Tomorrow the House of Commons will vote on whether the UK should undertake military action in Syria against the terrorist organisation known as ISIL or Daesh. As things stand, I will be voting against taking action and I will explain why I have arrived at that decision.
Nobody could fail to be horrified by the events in Paris when hundreds of innocent people were gunned down in a cowardly and calculated attack. The attack is designed to divide us and to provoke us into a knee jerk reaction that ISIL will use as a recruiting agent to bolster their numbers.
What the attacks in Paris have done is add an element of urgency to the challenge of how we tackle the multi-faceted problems in Syria and surrounding region. The civil war there has more than two sides, with ISIL capitalising on the chaos that has ensued and with the recent added complication of Russia backing the Assad regime who most of our Western Allies wish to see removed. The risk of a proxy war is significant with no coherent international strategy yet agreed.
But the question remains, how do we tackle ISIL at source?
There is no doubt there needs to be a plan, but it needs to have widespread international agreement. It needs not just to be a military response but a political and diplomatic solution, and it needs to recognise that in order to tackle the twisted ideology that ISIS propound, the commitment involved is likely to be for years rather than months.
It is widely acknowledged that the Iraqi conflict highlighted the failure of the West to devise and deliver a coherent strategy once Saddam Hussein was removed and our failures there weigh heavily in everyone’s minds. The consequences of getting this wrong are huge as are the consequences of inaction. In many ways this is even more complicated as it is a war against an ideology rather than a dictator.
A coordinated international strategy has not yet been proposed to determine how the transition to an inclusive Government in Syria will be arrived at. Headway has also not yet been made to bring about the proposed ceasefire between the regime and opposition in Syria.
The UK needs to throw its full diplomatic weight behind the ongoing talks – the Vienna process. However, until those talks have concluded, I feel that any action would be premature.
If we undertake military action without having a clear, coordinated and coherent strategy for the aftermath, we risk repeating the mistakes that we made in Iraq.
Additionally, as is stated in the Foreign Affairs Committee Report, “the model that is starting to work in Iraq involved Coalition air support enabling Iraqis – from both the Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga – to take back, hold and administer territory regained from ISIL.
This is more difficult in Syria, because Assad’s forces are still directly fighting against the moderate opposition and there is no prospect of intervention by an external ground force.”
The support of Russia for Assad’s campaign against the moderate opposition makes matters more complicated still and increases the risk involved with any action that we undertake.
Airstrikes without an effective ground force will simply not be successful and I have seen no evidence to suggest that there is anything resembling an effective ground force in Syria.
I do not have confidence in the ability of what the Prime Minister referred to as “around 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups” to retake the ground from ISIL. These fighters are not one united force, they are from a range of different groups, with varying motivations and capabilities. As many may be fighting Assad as ISIL, if not even more.
These “opposition fighters” by their very definition are opposed to Assad, so is also difficult to see how we could protect them in retaking ground from ISIL without getting drawn into conflict with Russia.
The ending of the civil war in Syria and the defeat of ISIL are inextricably linked and it is my belief that action at this stage risks pushing the end of the civil war in Syria further away, rather than bringing it closer.
The Prime Ministers response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee which forms the basis for the vote tomorrow states that in order to defeat ISIL “We need partners on the ground….and we need a political solution to the Syrian conflict”. I believe that even the Prime Minister would concede these conditions have not yet been met and that the timetable for military action seems to be based more on securing a majority in the House of Commons rather than whether the time is right for action. Being led by a timetable that is primarily being dictated by domestic political concerns is not a sensible basis upon which to engage.
I am not opposed to the UK taking military action, if a coherent, effective and proportionate case made. I do not believe that the Prime Minister’s strategy meets all of these tests and it is for these reasons that I cannot support action in Syria at this stage.