In the wake of the horrific Paris Attacks there seems to be a general consensus that something must be done to prevent ISIL from striking again, perhaps this time in the UK, and to halt their murderous expansion in the Middle East. However there is no consensus on what this something is.
In August 2013 the House of Commons voted down the proposal to start bombing Assad. This was largely due to the narrative of Britain once again attempting to illegally poke its nose into other countries’ business, wasting large amounts of money, losing many lives and in sum causing more harm than good. British MP’s and the public fear of being on the wrong side of history yet again.
People also have more specific concerns. There are doubts about the effectiveness of bombing, that there are no long-term aims or objectives, that there is no exit strategy and that the real issue should be about tackling the conditions that allow the ISIL ideology to fester and grow and by joining the conflict we only seek to put our country at greater peril
In light of these objections let me set forward the logic for military involvement in Syria.
Recent events have demonstrated that ISIL are a very real threat. As the murders on the streets of Paris reminded us so starkly, ISIL is not some remote problem thousands of miles away. It is a direct threat to our security at home and abroad. It has already taken the lives of British hostages and carried out the worst terrorist attack against British people since 7/7 on the beaches of Tunisia, to say nothing of the seven terrorist plots right here in Britain that have been foiled by our security services in recent months. This, coupled with the barbarity that has been ongoing in Syria over the past number of years, meets the criterion for ‘just cause’ that every war needs to be legal.
The next requirement for war is right intention. There has been set forth by the Prime Minister a very clear set of aims and objectives that meet this. The purpose of military intervention would be obvious; to stop and reverse ISIL’s expansion, to end its malign rule, to spoil its seductive narrative of triumph, and therefore destroy its military power.
To those who recognise that something must be done but point to diplomacy rather than conflict I want to make clear that if this could be done, it would be done. Governments from all over the world have been trying this to no avail. The destructive ISIL philosophy is not suited to the negotiating table. However that does not mean diplomacy will not form a part of the long-term strategy. The Prime Minister and Defence Secretary have said that there must be a full spectrum response to deal with ISIL at its source in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. I believe that our response should be to bring together military strategy with diplomatic strategy, political strategy and development strategy. The UK is currently working to counter ISIL’s finances, restrict the flow of foreign fighters, and provide humanitarian support to those affected by ISIL’s brutality. The UK is leading the way with its biggest ever response to a humanitarian crisis. To date, the UK Government has committed over £1 billion in humanitarian funding, providing support such as food, shelter, medical care and clean drinking water, for hundreds of thousands of people affected by the conflict, both inside Syria and for refugees across the region. However, this does not comprehensively deal with the threat ISIL pose. Military action is needed as well.
Should we be poking our nose into the business of Syria, half a world away? In 2011 when war first broke out we told ourselves firmly no. This was nothing to do with us. But now we have several hundred British citizens fighting for ISIL, we have committed to £1 billion of tax-payers money in aid and ISIL are now very much in Europe. We are already involved. We cannot fail to recognise that.
Then there is the issue of legality. For all those in doubt the UN Security Council Resolution 2229 on the 20th November 2015 set the record straight on military involvement in Syria; asking countries with the ability to take ‘all necessary measures’ to quell ISIL’s atrocities in the region. The line ‘all necessary measures’ is UN jargon for military intervention. This, coupled with the resounding support from the international community, renders military action legal.
In terms of what we can offer, the British Air Force is renowned all over the world. It is also recognised that we have the most accurate missiles, and so our involvement ought to result in greater targeted success and fewer innocent casualties. The US and French have already had some success in their bombing and with our expertise we can hope to see this improve.
By any credible historian’s or analyst’s conclusion it cannot be said that Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya were total failed campaigns. While aspects of each war did not work out as once hoped, aims and objectives were fulfilled. Learning from history does not stop once war has started. If a criticism of the Libyan intervention is that while we succeeded in deposing the tyrannical and murderous Gadhafi we left the country insecure then this time, as seen in the comprehensive and full spectrum response plan, we need to ensure that our exit plan involves the formation of a stable democratic government that looks out for the interests of all its people groups. Every endeavour comes with risk but we must not baulk at the prospect of failure and opt for burying our heads in the sand.
I do not think it can be said there has been a rush to military action. We have had the chance to watch as narrative has developed and we have had ample opportunity to scrutinise the evidence and think through the options. Even at this stage there has been no rush. The Foreign Affairs Committee have published a report which the Prime Minister will responded to today. He has made assurances that there can now be a full day’s debate, proper consideration and a vote. This is a proper process, no one will be bounced into a decision and nothing will happen without a clear consensus.
But the threat of ISIL is very real. And I believe that, as part of a combined, multi-lateral approach, the logic for military involvement in Syria is clear.