Canada’s immediate contribution to an American-led attack on the Syrian government for its alleged use of chemical weapons is expected to be more political than military, particularly if strikes are launched without United Nations approval.
Yet Canada’s role could change if the attacks last longer than anticipated or prompt unforeseen consequences that spill over into the surrounding region.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird reiterated the need for a “firm response” and “appropriate consequences” for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime Wednesday following accusations it killed hundreds of civilians with nerve gas last week.
“That someone could use these type of weapons of mass destruction with impunity would not only set a very bad precedent for the ongoing conflict in Syria,” Baird said, “but also frankly would give a green light to any dictator to use these weapons of mass destruction against their own people in future conflicts.”
That echoes similar statements from U.S., British and French leaders, who are ramping up their respective militaries for what are expected to be limited, pinpoint cruise missile and drone strikes against Syrian government facilities and suspected chemical weapon depots.
Speaking to reporters in Montreal following a meeting with Syrian opposition leader George Sabra, Baird noted Canada does not have cruise missiles or armed drones, nor does it have much in the way of military assets in the region.
“We haven’t made the decision,” Baird added about a potential military contribution to American-led strikes. “Nor do we know if we have the capacity to be part of any military engagement, which by all accounts will be limited in focus.”
All indications at this juncture are that Canada would be expected to remain on the sidelines cheering the U.S., Britain and France should they go ahead and launch cruise missile or drone attacks against the Syrian government.
This will be particularly important if the three allies decide to launch strikes without UN approval — as appears will be the case after a British-sponsored resolution failed to make it through the UN Security Council on Wednesday.
A great deal of attention is being paid to the legal implications of such an attack that isn’t sanctioned by the Security Council, and support from allies such as Canada and others will be key to making the argument.
Such efforts were also made when NATO and the U.S. launched attacks in Kosovo and then Iraq during the second Gulf War.