Syria: UK Military Action — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:29 pm on 2nd December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour 7:29 pm, 2nd December 2015

My Lords, this is a difficult issue and the views of all sides ought to be respected. I want to make just a couple of points. First, to those people who say that we should not be involved, there is a follow-up question for them to answer: do they therefore think that the coalition is wrong to be involved? If they think that, they have to face the other question: could Daesh win? There are implications to that. Secondly—and I have been critical of the way that the Prime Minister has handled this verbally—we are not raining down or proposing to rain down bombs on Syria, yet the argument has been presented too often in that form. I do not want to get into the technical arguments about it as I do not know enough, but I know that we are talking about more targeted bombing. If anyone is raining down bombs, there is a case against Russia using its heavy bombers and freefall bombs, which are a seriously bad idea.

The other thing that follows from this is that if you are concerned about civilians being killed, which they probably will be, you have to set that as a moral judgment against the fact that we, the rest of the world, have sat around for four or five years and watched the most appalling killing and suffering, and done nothing about it. I understand the reasons why we have not been able to do things about it, but please be careful of moral arguments saying that we should not get involved because a few civilians might get killed. Important as that is, the bigger argument is that if we can be involved and stop it happening, that would be the greater good. The problem, as we all know, is that the United Nations has been frozen because of the splits between Russia and China, on one side, and the three western powers, on the other, about the enthusiasm, or lack of it, for intervention.

My last and most important point is about the Vienna process. The reason why I can say confidently that I support the Government’s position is that in that resolution, and in some of their recent comments, they have made the point that the Vienna process is the political arm. It is absolutely right to say that there has to be a combined military and political approach. The strength that we have at the moment is that, for the first time in this wretched war, we have all the major powers in the region and the major powers of the United Nations involved. That means we have the chance of doing what everyone, quite rightly, is asking the Prime Minister about: what is the strategy? There is still no strategy but you can now see emerging a military and political approach, which can deliver a strategy.

It is profoundly important in view of the failure to hold the situation in Libya, and after the Iraq war, that the Vienna conference is looking not only at a ceasefire and peace process but at how to police the areas that are occupied by the various groups. Of one thing I am sure: if there were no policing mechanism for them, there would be killings of the usual type as people settled old scores, took advantage to expand their territory or whatever. That Vienna conference must not only work on a peace process but look at the post-conflict situation, which means, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said, troops from other powers. There should also be the involvement of officers and NCOs to ensure that those patrolling troops are well controlled. It is not directly relevant here but it is worth saying that after the collapse of Japan and Germany in the Second World War, we patrolled areas with German and Japanese troops led by British officers and NCOs. That bit is important if you are to control the situation. We lost control in Iraq, we have lost control in Libya but we must not lose control in Syria.