My Lords, the Government have made a very persuasive argument in their memorandum to extend military action into Syria. It is a pity that it has not been more widely disseminated outside Westminster. However, it still leaves some questions unanswered. I query whether a Syrian family would consider the arrival of more bombs to be in their best interests in defeating the evil and despicable Daesh. Bombs have often killed innocent people. Daesh has long learnt not to drive in convoys and has learnt to live among families in flats in places such as Raqqa.
We are told that the RAF’s weapons are now precision guided and accurate, so we will just have to hope that no innocent child is killed by a misdirected weapon because, if it is, Daesh will seize on its propaganda and recruiting value. Even worse, it will make the efforts of wise British Muslims trying to steer young hotheads away from radicalism much more difficult.
The Government make much of their desire to support our allies in France after the terrible events in Paris. I suggest that one of the drivers for this atrocity was actually the abysmal conditions in the ghettos of the Parisian and Brussels banlieues. These disadvantaged young people, often from north Africa, have very few prospects of work or respect. These are bound to be places of radicalisation and dissent. The link to Daesh training in Syria may have been opportunistic.
Far greater efforts need to be made to alleviate the poor conditions in the fringe countries of Daesh, such as Yemen, Nigeria and Libya, especially in education and employment. If the money for the bombing was spent there—and then rolled back across the Middle East—to remove the cause of this terrible cancer, our bombs might not be needed.
We need to put greater effort into our own backyard, too. It is imperative that UK Muslims do not feel alienated, excluded or angry due to ill-judged words and actions. It seems odd that, while we shut out most of the refugees who want a safe haven here, we plan to deploy more weapons in their country. Where should they go to escape the inevitable sense of vulnerability, even if the weapons are accurately targeted?
Would the expected mandate from the other place allow for other military action in Syria? It is not clear. It seems that an SAS-type Special Forces team on the ground could direct intelligence and effect sabotage just as accurately as bombs. Intelligence is vital to avoid mistakes, yet we are told that there are to be no western boots inserted. This is probably the weakest point in the Government’s argument.
This is linked to the problem with Russia. What plans have been made in the event of a successful push-back of Daesh, leaving a Russian-controlled Assad in charge? How will we challenge that? The Government have rightly emphasised the importance of post-conflict planning, but it is not apparent how such a scenario would be resolved. This should be tackled first by diplomatic means.
Many potential extremists get their views from hate-filled internet videos and websites. Cannot greater efforts be made to disrupt, corrupt and block these sites? We have previously prosecuted bored teenagers who successfully hack into sensitive government systems. Instead, they could be recruited to GCHQ to thwart Daesh’s recruiting websites.
There seems little doubt that the Government will achieve their object tonight, but this will undoubtedly increase danger to UK citizens, the remaining Syrian people and our Armed Forces. However, Daesh has to be confronted. I can only hope that the end justifies the means.