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Syria: UK Military Action — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:12 pm on 2nd December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour 6:12 pm, 2nd December 2015

My Lords, of course we all have our doubts. We see through a glass darkly. There are many imponderables and cogent arguments on both sides, but was it not ever so in matters relating to foreign policy? Decisions have to be made. We should come to those decisions on the basis of mutual respect, recognising that colleagues will come honestly to different views. That is why I and others take such great exception to the reported views of the Prime Minister, which stand in stark contrast to the measured tones of the Motion. Will the real Mr Cameron stand up?

Of course, we approach the debate in the shadow of the interventions in Iraq and Libya, with all the misjudgements and unintended consequences which flowed therefrom. For example, if ISIL were defeated in Syria and Iraq, would there be a danger not just of arms spreading as in the case of Libya across to the

Sahel and Maghreb but of trained jihadists flowing across frontiers to the region and beyond? The examples of Iraq and Libya provide many cogent arguments for caution, not least in keeping the Administration in Syria afloat so far as possible, although inaction also has its consequences.

There is scepticism about the figure of 70,000. There are questions that include the danger of mission creep, apart from the bland statement in the Motion in relation to ground troops. Some of the arguments against the bombing are clearly cop-out devices to avoid action. “Bombing is not the answer”, it is argued. Of course, no one claims that, but it is part of the answer. The defence of Kobane and the retaking of Sinjar showed that, in co-operation with boots on the ground, bombing can indeed be decisive. Of course, there may, alas, be some civilian casualties and they will be used for public relations purposes, but I have seen the precision bombing in Novi Sad and other parts of Serbia. We are experts in precision bombing.

With all the hesitations and uncertainties, I support the Government’s Motion, remembering that we are already deeply involved in Syria—in reconnaissance, targeting and refuelling, and preparing the ground for others to bomb. The legal position in this case is rock solid. We have had a direct appeal from our French allies. Imagine the view that we would take if the situation were reversed, with an outrage in London and an appeal to our French colleagues being rejected by them. We have an overriding national interest in defeating Daesh, and there must be many other parts of the total policy. Most importantly, we have to press for progress at Vienna.

Finally, I turn to the question posed by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries: what is the definition of success? We have to be cautious and realistic. There is no tradition of pluralism in Syria after the two Assads. There may be a more benign dictator; there may be partition. We, and the international community generally, can only seek to give help from outside in forming a tolerable Government, but ISIS must be destroyed. In my judgment, the bombing is necessary but not sufficient—it is but a part of the process. I support the Motion.