An argument for the rule of law, UN reform, and the benefits and limits of collective security–the dominant theory behind the United Nations Security Council:
In the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 and in the United Nations Charter of 1945, the world rejected this system. States were forbidden to enforce the law on their own and had to work through a system of collective security.
For all its obvious failings, the United Nations system has made for a more peaceful world than the one that preceded it. No leader may claim the right to collect debts or gain thrones by going to war. States may fracture into smaller pieces, but they don’t get conquered. Gunboat diplomacy is also out of the question.
The desire to respond to the atrocities in Syria with force is natural. The slaughter of civilians is impossible to watch without feeling morally impelled to act. The dysfunctional Security Council’s refusal to act leaves us feeling helpless in the face of evil.
But the choice between military force or nothing is a false one. Most of international law relies not on force for its enforcement, but on the collective power of nations to deprive states of the benefits of membership in a system of states. Mr. Obama can cut off any remaining government contracts with foreign companies that do business with Mr. Assad’s regime. He can work with Congress to do much more for Syrian rebels and refugees — including providing antidotes to nerve agents, which are in short supply. He can use his rhetorical power to shame and pressure Russia and China.