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Article for the News & Crier

23rd September 2013

Let’s hope that the current Russian peace initiative for Syria works as if it doesn’t then we are again in stalemate. My position remains that I do not currently support military action.

Before the summer recess, I spoke in a debate against arming the Syrian rebels. I was concerned that we should not find ourselves supporting Al-Qaeda or assisting a Shia/Sunni cross-border conflict. I was also worried that our intervention could support a proxy war between Russia/Iran and the West.

Things have clearly moved on since July and there is no longer Government talk of wider military intervention, or the use of troops and nor our arming the rebels or of helping regime change. In the recent debate the Prime Minister made it very clear that this is only about dealing with the unacceptable use of chemical weapons and not about our entry into another Middle East war. On that basis I supported the Government motion condemning Assad’s use of chemical weapons; but not allowing military action without a further vote.

In the 1920s, the vast majority of the world came together to support the Geneva Protocol; and said that the use of chemical weapons was morally indefensible. It has, in Syria, now been proved that chemical weapons have been used against civilians. It does also seem, but has not yet been verified, that it was Assad’s forces that fired the chemical weapons. The question is whether, in the circumstances, some kind of military response is correct and whether the UK should be part of that response. No UN mandate for action has been achieved, given Chinese and Russian support for the Assad regime. Yet the Attorney General has opined that the principle of humanitarian intervention to deal with crimes against humanity is sound legally.

I strongly agree with Ministers that there is the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons. That is why the Government put forward a resolution to the UN Security Council and called for the United Nations weapons inspectors to present their evidence to the Security Council.

I am pleased that the Government has emphasised that it will continue to make the case at the United Nations to uphold the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. It will continue to work with all the organisations we are members of – whether NATO, the EU, the G8 or the G20 – to address what happened in Syria.

The key contention by the Prime Minister in the debate was that we may need to take military action to deter future use of these weapons and that inaction could make further such attacks much more likely.
My main concern remains that we have yet to define what we wish to do militarily and how we intend to go about it. President Obama has spoken of: “firing a shot across the bows” of Assad. But what does that mean? Fire rockets but hit nothing at all. This sounds like tokenism rather than a strategic objective.

There are significant numbers of chemical weapons stockpiled in Syria. Do we just attack some of them? Would such tokenism stop Assad or alternatively encourage retaliation against Western targets, or increase Russian armament provision to the regime. How could we maintain that we are not militarily helping the rebels after such a strike and could we then be pulled further into the fighting?

My view is that we should continue with sanctions, get diplomatically tougher with Russia and China and make it clear that firing chemical weapons will result in war crime trials. I am outraged by the use of chemical weapons: but outrage is not a strategy. I will wish to see a strategy before I cast any future vote in favour of military action.
I also believe in respecting the will of the House of Commons. It is very clear that while the House has not passed a motion, Parliament – reflecting the view of the British people – does not want to see military action. I therefore believe that it is right that the Government has committed to act accordingly.

In addition, the UK has committed £348 million to help those affected by the conflict. This is the UK’s largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis. It will provide support including food, medical care and relief items for over a million people including those affected by the fighting in Syria and to refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.

UK funding has also helped the UN strengthen security and humanitarian coordination mechanisms inside Syria through the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the United Nations Department of Safety and Security. Additionally, UK aid to the World Food Programme has enabled the organisation to enhance its food storage facilities and security management procedures.

This effort is in response to a catastrophe that has seen more than 100,000 people killed. In addition, the number of refugees has exceeded 2 million, more than half of whom are children and 4.25 million people have had to flee their homes and are now displaced within Syria. It is right that we help them.

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