The despicable attacks in Paris last week were a telling reminder of the threat we face from terrorism, and of the need to take all steps necessary to ensure the safety and security of the United Kingdom. The unprecedented show of solidarity with France across the world is a sign of the resolve and determination that we will need every inch of if we are to prevail against Daesh (ISIS).
Understandably, the prospect of UK military intervention in Syria has again been raised by the Prime Minister. We do not yet know what he will propose and of course I will listen to any case he makes, but to date I have been sceptical of the Government's position. In 2013, MPs were asked to approve airstrikes against the Assad regime and in support of his opponents. The House of Commons refused to do so, on the grounds that the outcome would have been similar to that in Libya – the collapse of the state – but with much more bloodshed and the prospect of Assad’s chemical weapons falling into the hands of the jihadis fighting to depose him.
Now we will be asked to support the use of air power on the opposite side in the Syrian civil war – against Daesh. This feels like a step in the right direction. However, there is vital question that must be answered: who will supply the credible ground forces without which airstrikes cannot be decisive? Government Ministers frequently state it isn’t logical to refuse to bomb Daesh in Syria when we are bombing them in Iraq, but the answer to this is straightforward: in Iraq we have allies on the ground, in the form of the Iraqi Army and the Kurdish Peshmerga. In Syria no such allies currently exist, unless we are to find common cause with the Assad forces we were seeking to bomb just two years ago, and who have murdered and displaced by far the greatest number of Syrian civilians.
A credible ground force is the only way to drive Daesh from Syria. This will require the agreement of both Russia and the current Syrian Government, and in all likelihood this force will have to remain for several years to stabilise the country. For this reason, and to prevent a further cycle of violence and recrimination against so-called ‘infidel’ occupying forces, I believe this force needs to drawn from regional states.
Such a multi-national force can be assembled – but it will require a coalition with the regional powers who are willing and able to mount the required military effort on the ground. Bombing on its own will not be effective, no matter how appalled we are by the atrocities of our enemies.
If such a strategy to win is presented, it could command my support and my vote. But if not, I would oppose airstrikes on the basis they would not help us defeat Daesh. I therefore await the proposals the Prime Minister has indicated he will bring forward in the next few weeks.
Photo credit: Freedom House (Creative Commons license)