Oh No, Not More Bombing in Syria?

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Oh No, Not More Bombing in Syria?

Kevin P Clements

David Cameron the British Prime Minister  has just made his appeal to the House of Commons for  cross party support for British bombing in Syria.  He claimed  to have learned from the mistakes of Iraq but  his statement was eerily reminiscent  of  all the old arguments for  the Bush/Blair military interventions in  Afghanistan,Iraq and Libya.

His  primary rationale is that ISIS is a threat   to the UK because the seven disrupted plots  to the UK last year were all linked to ISIS or inspired by them. He then made  the argument for being there because the US and France want the UK’s help and the RAF  is able to carry out “dynamic targeting” with its Brimstone Missiles and RAPTOR pod.

All of this was meant to create a “moral case for action”.  “If we cannot act now  when France has been attacked, when would we act?”. Mmmm who needs a Brimstone missile? I thought that fire and brimstone were the preserve of the devil!!

He then  went  on to argue that even though there is a political process underway “we cannot wait for that to finish before degrading Isis”… and then somewhat tendentiously argued that “ every day we wait ISIS could grow stronger”.

He  then argued that the UN security council resolution authorises military action-when a close reading of the text indicates that it does not.

To try and assuage critics who worry about the aftermath of more bombing  he argued  that “the government has a full strategy for tackling Isis, involving military and diplomatic action. Humanitarian support is a factor too” As he put it “ Aid to Syrians in refugee camps is helping to ensure they do not need to travel to Europe.”

Once again he is extremely vague about the specifics and is using  the humanitarian argument to ensure that very few Syrians end up on Europe’s doors or worse the doors of the United Kingdom.

He keeps on saying that a diplomatic  solution  is the right one but then says   “We cannot wait for that to happen” .

There is  no acknowledgement that escalating the military action will make diplomacy more problematic.

Jeremy Corbyn posed 7 questions.
1) Will British action make a difference on the ground? Will it contribute to a war-winning strategy.
2) Can the conflict be won without troops on the ground? Would the Kurds take over, or other extremists?
3) Would there be mission creep? Can Cameron rule out troops on the ground?
4) Does the UN resolution give clear legal authorisation for action? And what is being done to cut off arms supplies to Isis? And would there be a greater risk of incidents like the shooting down of the Russian warplane this week?
5) How would this contribute to an end to the Syrian civil war?
6) What assessment has Cameron been given of the impact of air strikes on the chances of terrorist attacks in the UK? And what are the chance of civilian casualties from air strikes?7) Does Cameron accept air strikes could risk more unintended consequences?
None of these are knock out questions and Corbyn is clearly uncomfortable asking them.

Cameron answered these questions  by stating  that  there were  70,000  moderate  Syrian forces able to help and  they will transform the politics on the ground!  He claimed that Syria has no future as long as the caliphate exists and he was willing to accept the  positive and negative consequences  of his decision.

The Scottish National Party was more forthright than Corbyn , and , Angus Robertson,   stated that unless there  are clear answers to the SNP’s questions about political transition and who will secure the peace  the SNP will not vote for air strikes.

Interestingly Julian Lewis, the Conservative chair of the Commons defence committee, says “Isis must be beaten militarily. But air strikes need to be launched alongside ground forces.  In addition he said  “the claim that there are 70,000 moderate Syrian opposition fighters is a revelation to him. (He’s implying it is not true.) The West has to choose between backing Assad and backing Isis, he says.

In response Cameron said that  the 70,000 figure comes from the joint intelligence committee (JIC). It is an independent figure. and that his document was cleared by the JIC.  This makes me wonder who is in control here!!

Another Conservative MP  Peter Lilley Peter Lilley,  said he needs Cameron to convince him that the Free Syrian Army exists, and that it is not just a “rag-bag group of tribal forces with no coherent force”. There are no moderates,”

So the debate continues.  Here are my thoughts.

The  reality is  that  bombing Syria will not prevent disgruntled political actors  living in Europe  from engaging in lone wolf or even coordinated violent politics as acts of  revenge for what  they perceive as  unjustifiable attacks on  their  homeland by foreign forces. In other words it does not make Britain and British citizens more secure it might in fact make them more insecure. If this is true   Cameron’s principle argument for deeper British military engagement fails.

The Prime Minister rests his strategic  arguments on resistance  from the Kurds and  an assumed 70,000 moderate troops just waiting to join the fight.  Turkey, the UK’s Nato ally in the region is more worried about the Kurds than they are about ISIS and have been bombing them  whenever they can.  All external powers  claim to rely heavily on Kurdish resistance to both ISIS and  Basher Assad but all are unwilling to give the  Kurds a separate homeland which has to be a factor in any political outcome to this brutal conflict. In fact the Turkish government has been giving support to ISIS as long as they attack the Kurds. This is the weakest part of the Cameron argument. Apart from some vague intelligence assessment, we do not know that there are 70,000 combat capable troops  in Syria that are able to  seize territory and replace ISIS and Assad with a  more congenial political regime . On the contrary if Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya are examples to go by  the successor regimes  might be worse than the ones that are being replaced. If  the West chooses to rely on Kurdish resistance it  has to  be much more critical of Turkey than is currently the case.

The Guardian has published a devastating critique of  Cameron’s position from  former US General John Allen . Cameron argues that there is a credible  military strategy to  defeat Isil in Syria as well as Iraq. As  Ewan MacAskill points out, however,

”If there is, no one has told the US. In private briefings and in public testimony to Congress, a long line of senior American officers have acknowledged frustration with the battle against Islamic State. General John Allen, who was in overall charge of the US campaign in Syria and Iraq, has quit after a year.A marine commander, Lieutenant General Robert Neller, offering his best assessment of how the war is going, described it as a “a stalemate”.The US-led coalition engaged in air attacks in Syria and Iraq had by the middle of last month conducted 7,600 attacks (4,900 in Iraq and 2,700 in Syria). Their main problem is finding targets to hit. Isis has long learned the danger of deploying in mass in the open.The pilots frequently return to base without firing missiles or dropping bombs, partly they say because of fear of hitting civilians but mainly because after a year there is little left to hit. So what can the UK add? Nothing much that is not already being done by the US, France and other allies.The bombing raids do serve a useful purpose in that Isis fighters cannot move around as easily as they once did. It makes them more cautious, having to watch the sky for a drone or fighter aircraft” .

But they are not incapacitated or defeated only more cautious.

Since the UN Resolution does not specifically  authorise the use of military force against  ISIS  Cameron   resorted to the argument of national self defence as the legitimation for the venture.  This is a bit hard to argue when  – apart from the two attacks on France – most European states have  not been subject to direct or indirect attack from ISIS over the past 4 years.

The fact is bombing will not solve anything. It will complicate the diplomatic solution. There is nothing much left to bomb, air attacks will generate more direct and indirect suffering  and more refugees, and, more importantly, it  will generate more insecurity than security, which is the prime justification for British engagement in bombing. It is perpetuating a self defeating cycle of viciousness, violence and revenge.

This whole debate has little to do with resolving the Syrian crisis and everything to do with British desires to be  seen as politically influential when its diplomatic influence has been diminishing  since the  shameful Blair  years.

If the British parliament and people support  UK bombing in Syria it will only serve to reinforce Britain’s diplomatic decline. It will also  make it impossible for Britain to exert moral non violent leadership against  all those , ISIS, the Saudis, the Gulf States, Russia , the US and France whose first option seems to be violence .

The world is desperate for some non violent and   creative problem solving rather than  the application of brute force. I hope the Commons will once again vote no to more bombing in Syria.


About kevinclements2012

Short CV Professor Kevin P Clements. I am the Foundation Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies and Director of the New Zealand Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago, Dunedin New Zealand and Secretary General of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy. Prior to taking up these positions I was the Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies and Foundation Director of the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland, Brisbane Australia . I went to Queensland from International Alert where I was Secretary General from January 1999 to September 2003. International Alert is one of the world’s largest NGOs working on conflict transformation. It pioneered innovative policy and practical approaches to conflict prevention and transformation in Africa ,Eurasia and Asia . It has also made a major contribution to the mainstreaming of conflict prevention within European Foreign and Development Ministries, the EU and a variety of UN institutions. During his time there I was on the Board of the European Centre for Conflict Prevention and past President of the European Peace Building Liaison Office in Brussels. Prior to becoming Secretary General of International Alert I was the Vernon and Minnie Lynch Chair of Conflict Resolution at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University Fairfax Virginia USA 1994-2000 and Director of the Institute from 1994-1999. My career has been a combination of academic analysis and practice in the areas of peacebuilding and conflict transformation. I was, for example, formerly Director of the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva and Head of the Peace Research Centre at the Australian National University in Canberra .Prior to this I was Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Coordinator of Peace Studies at Canterbury University, Christchurch New Zealand . My first academic position was as a lecturer in Sociology at Hong Kong University . I took up this position from a Post Doctoral Fellowship at Oxford University where I worked on development issues with Paul Streeten and others. I have been an advisor to the New Zealand, Australian , British , Swedish and Dutch governments on conflict prevention , peace, defence and security issues and advised the German Government and the OECD on States and Violence. I was, a member of the New Zealand Government’s Defence Committee of Enquiry in 1985 and I currently conducting Problem Solving Workshops in North East Asia with high level participants from Japan, China and Korea. Iwas President of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) from 1994-1998, President of the IPRA Foundation from 1995-2000 and Secretary General of the Asia Pacific Peace Research Association. I was Secretary General of the International Peace Research Association 2008-2010. I got my B.A, B.A Hon ( First Class) and Ph.D in Sociology from Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand. and held a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Oxford from 1970-1971. I have been a regular consultant to a variety of non governmental and intergovernmental organisations on disarmament, arms control, conflict resolution, development and regional security issues and I have written or edited 7 books and over 160 chapters /articles on conflict transformation, peacebuilding, preventive diplomacy and development with a specific focus on the Asia Pacific region. Research Expertise 1. Peace Research Theory- Conflict and Conflict Resolution Theory . Preventive Diplomacy , Development and Peacebuilding 2. International and Regional Regimes-APEC, ASEAN, the ARF, ECOWAS 3. Political Sociology-International Organisations. Multilateral/bilateral negotiating processes. 4. Fragile States, Legitimacy and Political Hybridity 5. Alternative Defence and Security Policies-Peace and Security in the Asia-Pacific region. 6. The politics and ethics of international humanitarian intervention 7. Altruism and Compassion In my spare time I like to paint with acrylics or pastels, go to the theatre, listen to classical music, visit art galleries etc!
This entry was posted in Cameron, Erdogan, Expanded Bombing in Syria, Non violent responses to Violent Politics, Nonviolence, Russia, Syria, The Middle East, The UNited States, Uncategorized, Violence and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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