a moral imperative that’s been respected globally will suddenly be case into the dustbin because the United States was unwilling to play a leadership role. If we play a leadership role, we know that we’ll have partners who play that role with us – but if we do not play a leadership role, I don’t think there is anyone who will stand up for that principle. Now I would agree with Sen. Udall’s point that we wish we had more partners than we do – that’s an indictment itself of the United Nation and other nations quaking before this flagrant violation of this important moral principle, but there are partners who are willing to stand up for the principle with us. But I fear for the world that if we’re not willing to stand up for it, no one is.

So I voted for this because I think it is important for us to stand up on that principle that chemical weapons should not be used against civilians and if you do so we’ll keep our allies safer, we’ll keep our servicemen and women safer, we’ll keep our nation safer. The authorization that we voted for today stresses that military action is authorized but it is only one piece of the larger strategy. The president’s required pursuant to the terms of what we report out to the floor that he certify first, prior to the use of military action, the United States use all appropriate, diplomatic and other peaceful means to prevent the deployment and use of weapons of mass destruction by Syria. That diplomatic effort is ongoing right now with the president at the G20 meeting, in discussions with Russia, it can happen in the UN as we were talking about this matter on the floor of the Senate as we’re contemplating passing this resolution to authorize the president to even use military force to enforce this important international law, I hope our diplomatic efforts will continue.

If Syria were to decide to sign on to the 1990s era of chemical convention or to turn their chemical stockpiles over to international inspectors, if Russia were to decide to stop blocking security council resolution and engage the international community, those would be the kind of diplomatic efforts that are contemplated by the authorization that we passed, but at the end of the day, this is about such an important principle and it is a heavy vote to have to cast. All of us are hearing from our constituents, all of us spend time with men and women in the military. We don’t want them to be in war, but at the same time we don’t want our men and women in the military to suddenly be faced with the specter that chemical weapons are suddenly okay and I’ll just close with that notion.

This is a principle that has been a part of the fabric of our collective moral imagination as humanity for 90 years. Only Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein have violated this chemical weapons convention until now. Adolf Hitler violated it and the entire world dedicated itself to completing eradicating him and the Third Reich from the face of the world. Saddam Hussein violated it, and to our detriment, we did not act immediately - but we did eventually act as an international community by deciding to beef up the 1920s Geneva Convention in the 1990s. Partially because of Saddam Hussein’s action, we strengthened the norm against use of chemical weapons around the world with so many nations, including Russia signing onto it. And so if we don’t stand up for the principle, no one will – and for that reason, I support this, I’m glad it’s reported to the floor, and I look forward to working with you and our colleagues to ensure that it passes.