Tova O'Brien: PM's position firmly on the fence isn't good enough

Children, affected by what activists say was a gas attack, breathe through oxygen masks in the Damascus suburb of Saqba, August 21, 2013. Syria's opposition accused government forces of gassing hundreds of people on Wednesday by firing rockets that released deadly fumes over rebel-held Damascus suburbs, killing men, women and children as they slept. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh (SYRIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - GM1E98M0FZ601
Photo credit: Reuters

OPINION: These are just a few of New Zealand's close friends who got in behind the United States, United Kingdom and France when they launched airstrikes against the murderous Syrian regime and its chemical weapons sites. 

• Australia says it "supports" the airstrikes in Syria - it's even considering joining the next round.

• Canada "supports" them too. 

• Germany called them "necessary and appropriate" and also used the S-word, "support".

• NATO "supports" them.

• The European Union "stands with our allies on the side of justice".

The attacks came after yet another gas attack that killed 75 people, including children. 

Jacinda Ardern may "understand" the strikes, even "accept" the strikes but it will be a cold day in hell before the Prime Minister joins our allies in "supporting" airstrikes in Syria. 

There are lots of reasons why she's on the right side of this - military interventions without a United Nations mandate in Iraq and Kosovo are the two classic examples. 

US airstrikes in Syria last year in response to a chemical weapons attack clearly didn't deter further similar attacks by the Syrian regime. 

Some critics also question the legality of the strikes without the UN's green-light. In international law and military intervention almost all roads lead to the United Nations Security Council. And that's where Ardern wants decisions about Syria to be nutted out. 

But there are also a lot of reasons why she's on the wrong side of this. 

The Syrian Crisis is now the 'Syrian Civil War' and entering its 8th year; 400,000 are dead; half the population displaced. 

There's a compelling humanitarian argument for the intervention in Syria - at least that's one of the legal cases being used for these latest strikes.  

I don't think anyone would disagree with Ardern that following the UN Charter and seeking a mandate for military action is the best and preferred option, but Russia is never, ever, going to allow that to happen. 

It has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council that comes with the all-powerful veto, which Russia loves to wield (almost as much as America).

So here's the situation we're in - an impotent UNSC that has diplomatically done sweet FA when it comes to the Syrian War. 

Should innocent Syrians and their children suffer because the UN is inherently flawed?

Ardern says she has no intention of giving up on the UN and she's complained - like every NZ Government since the UN Charter existed - that the veto is a sham and should be reformed or abolished. 

Great. Good on her - couldn't agree more. 

But meanwhile the Syrian war wages on. Children keep dying, being gassed, poisoned by nerve agents - eyes weeping, noses and mouths streaming and frothing. They're vomiting, and if the exposure is great enough they're lucky if they die fast. 

New Zealand via Jacinda Ardern seems to have taken up a position firmly on the fence - neither condemning nor supporting the airstrikes and talking up the UN while complaining about its powers of veto. 

None of this is particularly bad - it's just so, so far from good.

Tova O'Brien is Newshub's Political Editor. 

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