David Cameron, will ask Parliament for permission to join the military action against Islamic State (IS) in Syria. Primarily, because IS pose a “serious and undeniable” threat to Britain. It was only two years ago that he proposed bombing Syria, again in self defence. The threat to Britain was the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad. Parliament rejected the call in 2013. I hope they do so again, though I fear they may not. David Cameron is right, insofar as he says we cannot stand by and do nothing. The civil war in Syria affects us all. It is a humanitarian crisis that has seen the death of more than 250,000 people. Almost half of the country’s population, 12 million Syrians, have been driven from their homes. Many fleeing to neighbouring countries, others are caught in the Mediterranean refugee crisis. However, the solution is not to bomb a country back to the dark ages. This has been the jingoist rhetoric of some politicians both here and abroad. The military solution, being the only solution, has made me wary of David Cameron’s motives.
If the primary purpose of bombing Syria is the safety of the British people, then it flies in the face of recent advice. The British establishment stated that Russia’s intervention in Syria was the reason for the Russian Airbus massacre. Similarly, retaliation was also said to be the motive for the attacks in Paris due to France’s intervention in Syria. To ignore this and bomb Syria may be at the cost of the safety of British citizens, which defeats his said purpose.
David Cameron by his own admission has recognised IS as a “serious and undeniable” threat. In other words, they have not mounted an armed attack against Britain. British Intelligence Services have foiled six random acts of criminal terrorism but, they were not armed attacks. Therefore, the rules outlined by the United Nations and laid down in international law on self defence do not apply to Britain bombing Syria.
Britain has not been attacked so the justification for attacking Syria is spurious. Arguably, if the Syrian Government asked Britain for help, the bombing of Syria might be justifiable on the grounds of self defence. This is highly unlikely to happen. David Cameron has been clear that his strategy for Syria also includes the removal of Assad.
The action against IS cannot be justified on humanitarian grounds either. According to The Syrian Network for Human Rights, Assad’s regime has committed significantly more atrocities than IS. By May 2015 IS had executed1397 men, women and children civilians by beheading, shooting or stoning. Assad’s military and militias had claimed 7,894 lives to July 2015.
If our Government could find a legitimate ground to intervene in Syria, I question whether bombing would have any effect. IS is neither a country nor a state. It is a movement. Bombing therefore. will be causing destruction to a country, its infrastructure and its civilians. Jürgen Todenhöfer has spent time with IS in Syria. He reports that most of the fighters have left Raqqa, where Cameron is keen to bomb. It is his expert opinion that the only targets left there are hospitals and factories.
Putting to one side the failed military action in Afghanistan and Libya. We can see how ineffective the bombing campaign in Iraq, Syria’s neighbour, has been. The Iraq people invited a coalition including Britain to fight against IS in Iraq. Today, they are still bombing IS in Iraq. Meantime, IS still holds Iraq and IS has grown. It now has a foothold in Syria. Clearly, bombing has not arrested its development. Rather by killing those who fight for IS martyrs are created and that is a call to arms for others.
If our Government is serious about addressing the threat and the humanitarian crisis in Syria, it will need to stop trying to impose a democracy on a country that is not ready for it. The Government should be working to promote peace and using embargos. Britain’s strong ties with Saudi Arabia, who fund IS, and other countries in the Middle East should be used to negotiate a peace process. We need to stop selling arms to these allies, especially, when they end up in control of IS. Cameron needs to work with the EU to agree a policy with Turkey (who is keen to join the EU) on its alliance with IS. For instance Turkey should stop certifying the passports of foreign militants crossing the Turkey-Syria border. The border has been moved, allegedly, five miles south into Syria. The British Government, rather than spending money on bombing and destruction could use it on helping refugees in camps.
I fear that the warmongering on Syria is more to do with David Cameron’s pride. His call to arms as a Prime Minister was rejected by Parliament in 2013. His stature as a leader was further dented when Vladimir Putin, took decisive action in Syria against IS. If he wins the vote for war, it will restore Cameron’s personal pride. It will also retrospectively legitimise the bombing of Syria by British pilots which went against the will of Parliament. What it is not likely to do is keep the British public safe.