Syria and the Use of Chemical Weapons — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:11 pm on 29th August 2013.

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Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 8:11 pm, 29th August 2013

My Lords, I very much doubt whether any of us will be able to forget the harrowing television pictures of the children and their look of fear and bewilderment as they literally choked and writhed to death. This was a heinous crime, for which those responsible must, sooner or later, be brought to account. But as this debate has made very clear, the issue is how that is done without punishing the innocent, exacerbating the future costs and dangers, and proving to be totally counterproductive. We have to listen to the advice and wisdom of men and women with considerable military experience, such as in the speeches that we have heard in this debate from my noble friend Lord West and the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt.

As we grapple with our abhorrence at the cruelly poisoned children and, indeed, the adult victims, we must never forget the 1.8 million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and elsewhere. We can do something about their plight and face up to the future destabilising effect of so many refugees across the Middle East—just think of the story of the Palestinian refugees and how that is being compounded by this situation. As the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, has just said, we should be at the forefront of the humanitarian battle, and indeed we should support the people of Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and elsewhere who have provided so many with a home.

Here in Britain we are very good at persuading ourselves that the world will automatically see things as we see them. As someone who has spent most of my life travelling the world in international work, I ask how many people we really think will believe that this is just to deal with chemical weapons. Of course they will not believe that. They will see it as an intervention in a civil war and as us punishing the regime in Syria for the terrible things that have happened.

The other thing of which we sometimes persuade ourselves is that somehow Syria is self-contained and that we can clinically look just at Syria and take appropriate action. Syria is intimately involved with Egypt, Iran, Iraq and the whole Middle East situation. Military action would have great implications for any prospect of a Middle East settlement and peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. In this context, we are foolish if we imagine that anything that we do will not have implications far wider than Syria.

I also suggest that we should look at our own credibility. This is not an easy thing to do. The peoples of the world do not necessarily see us as self-evident champions of the rule of law and arbiters of justice. They look at us and see rendition, Guantanamo Bay and torture. As we have heard, they see the story of arms sales to reactionary and oppressive regimes. They see us insisting that our nuclear arsenal is essential to our self-defence. They see our allies in the past as having not altogether clean hands on chemical warfare and they see us believing that somehow, if we are to make a contribution, our possession of these things must be taken for granted.

There is resentment in much of the world—we must face this—about being managed by the traditional great powers. This resentment plays into the hands of extremists and al-Qaeda. That is why the UN road is so important. If action is to be taken, it must be in the context of the widest possible global international consensus, not just among the traditional powers but among the deprived and excluded people of the world as a whole, because the world is seeking a change in the power balance. All this is absolutely central to how we approach the situation that we are debating.

Of course we must go on in the Security Council. We must not be fatalists but must keep at it. We must also think of the UN Uniting for Peace Resolution 377 of 1950 in the Korean context and make sure that whatever is done has widespread global endorsement and not just that of the traditional powers.