Britain and the Syrian conflict

30 Aug 2013

This week the news has been taken over by the Syrian Civil War, and the possibility of Western intervention in the Middle East.

Over the past few days, the world’s nations have had the opportunity to express their views on this situation. Yesterday was Britain's turn. At 2pm, the House of Commons met in Parliament to debate the role that Britain would play, and ten hours ago voted by 285 votes to 272 against military intervention at this point in time.

 

Although the pledged intervention was proposed as a 72 hour military task, many people have called for an examination of the wider picture. They are worried about the future of the Middle East, and rightly so. It is clear that what happens over the next few days will have a lasting effect on the future of Syria, the Middle East, and what the next steps of the Assad Regime will be.

At face value, the vote in Parliament looks like a new age in politics, but in actual fact it isn't too different from where we have been before. 10 years ago we were debating a similar issue in another part of the world. However, one of the main differences between where we were in 2003, and where we are today in 2013, is that many lessons have been learnt.

From our intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq we have found out that it is much harder to get out of a conflict than it is to get involved. Nevertheless, as members of the United Nations, we have a responsibility to the rest of the world. The question that then remains is what type of intervention we should be thinking about? Is this a case for military action, or is it a cry for a humanitarian response?

Throughout modern history, Britain has stood up against crimes against humanity and has been the benchmark for the rest of the Western world. We have stood tall in some of the most uncertain times, and have established peace in some of the most unstable areas. But this is also an issue that calls out for international agreement, with our partners in the West.

In times of war, common consensus can go a long way. In fact, international co-operation is an idea that is imbedded in our history.

The United Nations was set up in 1945 after six years of world war. Aiming to promote democracy, and bring about international peace through co-operation in a time of depression, the UN has been a leading force in consensual action ever since. This organisation's ethos has over time won the support of national governments, and is now one of the world’s most powerful organisations.

Furthermore, the UN has always fulfilled its part in answering to conflict. One of the most effective methods in maintaining peace has been its legislative documents, in particular protocols. Through the use of protocols, the United Nations has done much to establish stability in the world, however, with those benefits come responsibilities. When a country breaks certain protocols, member countries need to respond.

The protocol I am speaking about is the Geneva Protocol of 1925. This protocol prohibits the use of chemical weapons. The Syrian regime’s violation of this protocol is something that calls for a global response. Our focus however must not only be on short-term military intervention, but also more importantly, on how we can encourage the Middle East to adopt the doctrine of democracy, and in doing so establish stability that will lay the foundations for an enduring peace.

We also need to take into consideration the financial viability of military action in Syria; for the cost of one tomahawk, 300,000 Syrian refugees can be provided with clean drinking water for one whole month. Surely this evidence calls for aid, not arms.

Many people question whether humanitarian aid is more effective than military intervention. We need to remind ourselves that this is no ordinary war that we are discussing, it is a civil war. It is a war that is entangled in politics and religion, with no clear opposition. If we do eventually intervene, we need to be very careful of who we are dealing with.

If Britain does ultimately decide that military intervention is in the best interests of the nation, we also need to consider the consequences of this, and how military intervention would impact upon humanitarian efforts.

Whilst I would argue that broadly Britain cannot take a backseat in this situation, it is vitally important that the Government is clear about the objectives of what British intervention would aim to do, and what consequences such action would entail.

By Craig Bateman

 

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