Wednesday, November 04, 2015


Two newspapers reported yesterday that the government has abandoned plans to push for a vote in parliament authorising British air strikes against DAESH (the so-called "Islamic State") targets in Syria, but a Downing Street spokesman described this as "nonsense."

There are some very real issues which would need to be resolved before Britain takes military action against targets in Syria but I don't think the possibility that the government may yet seek parliamentary authority to attack DAESH forces in Syria should be entirely ruled out.

I believe that British forces should only strike targets in Syria if

1) there is clear legal justification

2) there is a clear and specific military objective

3) that military objective supports a clear an achievable political objective

4) both the military and political objectives are part of a workable strategy agreed with our allies, and

5) We have a clear idea how to stop the military action spreading out of control - for example there are steps in place to avoid the risk of British and Russian units firing on each other.

It would also be highly desirable that there should be some greater degree of consensus than a narrow majority on a whipped vote which went largely on party lines.

None of these are straightforward but provided there is a clear and limited objective in place - e.g. if we are trying to reduce the threat of DAESH rather than obtain regime change in Syria -  they may not necessarily be impossible to achieve.

Specifically, DAESH ("Islamic State") holds territory in both Syria and Iraq which they are using to commit terrible atrocities in both countries, to attempt to conquer the rest of both countries and as a base to try to export terror and violence in other parts of the world.

I do not pretend to be either a lawyer or a military expert. But there is at least a possibility that limited action aimed specifically at DAESH military targets, intended to degrade their offensive capabilities, thus impeding their ability to using the territory they hold in Syria as a base to support their war against our allies in Iraq, may pass the above tests.

No British government should send our military forces into action without the most careful consideration. Many of the arguments posed by those who urge caution on any further military action in Iraq and Syria should be taken very seriously indeed.

However, the forces of DAESH have done huge harm to people in both Syria and Iraq and they are potentially a significant threat not just to the region but to the world. If we see an opportunity to mitigate that threat which is more likely to improve the situation in the middle east than to make it even worse, we should take it.

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