Syria: UK Military Action — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:18 pm on 2nd December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench 8:18 pm, 2nd December 2015

My Lords, I was very strongly opposed to military attacks on Iraq and Libya and, two years ago, to the proposal to attack Syria. This time I see no alternative, for the reasons that many noble Lords have given. That said, I should like to focus on the political aspects. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House spoke of a new Syrian Government, representing all the Syrian people, which will be our partner.

It is there that I have my doubts about the Government’s approach. This could prove to be a fatal flaw. I come to this question having followed events in Syria since I first arrived in the Middle East 50 years ago, almost to the day, and having been ambassador in Damascus, following in the distinguished footsteps of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, a few years later.

This talk about a political transition in Damascus carries great risks. I am no defender of the extremely cruel Alawite regime, but we need to be clear about two points. First, the collapse of the regime would lead to the most terrible bloodshed. These are revenge societies, and you would see revenge on a terrible scale. We would see the collapse of the civil order, just as we saw in Iraq, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Solely. We shredded that society. That could happen again and must not be allowed.

Secondly, Russia and Iran will do everything possible to sustain an Alawite regime in Damascus for their own strategic and political reasons. I therefore agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, that it should not be our aim to overthrow the Damascus regime. This is a complex struggle that we cannot avoid. It will have many years to run. No one at this point can see a viable way through the web of conflicting interests. As the noble Lord, Lord Hague, said, we may eventually have to consider partition, but a useful start would be to reappraise our attitude to the Damascus Government, including our attitude to the Baath party, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Williams. This is partly because it is indeed the enemy of our enemy, and partly for fear of worse—much worse.