U.S. Plan to Take Over Syrian Oil Reserves Violates International Laws Against Pillage

Photo credits: Katrine Syppli/Flickr

The U.S. government gave a surprise announcement earlier this month concerning its military presence in the Middle Eastern nation of Syria.

In an October 13 interview on the CBS News show “Face the Nation,” U.S. Defense Secretary Mike Esper said that U.S. President Donald Trump signed off on a significant troop withdrawal in northern Syria. At that time, Esper claimed that Trump just ordered the pullout of 1,000 troops in the area.

But the U.S. announcement about a major troop withdrawal was met with upheaval.

This is because the withdrawal came right around the time of Turkey’s recent invasion of northern Syria. Supporters of Trump’s order praised this move as a cleanup of the mess former U.S. President Barack Obama made in the Middle East. Politically-motivated foreign policy moves like these are customary for U.S. presidents before re-election time.

Opponents of Trump’s withdrawal claimed it was a cowardly abandonment of America’s former Kurdish allies in the fight against ISIS.

Regardless, the U.S. kept about 300 troops at its Al-Tanf military base, which is close to the Syrian oil reserves in the country’s southeastern region. Also, the recent and deadly raid in northern Syria (which killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi) showed the world that the U.S. was not yet done playing its Syrian war games.

In a televised speech the morning after the raid, Trump appeared to revert back to the course, which his nation appeared to have averted from. He reiterated his stance that the U.S. was not committed to maintaining a heavy troop presence in Syria. But later, he did give the reason why some U.S. troops would remain there.

“We’re keeping the oil — remember that. We want to keep the oil. Forty-five million dollars a month? Keep the oil. We’ve secured the oil,” Trump said October 28 at a police chief event in Chicago, Illinois.

James Graham Stewart, is a law professor at the University of British Columbia. In an interview with National Public Radio, (NPR) Stewart made some very thought-provoking observations.

“[Trump] makes no mention of who owns the oil, and that seems like a fairly key question. The second question is what exactly is Trump planning to do with the oil,” Stewart said.

The distinguished law professor also suggested that U.S. plans to overtake Syria’s oil appears to be in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.  Article 33 of this war-governing, international piece of legislation clearly states the following:

“No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.” (Fourth Geneva Convention)

In the case of the current Syrian international conflict, the legal term “protected persons and their property” is applicable to Syria’s citizens and their nation’s oil reserves. Stewart agrees and gave a grim historical example of what happened when Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention was violated during a previous, major world war.

“One defendant at Nuremberg called Walther Funk, who was the chairperson of the Continental Oil Company, was convicted of pillaging oil from throughout occupied Europe; precisely because the German army expropriated it for the purposes of the Nazi apparatus,” Stewart told NPR.

Military unilateralism has already proven to be both an abhorrent and disastrous escapade for the U.S. (case in point: the Second War in Iraq of 2003). Neither Obama or Trump seemed to have learned this from by watching the mistakes made by their predecessor, former U.S. President George W. Bush.

A nation cannot help enforce or be an example of a law-abiding international power if it breaks, or oven borders on breaking international law.