The Foreign Affairs Select Committee has asked the government to clarify seven points in relation to the proposed bombing campaign in Syria. These are Stop the War’s responses regarding these issues.

The Government should explain the following points before asking the House of Commons to approve a substantive motion authorising military action:

a) On international strategy

i) How the proposal would improve the chances of success of the international coalition’s campaign against ISIL

There is little sign that a bombing campaign involving the UK would improve success of the campaign against ISIL. The bombing has been going on for more than a year in Syria, involving US forces and at various times different allies, with no sign of material achievement in defeating ISIL. Indeed, most countries involved in the original bombing coalition put together in 2014 are no longer carrying out air strikes. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Jordan are no longer bombing. Canada is halting its air war in Syria, and Australia has suspended its air strikes since Russian involvement.

Even according to the US forces themselves, despite major hits on ISIL, the organisation is at least as large as it was before the bombing started. So despite large numbers being killed, they are being replaced by new recruits. In addition, the prime minister argued initially that Russian bombing would be counterproductive because it would lead to an increase in terrorism and to greater instability in the region. It is hard to see why different outcomes should apply to UK or any other bombing. In fact, retired US Army Gen. Mike Flynn has stated that drone strikes have created more Islamist militants than they have killed.

ii) How the proposed action would contribute to the formation and agreement of a transition plan for Syria

Talks have been taking place in Vienna between various regional and world powers with a view to reaching some peace plan. Such talks can and should continue. There is no evidence that the bombing will make any difference to talks on transition or a peace plan. Military action is not subordinated to diplomatic efforts, but instead largely replaces them.

iii) In the absence of a UN Security Council Resolution, how the Government would address the political, legal, and military risks arising from not having such a resolution

There is no clear and unambiguous UN authorisation for bombing Syria. There is no chapter 7 resolution of the sort that gives unambiguous defence of military intervention as a UN operation. At present David Cameron seems to be relying on self-defence and defence of Iraq as justification.

However, all this begs a number of questions. The justification of self-defence is contentious, given that the UK is not under threat from another power. A clear and unambiguous UN authorisation for military involvement (which, as mentioned, does not currently exist) would not mean that it has to be taken up if there are other diplomatic or political avenues to pursue. In addition, even if it was legal it would not mean that bombing would be sensible, given the problems with all previous such interventions.

Potential legal authorisation would not necessarily make such wars right. The interventions in Afghanistan and Libya both had UN agreement but both have been at huge individual cost in terms of death, injury and refugees. A comprehensive and clear EU plan is not in place to provide humanitarian assistance to the increased number of refugees which is to be expected as a result of increased bombing. In fact, the EU refugee plan is unravelling and the approach to refugees is highly fragmented. The military interventions are also continuing with no clear end in sight and no clear objective.

iv) Whether the proposed action has the agreement of the key regional players (Turkey; Iran; Saudi Arabia; Iraq); if not, whether the Government will seek this before any intervention

The proposed action may receive the agreement of the key regional players. The involvement of Russia in military action, and now in a degree of cooperation with the western powers, makes it more likely that such agreement will be reached. However, each has its own particular interests in Syria and in the wider region. The shooting down of a Russian plane by Turkey and, allegedly, of a Russian rescue helicopter by US-backed FSA forces, should highlight the difficulties of accidents which escalate wider conflict and of rivalries between the different powers, which are real and sometimes intractable.

v) Which ground forces will take, hold, and administer territories captured from ISIL in Syria

There is no clear answer to this question. The FSA and supposed moderate opposition groups do not have the capacity to do so. The Kurdish YPG, to date one of the most effective groups fighting ISIL, is concerned with securing the Kurdish areas and not beyond that. The likelihood therefore is that either Syrian government forces or other jihadi groups such as the Al Nusra front will do so. Since none of these outcomes are satisfactory to the West, the pressure for Western ground troops will grow. It is already featuring in arguments supporting bombing, and the danger of ‘mission creep’ is there. Such an outcome would recreate all the intractable problems of previous troop deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, with heavy consequences for Western troops.

b) On the military imperative

i) What the overall objective is of the military campaign; whether it expects that it will be a “war-winning” campaign; if so, who would provide war-winning capabilities for the forces; and what the Government expects will be the result of extending airstrikes to Syria

The truth is that every single one of the recent wars involving Western bombing has failed in its objective. The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and the bombing of Libya were all declared victorious in their early stages following extensive bombing campaigns. Yet in every case the wars have not ended. The instability and sometimes sectarian divisions which they have created have also provided fertile ground for jihadi terrorism. ISIL itself is the child of war, fostered during the occupation of Iraq when it developed in opposition to US forces. In Afghanistan, IS now exists alongside a resurgent Taliban, although the number of US troops in that country is still as high as it was in the immediate period after the invasion of Afghanistan. Libya is involved in a bloody civil war.

There is no clear military objective because there is already a wide acknowledgement from the military and various experts that air strikes on their own will do little to defeat ISIL, while at the same time alienating sections of the civilian population. It is not in practice possible to direct attacks solely at military targets, and there is evidence that around 90% of drone strike victims have been unintended targets. Indeed, military and logistical support for various groups fighting within Syria from outside powers has been predicated on the basis that ground forces are needed to win the war, from whichever side. As we have seen above, there is no one group capable of providing such a force. Past experience has demonstrated that weapons and equipment provided for one group can often fall into the hands of those they are fighting. This was most spectacularly the case with rout of the well equipped and funded Iraqi army in northern Iraq at the hands of ISIL.

ii) What extra capacity the UK would contribute to the Coalition’s actions in Syria

Syria is being bombed by the two major military powers in the world. There is no military justification for the UK to be involved in this process, since it would make a negligible contribution to the bombing campaign. The danger is that British involvement will lead to mission creep – already there is a great deal of talk about ground forces being needed as well as air strikes.

Source: Stop the War Coalition

24 Nov 2015

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