Recently, President Obama gave a speech that outlined his reasons for concluding that the U.S. ought to pursue a military response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons. You can find a helpful summary of these arguments here. One of those reasons was that a failure to do so would be detrimental to our national security. That argument can be helpfully formalized in the following way:
- We ought to act in ways that protect our national security.
- Responding to the use of chemical weapons by other nations with military force protects our national security.
- Therefore, we ought to respond to the use of chemical weapons by other nations with military force.
- Syria used chemical weapons.
- Therefore, we ought to respond to Syria with military force.
The first premise seems obviously true, and at a minimum it makes a claim that most people would likely accept. The fourth premise, though currently being disputed by Russia, China, and a handful of Internet wackos, is most likely also true, or at least not up for much dispute. So this argument depends on the second premise, that responding to the use of chemical weapons protects our national security. But is that really true?
Here are some reasons to think it is true. By not responding to a practice that is forbidden by international law, we might send the message that we aren’t terribly committed to the ideals of just war that we have publicly endorsed. This might lead to an increase in the use of chemical weapons, which might make us more vulnerable to these sorts of attacks here at home.
Additionally, and President Obama mentions this in his speech, a failure to respond to Syrian use of chemical weapons might make our allies in the region more vulnerable, which could also have an impact on our national security.
Clearly, there’s some basis for the claim that reasons of national security support some sort of response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons. But must this response be a military one? Are there perhaps other reasons that outweigh these sorts of considerations? Might attacking Syria actually be a greater threat to our national security than not responding?
Before we can fully evaluate this argument, these questions need to be answered. Since that likely won’t happen in the public debate itself, leave a comment and share what you think about it.
About the Author
Elijah Weber is a graduate student at Bowling Green State University. He holds a Master's degree in philosophy from Colorado State University, and Bachelor’s degrees in sociology and philosophy from Chapman University. He currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife Laura, his son Brandon, and two cats.