Transcript: Sen. Tim Kaine’s explanation on vote for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s resolution to authorize military force against the Syrian government on Sept. 4, 2013

Partial transcript of remarks by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) on the joint resolution to authorize military force against the Syrian government in response to the use of chemical weapons. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote was held on Sept. 4, 2013. 

…To me, Mr. Chair, I think the principle that has grabbed me the most and that has led me to support this was the principle you elaborated yesterday in your opening statement before the committee and it is just that basic fundamental principle that at the top of the pyramid of the relations of nations to each other, there is not a more important principle of international law that weapons of mass destruction not to be used against civilian populations without a consequence.

I mean, you can think of any other international norm – and there are a lot of important ones – but there’s not a more important one than this…

It’s an amazing thing to think back to the aftermath of World War I and that the nations of the world gathered and said there’s just something different about chemical weapons. And they passed through the Geneva Convention, immediately ratified by United States, Soviet Union, other nations – Syria ratified it finally in 1968 – a ban on the use of chemical weapons and not just against civilians.

A ban on the use of chemical weapons – this has protected American service men and women who have fought battles since the 1920s. They’ve been able to go into horrible battlefield situations and put their lives at risk but knowing that chemical weapons would not be used against them.

And my fear is if United States does not stand up for the principle that chemical weapons cannot be used, especially against civilians, then no one will stand up for that principle.

And 90 years of international law and a moral imperative that’s been respected globally will suddenly just be cast into the dust bin because the United States has been unwilling to play a leadership role.

If we play a leadership role, we know that we have partners who will play that role with us.

But if we do not play a leadership role, I don’t think there’s anyone who will stand up for the principle.

And I would agree with Sen. Udall’s point that we wish we have more partners than we do, and that’s an indictment itself of the United Nations and other nations in quaking before this flagrant violation of this important moral principle. But there are partners who are willing to stand up for the principle with us.

But I fear for the world that if we’re not willing to stand up for it, no one is.

And so I voted for this because I think it’s important for us to stand up for that principle that chemical weapons should not be used against civilians, and if we do so, we’ll keep our allies safer; we’ll keep our service men and women safer; we’ll keep our nation safer.

The authorization that we voted for today stresses that military action is authorized but it’s only one piece of a larger strategy. The President is required pursuant to the terms of what we reported out to the floor that he certify first prior to the use of military action that the United States has used all appropriate diplomatic and other peaceful means to prevent the deployment and use of weapons of mass destruction by Syria.

That diplomacy and diplomatic effort is ongoing right now with the President at the G-20 meeting and in discussions with Russia. It can happen at the U.N. as we’re talking about this matter on the floor of the Senate as we’re contemplating, and I hope passing this resolution to authorize the President to even use military force to enforce this international norm I hope that diplomatic efforts will continue.

If Syria were to decide to sign on to the 1990s era Chemical Convention or to turn their chemical stockpiles over to international inspectors. If Russia were to decide to stop blocking Security Council resolutions and engage the international community, those would be the kind of diplomatic efforts that are contemplated by the authorization that we passed.

But at the end of the day, this is about such an important principle. It is a heavy vote to have to cast. All of us are hearing from our constituents. All of us spend time with men and women in the military. We don’t want them to be at war. At the same time, we don’t want our men and women in the military to suddenly be faced with the specter that chemical weapons are suddenly okay…

This is a principle that has been part of the fabric of our collective moral imagination as humanity for 90 years. Only Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein have violated this Chemical Weapons Convention until now.

Adolph Hitler violated it and the entire world dedicated itself to completely eradicating him and the Third Reich from the face of the earth.

Saddam Hussein violated it and to our detriment did not act immediately, but we did eventually act as an international community by deciding to beef up the 1920 Geneva Convention. And in the 1990s partially because of Saddam Hussein’s actions, we strengthened the norm against use of chemical weapons around the world with so many nations including Russia signing on to it.

And so if we don’t stand up to the principle, no one will. And for that reason I support this…

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One Comment on “Transcript: Sen. Tim Kaine’s explanation on vote for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s resolution to authorize military force against the Syrian government on Sept. 4, 2013

  1. Pingback: Syria: Chemical Weapons | What The Folly?!

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