When we think of war, we can’t help but shudder at all the lives that were lost, people injured, and families displaced because of all the conflict and destruction. Our history teaches us how people and nations suffered because of war. Even today, many countries in the East are at war and the body count keeps on increasing. Innocent people die but there seems to be no end to this dilemma. As of late, more and more people suffer in Syria as the U.S. joined in on the bombings.
However, when you think of it, not only people suffer from the effects of war but the environment too. Former homes, buildings, and other structures become nothing but a big pile of rubble in just one strike, and at times trapping helpless and injured people to their death. War-torn nations look the same, the picture of havoc and destruction that not even nature can stand.
When Donald Trump announced a missile strike against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, the justification for such major military action came down to one issue: “the red line”. More than 400,000 people are estimated to have died since civil war broke out in Syria, so why is the use of chemical weapons the “red line” for world leaders? In 2012, Barack Obama issued a warning to Assad not to cross the “red line” in the civil war. The implication of his statement was clear: the use of chemical weapons would be met by military strikes in Syria, such as those launched by the US on Thursday night.
The use of chemicals is a big no-no in any war. It is a clear violation of the rule of war, a line that was crossed by the Syrian government quite recently and earned the ire of other nation’s government.
“You need to protect civilians. Weapons of indiscriminate nature are mostly banned,” she said. Weapons that would cause long-term damage to human health are also prohibited. “In the attack in Idlib, it was a nerve agent that was used to cause damage to the organs of the individual as well as the nerves, so the effects of the weapon itself goes beyond the war conditions by causing long-term damage to human health.” Chemical weapons are also in contravention of humanitarian law because they can cause long-term damage to the environment by contaminating it. “You need to protect the civilian property under International Humanitarian Law,” she said.
While some wars must be fought, there are many pointless wars over the years that could have been avoided had everyone been more willing to listen to one another and compromise. And in the event that war can’t be avoided, precautions should be taken so that damage is limited and the body count not that high.
From the standpoint of customary law, environmental protection during wartime may be inferred from the general protection of the civilian population and property based on the fundamental rule expressed in the 1868 Declaration of St. Petersburg that military actions by States should be limited to the objective of weakening the military force of the enemy. In addition, Principle 24 of the UN Declaration on Environment and Development states: “Warfare is inherently destructive of sustainable development. States shall therefore respect international law providing protection for the environment in times of armed conflict and cooperate in its further development, as necessary.”
And then of course, there are the principles embedded in the law of war. The principle of necessity asks whether the potential target, weapon or tactic is necessary in order to achieve a legitimate military advantage. The principle of proportionality asks whether, even if an action is necessary, the expected military advantage outweighs the anticipated collateral damage to civilian objects and non-combatants. The principle of non-discrimination asks whether the chosen weapon or tactic sufficiently discriminates between military and civilian objects or between combatants and non-combatants and the principle of humanity requires that militaries use the minimal force necessary to achieve the enemy’s submission.
There are rules to be observed in war as outrageous as it may seem. The sad thing, though, is that there are those who defy the norm and do unthinkable acts of horror – terrorists. We have witnessed time and again what terrorists are capable of doing, even sacrificing their lives for their cause. And they don’t have any second thoughts doing horrible things even if they kill thousands or wipe out an entire city or town.
Through all these atrocities, the environment is a silent witness to the innate viciousness mankind is capable of doing. As if Mother Nature isn’t badly hurt enough from our abuse and neglect, we add insult to injury and bomb natural landscapes or contaminate natural resources needed by men and animals alike. If we don’t mend our ways, we may lose everything we have now and not just the ideals we are fighting for. Climate change is no longer just a threat but the grim reality of the present.
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