York Press Column: Military Intervention in Syria
April 19, 2018
On Saturday the United Kingdom, alongside the US and France, targeted three chemical weapons facilities in Syria following a poison gas attack in the town of Douma a week earlier.
There has been a lot written in national media over last few days, but I want to give you my thoughts on the operation our military has undertaken. I believe the Prime Minister was right to take decisive action following the horrendous attack in Douma given the consensus in the international community that the use of chemical weapons on civilians should be met with targeted, but severe repercussions. The Prime Minister, following detailed military and secret intelligence briefings, assessed that the UK should join our close allies to make absolutely clear to President Assad that we will not sit idly by and allow these atrocities to take place without consequence.
I understand the concerns some have raised about the lack of a specific parliamentary vote beforehand. However, this is not required for all forms of military action, and our government acted in line with legal advice. The government has ensured that Parliament can scrutinise this decision; with significant time set aside for debate this week. Furthermore, the Prime Minister has said she took this course of action in the knowledge that Parliament would hold her to account, and she has received support from across the House.
Western leaders continue to seek a diplomatic solution to the Syrian Civil War, and an important part of this was an agreement to eliminate Assad’s chemical weapons programme following the attack on civilians in Ghouta in 2013. Since this time, the OPCW has not been able to verify whether all manufacturing, storage and research facilities were in fact destroyed.
On each occasion when chemical weapons have been used in Syria, Russia has blocked any attempt to hold the perpetrators to account at the UN Security Council, with six such vetoes since the start of 2017. Just last week, Russia blocked a UN resolution to establish an independent investigation able to determine responsibility for the attack in Douma. This is why a response via the UN was sadly not possible. To say the government should not have acted without this authorisation is to say that dictators should be free to murder people with impunity, as long as they have a protector on the Security Council. I do not believe any of us wish to live in a world where this is the norm.
The use of chemical weapons is completely illegal, but these rules are worth nothing without the willingness to take action against those who use such weapons. If the international community does not punish the perpetrators, we are all made less safe, as we send out the message that there are no consequences for such wicked criminal behaviour.
Just as we cannot allow the use of chemical weapons in Syria to be deployed without consequence; we cannot allow the use of deadly nerve agents here in Britain. Sergei Skipal could easily have decided to settle in a larger cathedral city, such as York, and it could have been a North Yorkshire Police officer admitted to intensive care.
Throughout this incident, the Kremlin made light of the situation and denied all involvement. This represents Russia’s total disregard for international cooperation and tendency to employ misinformation.
The unrelenting civil war is now in its seventh year and we still face repercussions from the immense destruction. Our response to this crisis has been unprecedented, committing £2.6b since 2012 to meet the immediate needs of vulnerable people in Syria and refugees in the region. This makes us the second largest bilateral donor.
The UK resettled more refugees than any other country in the EU in 2016 and our approach has thankfully discouraged people from undertaking perilous journeys that have too often proven to be fatal.
Our country will continue to provide a comprehensive humanitarian package for those caught up in the conflict, coupled with supporting a united international consensus around punishing the use of chemical weapons. I firmly believe that the ordinary citizens of Syria should be our primary concern and this should drive our approach to this conflict, whilst serving the UK’s national interest.