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Terry Mollner Headshot

Eleanor Roosevelt and Syria

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I have learned that what is always most important in self-conscious activity, whether in conversation with others or myself, is my priority. It determines what I do with everything else.

Today I think one of the highest priorities of nearly all of us on Earth is to mature into resolving all conflicts with agreements rather than wars. This, whether in marriage, child rearing, markets, or politics, is the unique ability we humans have: to reach agreements and then happily live together within them.

The crisis of what to do with the use of chemical weapons within Syria was anticipated by Eleanor Roosevelt when the world did not listen to her. She was one of the people representing us in the design of the United Nations. She argued strongly that the highest priority of the UN should be individual human rights. This priority was rejected. Instead the highest priority of the UN is the sovereignty of nations. Technically, it does not have the right to become involved in disputes within a nation. That was a mistake. According to the UN charter, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria can use chemical weapons and kill everyone in Syria besides himself, in fact even himself, and the UN has no right, by its agreement with other nations, to interfere.

Yes, there was an agreement forged by 189 nations, not Syria until now (October 14th we are told), to not use chemical weapons: International Chemical Weapons Convention. But that was all it said. There was no consequence if they were used.

This highest priority of the UN is not a bad agreement. It is just an immature agreement. It is our priority that reveals our level of human maturation. Whereas a group of teenagers will agree to spray the score of the football game won by their high school on a prominent downtown wall in the town of the losing team, mature adults will be quoted in the newspapers first praising both teams for a game well played and only secondly celebrating their team's victory.

Is it time to have a UN constitutional convention to re-write its charter? I definitely think so. I think we want our priority to be that no government or group can deny any human beings their right of safety and the pursuit of happiness, whether the result of actions between nations or inside a nation.

Secondly, we now know Syria has used chemical weapons many times. Within the light of our priority being to resolve differences with agreements rather than military actions, what should we do now that, at the invitation of President Obama, we are having a global discussion of what to do with President Assad's government? In my judgment, we should directly act according to our highest priority, that is, not through any body including the UN. Today we have the ability to reach agreement directly among not only nations but among all groups that choose to stand up and be counted.

And what should be that agreement that honors this highest priority? Well, it should definitely be an agreement and not military action, which thankfully is now what is being pursued by all parties, led by the US Secretary of State John Kerry and Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister. However, this priority must be in our process as well as our end. A punch, whether in offense or defense, is still a punch and is seen by the other as offense. If our priority is agreement making instead of punching, then lets also solve this wider problem by forging an agreement. Lets seize the opportunity the global attention on this situation is providing to forge an agreement not only about this use of chemical weapons but also about any future use of them, a strong, deeper, and more fully committed one then before...and with consequences.

And what should that agreement be? How about this? Lets invite every government and group that has the courage to step up and be counted to agree to the following:

We agree that chemical weapons should never be used in warfare. We further agree that if there is credible evidence that they have been used, the first step should be to determine how they came to be used. If it is discovered that they were used as a self-conscious choice of a group, that is, not by a rogue soldier or such, then we support the reaching of an agreement, led by representatives from the United Nations, with that group to never use them again. If such an agreement cannot be effected or trusted, including the destruction of all chemical weapons capability, then, if a majority of the nations on Earth vote to do so, we support the use of military action by a voluntary coalition of nations to eliminate their ability to use them or at least seriously punish them by destroying some of their military assets.

This would establish a democratic process among nations to take action based on what occurs inside a nation or between nations. This would be the establishment of a global agreement with clear consequences, both an effort to end the use of chemical weapons when used, first by agreement and only if this is not successful the use of military force to end the ability of the group to use them or destroy some of their military assets. Finally, this would be the beginning of having our priority be human rights, as the people on Earth first and nations second. Finally, the consequences would be so formidable and widely supported that military action will probably never need to be used.

Russia, China, and all nations and groups may be able to support such an agreement, even Syria. Then, without military punching, we will accomplish both our immediate goal of ending their use in Syria and something even more important: establishing that the priority of our actions as the people living on Earth is to give priority to agreements over punching, and in this case both inside as well as between nations.

We will then all feel a spiritual hug of appreciation from Eleanor Roosevelt.