Syria: UK Military Action — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:03 pm on 2nd December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench 6:03 pm, 2nd December 2015

My Lords, I was very glad to note that the Motion excluded two words that were included in the Motion before the other place—“specifically airstrikes”. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and many other noble Lords, I do not believe that bombing alone will defeat Daesh. With that long-held view in mind, I admit that I was not very pleased when I woke up this morning to find that after 41 years in the Army, many spent fighting terrorism, I had been branded as a “terrorist sympathiser” by none other than our Prime Minister.

Some noble Lords may recall the name of Robert Thompson, the British civil servant who was seconded to the Malayan Government, whose fortified canton concept was the battle-winning factor that defeated the Communist insurgency in that country in the 1950s. When the Americans escalated their operations in Vietnam, President Kennedy asked his advice. What he said was very interesting. It led to a delta project but, in particular, Thompson emphasised to Kennedy that in this sort of warfare you needed boots and brains. He added, “Don’t bomb villages”. He said that because of the vital importance of the military winning and retaining the hearts and minds of the population it was striving to support.

As we know, his advice was not followed but I could not help thinking about it during the recent hysteria over whether or not the RAF should deploy the Brimstone precision weapon in Syria. This appeared to be much more party politics than military appreciation of the situation. I think a lot of the factors were in danger of being missed.

To return to Thompson, like the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, and others, I was very concerned that the first sentence of the Motion before the other place notes that,

“ISIL poses a direct threat to the United Kingdom”,

and the 11th sentence says that,

“the Government will not deploy UK troops in ground combat”.

In other words, we are ignoring that boots in fact represent much more than just being on the ground. There are many other aspects of military support which may be requested of us.

At the same time, I have been encouraged by the Motion’s fourth sentence, which,

“notes that military action against ISIL is only one component of a broader strategy to bring peace and stability to Syria”.

I again question, why only Syria? If we are fighting against ISIL and ISIL represents a threat to many other countries, surely the aim should be a coalition against ISIL. If you do that in Syria, you have to include President Assad—whether or not he is going to be part of the longer-term solution—and the 70,000 people who appeared suddenly last week in the Prime Minister’s Statement. Surely the sensible thing to do is to create a coalition of all those who are affected by ISIL, and deploy the diplomatic, political, economic, military, moral and other aspects against it everywhere, rather than just limiting ourselves to an operation in Syria.