Syria: UK Military Action — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:18 pm on 2nd December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Dannatt Lord Dannatt Crossbench 4:18 pm, 2nd December 2015

My Lords, I am sure I am not alone among noble Lords in almost losing track of the number of times in recent days that someone has asked the question, “Are we right to bomb Syria?” Although that is a very fair question, asked by many concerned people, it is, however, fundamentally the wrong question to ask. Although more long-winded, the real question is whether the United Kingdom is willing to become a fully committed member of the international coalition in pursuit of the strategic objective of defeating ISIL/Daesh, the so-called Islamic State. To that question, there must be the unequivocal answer yes, on the basis that the biggest threat to our security today indeed comes from ISIL/Daesh.

It is my sincere hope that Members of the other place will vote in significant numbers in favour of the Motion that they are currently debating. To do otherwise would send an appalling message that the UK has pulled up the drawbridge, is no longer an ally that can be trusted and has lost its appetite to be a significant positive influence in Europe and the wider world. However, this is of course more than just about sending the right message, as important as that is. It is about being part of an effective coalition that is not only clear about its strategic objective but has a credible and coherent plan that takes us from where we are now to the defeat of so-called Islamic State and on to a more secure and stable Syria and that wider region. It also has to be accepted that the defeat of the so-called Islamic State will not come about through diplomatic pressure or economic sanctions; they are not susceptible to those measures. Defeat will come about through military reverse for them on the battlefields in Syria and Iraq. This will involve co-ordinated air and ground operations. However, those operations will make sense only within a coherent diplomatic and political framework.

The immediate challenge in front of us is to create the diplomatic framework within which military operations can sensibly be conducted. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2249 was an important step in the right direction, and so are the continuing talks in Vienna, but we need a constructive dialogue with the Russians, Iranians, Turks and other key interested parties in the region to work out common objectives and then create a co-ordinated plan. Then there is the Syrian regime itself. Western Governments are determined that President Assad has no role in the future. His transition out of power is therefore an urgent imperative, but many Syrians do not wish to see the throwing over of the complete Syrian regime. They saw the vacuum that was created in Libya after Gaddafi and they do not want that to happen to Syria—and I suggest that we do not wish to see that either. As the Prime Minister seemed to suggest in his opening speech in the other place earlier today, we need to work with the Syrian armed forces against ISIL/Daesh rather than see those armed forces fighting against their own citizens.

The bottom line is that if we do not want to see western international boots on the ground, yet we accept that the defeat of ISIL/Daesh will come about only through successful action on the ground, albeit supported from the air, we have to find enough local ground forces that are well enough led, equipped and trained to be successful. The apparent 70,000 Free Syrian opposition forces are not reliable nor good enough to achieve the success needed. A reinvigorated Iraqi army, the Peshmerga, the Jordanians, possibly even the Turks and the Iranians, are all needed to play a significant part in the ground operations, as is the Syrian army itself. Without this level of local participation on the ground, we may have to face again the unpalatable option of deploying western combat units on the ground at some point in future.