You will have seen it reported in the press and media this morning that Liberal Democrat MPs will support the motion in the House of Commons today to extend to areas of Syria our current military involvement against ISIL/Da’esh in Iraq. I want to explain why, after lengthy discussion and deliberation, we have reached this decision and why I will support it.
Decisions of this sort are never easy and this has been the most difficult one that I have ever known. I certainly do not share David Cameron’s reported view that those who oppose intervention are “terrorist sympathisers”. This is an issue on which we have all had to come to our own conclusions and for many of us it has been an enormously difficult process. I know no one, inside parliament or not, who has approached this from anything other than a position of good faith and I respect completely those who have reached a different conclusion from mine.
By comparison the decision to oppose war in Iraq was simple by comparison – it was clearly illegal and it was difficult to identify what the British interest in intervention was.
Recognising that some of the problems we are dealing with today have their roots in that disastrous misadventure, we should be quite clear about why this is a different conflict with different issues.
The intervention against ISIL/Da’esh in Iraq which we currently support is legal by virtue of the fact that we were invited to take part by the Iraqi government. The proposed extension of that to Syria is legal as it has the mandate of a United Nation Security Council Resolution 2249. The legality of the proposal is therefore clear.
The wording of that resolution, if fact, goes further than authorising action. It “calls on” states that have the capacity to act.
I also believe that there is a UK national interest that justifies acting here. Our neighbour and ally France has asked that we should. That same request has already received positive responses from Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark.
ISIL/Da’esh is a brutal organisation that subjugates woman, tortures and executes gays and will kill or torture anyone in their own community that does not actively support them. They have a capacity to take their war to our own communities as recent atrocities in Beirut, Paris and Sharm Al Sheikh have demonstrated. They are a force that has to be confronted. We are already engaged in this through our participation in strikes against them in Iraq. Refusing to extend that to Syria will not remove the threat of an attack happening in this country.
Of course, bombing alone is not going to be enough to resolve this. To beat ISIL/Da'esh militarily will require ground troops and those must come from within Syria and the surrounding countries.
It will also require a concerted political and diplomatic effort. That means that the Vienna process must be supported and broadened as far as possible.
Most importantly of all, if we are really to learn from the mistakes of Iraq and Libya we must be prepared to commit to engaging in post-conflict stabilisation and reconstruction and to commit the money to that.
Whatever decision the Commons takes today will have consequences. Be in no doubt, however, that failing to act will also have consequences. The civil war that has killed thousands and which has seen unprecedented numbers of people displaced from their homes and come to Europe as refugees will continue.
Earlier this summer the response of British people to that refugee crisis was a compassionate one which had at its heart a determination to help. We have an opportunity (NB this is only an opportunity – it comes with no guarantees) to be part of an international effort to bring that conflict to an end, to use international institutions to rebuild a broken state and to do so in a way that is legal. To shrug our shoulders and refuse that opportunity because it is too difficult or should be left to others is to cheapen the compassion of that response and determination to help.