Syria: UK Military Action — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:21 pm on 2nd December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Owen Lord Owen Independent Social Democrat 7:21 pm, 2nd December 2015

My Lords, painfully and agonisingly slowly, I believe we are beginning to develop a strategy for dealing with ISIL in both Syria and Iraq. The first, most important step was a Middle East solution, and that is the Vienna process. Having Iran around the table—very difficult for Saudi Arabia to accept—is extremely important, and those two countries, Shia and Sunni, have to start working together far better than they have done for decades past. It has been done before.

Secondly, the UN resolution, very skilfully drafted by the French, with the British in the chair, is an extremely important resolution and is the most we will get; we will not get a Chapter VII resolution. We can build on it and the UN has been given the task of negotiating ceasefires within the Vienna process. The more the profile of the UN is raised, the less we will hear about crusades and the more we will come to grips with the reality that there are Muslim countries and countries with a lot of Muslims that are fully engaged in trying to deal with the problem of ISIL, and with us.

Today a very important statement was made by the NATO Secretary-General that NATO is going to resume contact with Moscow in the NATO-Russia Council. That can provide the overall co-ordinating mechanism for aircraft over Syria and Iraq and for regional forces. Much stress has been put on forces on the ground. This is one of those wars which must involve regional forces, helped by the five permanent members and by co-ordinating mechanisms within the NATO-Russia Council.

The next step is that we have to face reality. Assad is strong in the coastal region and with Russia and the Alawites. Assad is still strong in Damascus, but Damascus has problems. In the suburbs of Damascus an ISIL grouping is just waiting. I think it would be very helpful if each permanent member of the Security Council took a geographical responsibility, and France is the ideal candidate to go into Damascus to work with Assad. I do not think Russia is particularly keen to go into that area. What do we do about Aleppo? It is very difficult, probably the hardest area to get a ceasefire. There, both the United States and the UK can help. There is a real problem with Turkey and its feelings. There is also a need to deal with the Kurdish area.

Those four areas can start to contain the fifth and largest area, which is that controlled by ISIL. It will be very difficult to do but there are forces that could be mobilised and co-ordinated. Jordan has very effective forces and knows the area very well. The Iraqi forces are beginning to strengthen but we must remember that they still have not been able to take back Mosul. The Saudi forces must be mobilised, as must the Turkish forces.

It is an extremely complex and difficult problem and we must not despair when we do not achieve immediate success. But slowly it is beginning to happen and the co-ordinating role of the permanent members of the Security Council is crucial. The Security Council has done nothing for two years. Sarin gas was its last success. We should have used that mechanism—I am glad we have done so now—and it is one of the reasons why I did not support bombing in 2013. Now bombing has a use but only a marginal use and we must work on co-ordinating with ground forces, first on the containment and then on the removal of ISIL from both Syria and Iraq. We will also have to look at ISIL’s presence in Libya, and that may well have to be done by an Arab country in Africa.