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Syria: UK Military Action — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:46 pm on 2nd December 2015.

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Photo of Baroness O'Loan Baroness O'Loan Crossbench 7:46 pm, 2nd December 2015

My Lords, I listened very carefully to the Leader of the House, but I cannot agree with the Government. Syria is complex. We say Assad should no longer be leader. There is political turmoil, we have Daesh, a quarter of a million people at least have died and 11 million have been displaced. When I visited Jordan’s Camp Zaatari, I was told by the UN that it believed that jihadis were using it for R&R purposes. Around 80% of Syrians now live in poverty, and education, health and social welfare have all collapsed. This is not simple.

If we move to further develop our air strikes in Syria, that bombing must be supported on the ground. The forces of 70,000, about which so many noble Lords have spoken this afternoon, are from many factions and have different allegiances. We cannot expect coherence of response from them.

The current bombing campaign, in which we participate already through our drones—we are not doing nothing—has caused widespread destruction. We do not know the true extent of civilian casualties, but we do know that the level of Daesh attacks across the world has increased tenfold in the last year. The question therefore is whether further bombing is the best option. I do not believe it is.

The Leader of the House assured us that further military participation in Syria will not increase sympathy for Daesh in the UK. With great respect, I do not believe she is right. We know that the experience in conflicted countries across the world has been that of enhanced engagement by young men, and now young women, with the armed struggle, as they used to call it in Northern Ireland. Terrorism is not defeated by force of arms.

The call has gone out to people across the world to support Daesh in its struggle. The attack in Tunisia was just the kind of random, disparate activity for which Daesh is calling. The message seems to be, “Do what you can, where you can”. A couple of young men or women, some powerful guns—easily obtained in so many countries—and explosives, which are not difficult to acquire and utilise, and there you have the making of a very serious terrorist incident. Those involved in Paris lived in Europe most of their lives. The message to these people is that if you carry out these attacks, you do not do wrong, and there are those who will respond to that message.

The question is what we should do with our existing resources. We are currently spending £200 million a year. Do we say that we are doing enough of a military nature and that we need to do more—for example, to address the Vienna talks, to provide humanitarian support to refuges, to contribute to stabilisation, to fund intelligence activity and to fight radicalisation here? The Leader of the House told us that Daesh is spending £1.5 million a day. What more can be done to cut off the sources of that funding?

This is not a religious war, and we should ensure that it is never characterised as such. We have to tackle it in the most effective manner. We will not do that by expending our scarce resources on bombs; what we will do is prevent the use of those resources for other purposes, and by virtue of the deaths and injuries which will ensue, we will grow the very terrorism which we seek to curtail.

Pope Francis said:

“Everyone is aware that this war weighs in an increasingly unbearable way on the shoulders of the poor. We need to find a solution, which is never a violent one. Violence only creates new wounds ”.

Like other noble Lords, I am not a terrorist sympathiser, but I have been the victim of terrorists. I do not believe that this is a proportionate or effective response. I urge the Government to step back from enhanced military activity and to concentrate on peaceful ways forward.