The Syria crisis marked one of the greatest turns in the history of intervention. In late August and September 2013, military strikes were contemplated in response to the use of chemical weapons on 21 August 2013 against civilians near Damascus. Use of force was averted through an unexpected shift in diplomacy, i.e. Syria’s agreement on the destruction of its chemical weapons and the adoption of a framework for disarmament, compliance and political settlement under Security Council Resolution 2118 (2013). In the discourse on intervention in Syria, it has been argued that the threat of the use of force constitutes a legitimate means to sanction violations of the ban on chemical weapons. This article challenges this assumption. The Syria debate folded criminal justifications into the rhetoric of intervention. Intervention was regarded as a threat and a potential means to achieve rationales of retribution. The author examines justifications invoked in relation to (i) regime accountability (Responsibility to Protect, ‘humanitarian intervention’, ‘protection of civilians’); (ii) the ‘punitive’ and deterrence-based justification of intervention; and (iii) the semantics of ‘aggression’ and (iv) accountability strategies under Resolution 2118 (2013) to argue that use of force cannot and should not serve as a short cut to international justice or as a means of punishment. A new ‘red line’ regarding chemical weapons under Resolution 2118 (2013) should not detract from the need to address other categories of crimes in the Syrian conflict.