Friday 30 August 2013

Brent politicians' positions on Syria debate

Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather joined Labour colleagues Barry Gardiner and Glenda Jackson in voting against the government motion on Syria last night. Barry Gardiner made an effective intervention when Nick Clegg was summing up, asking if the US mounted an attack over the weekend whether the UK would offer 'indirect' support (the use of UK bases for example). Clegg failed to answer fully and his avoidance was followed up by other MPs, contributing to doubts over the Coalition's position.

Gardiner had strongly supported Tony Blair's Iraq war.

Following the Government defeat and David Cameron's declaration that there would be no direct UK intervention the issue of whether there will be indirect support remains unanswered. The Labour Party meanwhile hasn't clarified whether their position is still that set out in its motion, support for intervention if conditions are met, or whether it is now opposed to any military intervention.

Cllr Roxanne Mashari made here position clear this morning in a Tweet:
Horrified and outraged by scenes in Syria. Fail to understand anyone who categorically rules out military intervention to help these people.
At 6pm yesterday  Sarah Teather posted a full statement on her position:

Everyone will agree that the use of chemical weapons is an abhorrent and unjustifiable act. The horrifying pictures that emerged after last week's attack were devastating to see and all will want action to prevent this from reoccurring.

However, I do not believe that the case for military action to prevent further attacks has been made successfully, either practically or ethically.

I am not opposed to military action in all situations. I do accept that military intervention is sometimes necessary, for example as part of an international peacekeeping mission, as an urgent response to prevent an immediate imminent humanitarian disaster such as genocide, or as an act of self-defence. When used in such circumstances, military action must be a last resort, have some reasonable chance of success and be proportionate to its context. I am not convinced that the proposed action in this situation meets those objectives.

First, it falls into none of the categories described above (peacekeeping, prevention of genocide, self-defence). Instead it seeks to punish a country for an action it has already taken. We have repeatedly heard politicians speak of a 'slapped wrist' or of making clear that Assad's actions 'must be seen to have consequences'. I am troubled that military action on this basis - which would inevitably involve further loss of life - may not have an adequate moral or legal foundation to justify it.

Politicians in the UK have subsequently shifted their rhetoric to argue that it is intended to be a deterrent rather than a punishment. But it is not clear how it would succeed in acting as a deterrent and yet meet the test for proportionality. Certainly it seems to have limited chance of success in meeting an objective of preventing further use of chemical weapons. Strikes against chemical weapon stores would be incredibly dangerous and would risk civilian casualties. An alternative course of strikes against minor targets would do little to dissuade Assad and instead could result in him escalating the already bloody civil war that is raging in Syria. We simply cannot know what Assad's response to any attack would be.

Stronger military action would also not accomplish the stated aim. Weakening Assad's military capabilities would tip the balance in favour of regime change - something the Government has steered clear from. The situation in Syria is extremely complicated and is not simply a case of Assad's regime versus the Syrian people. The Syrian opposition is not a homogenous group, but is rather a mix of factions and sub-groups where in many cases the shared value is opposition to Assad. As a result, it is extremely unlikely that the sudden toppling of Assad will end the civil war. Instead it is much more likely to result in the conflict spreading beyond the borders of Syria, further destabilising the region. I therefore do not believe that any military action will achieve the asserted aim of preventing further chemical attacks.

There is no easy answer to the current situation in Syria but I fear that military action can only make matters worse. And if we do intervene and the situation continues to escalate, what then? It would be almost unavoidable for the UK not to be drawn into further and more intensive military action.

In our understandable desire to do something in the face of such appalling atrocities we are in danger of arriving at a contradictory position: attempting to uphold international law by flouting international law ourselves and attempting to make a statement about our disapproval of violence by perpetrating further violence.

Some people have argued were we not to take military action, we would be washing our hands of the situation and doing nothing. However, the choice between military action and doing nothing is a false one. It is not clear to me that the only way to uphold international law is via military force. Certainly any military force would clearly need to be a last resort, having exhausted all other options.

Any solution to the current crisis in Syria needs to be political rather than military if long-term peace is to be found. That is why the UK must increase its attempts to work with international partners and provide full support for the Geneva II process in order to secure global cooperation in finding a peaceful resolution. There must also be full provision in place to provide international humanitarian support and aid for the nearly 2 million refugees that have left Syria - half of whom are children - who are fleeing into neighbouring countries.

For these reasons, and given the current circumstances, I do not support military intervention in Syria. I also feel that, while I welcome the work done by Nick Clegg in ensuring that the Government does not rush into military action, tonight's motion paves the way for a future commitment. As such, I shall this evening be voting against the motion

No comments: