Syria: UK Military Action — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:38 pm on 2nd December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Bilimoria Lord Bilimoria Crossbench 7:38 pm, 2nd December 2015

My Lords, when Parliament was recalled in August 2013, I remember speaking on whether to intervene in Syria. I made the point that in the summer of 2003 my late father, Lieutenant-General Bilimoria, on his last visit to Britain before he passed away, was asked by a senior journalist, “General, do you think we should have intervened in Iraq?”. My father replied, without any hesitation, “No, we should only have intervened with the authority of the United Nations”. Today, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, has said, we have the authority of the United Nations to take whatever steps are necessary to get rid of the evil that is Daesh, ISIL, ISIS, Islamic State, IS or whatever name these evil monsters are given. Last year, we made the decision to intervene in Iraq but not in Syria. I remember saying categorically at the time that this did not make sense and that it was a half-cocked measure, involving a border that Daesh does not recognise. I said that I feared we would need to revisit that measure in a few months’, or even a few weeks’, time. Here we are now, a year later. Does the Minister agree that with hindsight, we should have gone into Iraq and Syria a year ago?

A key difference between our situation now and the debates we had over the last two years is the recent publication of the 2015 SDSR. The Government have listened and they have committed to the 2% NATO spend. The SDSR of 2015 is a far cry from that of 2010. This review will strengthen our Armed Forces for situations exactly like the one we face today.

One of the primary reasons we need to intervene in Syria now is to support our allies, as we have heard, particularly after the horrific atrocities in Paris. However, as so many noble Lords have said, air attacks alone will not work. I agree with the points about the precision weapons at our disposal made by the noble Lord, Lord King, and also share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about the important role ground troops can play in the conflict. As the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, said, we need to co-ordinate this. We must take note of what the noble Lord, Lord Hague, said in his brilliant maiden speech and accept the case for combining these strikes with Special Forces. Will the Minister confirm that? The local ground forces are not enough: they are too small and too fragmented. We need to build on what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said. Can the Government clarify who will be leading these local ground forces and who will be co-ordinating them in a manner that renders them a viable force?

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, one of the world’s leading chemical weapons experts, who has extensive dealings with Syria, has said that if allied forces launched a ground offensive, Daesh could be defeated in a matter of weeks. The problem, as we have seen in recent history, is that this would leave a vacuum.

We must be able to use diplomatic methods to rebuild society in a proper manner and not allow the area to descend into the kind of situation we have seen with our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have spent more time there than the First and Second World Wars combined—let alone the billions of pounds spent, the lives lost and the number of wounded. The noble Lord, Lord Hague, said that we must be prepared for the possibility of partitioning the region and that we must accept the enormous political and economic changes required to achieve lasting stability throughout the Middle East. Does the Minister agree that, sadly, partitioning of the area might be necessary?

Last year, we intervened late and without the required force. I said a year ago that we may be required to intervene again. That is now the case. However, we must accept the reality that these air strikes alone will not be enough. The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has said that they will have little more than “marginal effect” and are,

“unlikely to be effective without reliable allies on the ground … and these would not be easy to find”.

We must go ahead with these air strikes, but let us not think that this is all that is required, or we will be back here once again in a few months’ time debating the next round of measures. Now that we are intervening in Iraq and Syria, we must do this in a fully committed way, with our eyes wide open.