Opinion: the case for intervention in Syria

Being up all night does give me somewhat of an advantage as far as news goes. As I’m writing this even the BBC has not yet covered what’s been seen on NBC, CNN, Russia Today and others. Namely, the reports that Assad has had chemical and biological weapons prepared for use. Obviously, at this point we’re unable to establish if this is fact, what we do know however is that Syria is in possession of these weapons and Assad’s regime is clawing along on its last breaths.

I don’t need to establish how devastating chemical and biological weapons like these can be. We’ve seen many times slaughters, primarily of civilians, occur by their usage. What I want to ask is should we finally become involved in Syria if they are indeed used?

One of the main factors necessary to decide this is confirmation that they have been, or are immediately about to be, used. A UN mission to investigate this is practically impossible at this time due to the fierceness of the fighting. So independent verification would be difficult. Perhaps though this would represent an opportunity for our media to do something positive. During 2011 it was they who gave the public and to an extent politicians insight into Libya, and other places Western governments would prefer public eyes not to venture, such as the suppression of the Bahraini uprising by the GCC. Though I can only speculate on how it is obtained I can be certain that reliable independent verification is obtained is crucial.

Then there’s the legality of such an action. As Liberals we must do our best ensure that all actions taken by our government are legal under international law and oppose them when they are not. It goes without saying that we cannot intervene without UN approval so long as Russia continues to stand by Syria; if they will continue to after chemical or biological weapons are used is unknown. However there is another, far worse, potential cause of legality. Namely if the weapons have an effect on Turkey, in which case NATO has right of defence.

My answer if both of those are fulfilled is yes.

However it may be too late to stop some of the negative effects of prolonged conflict. If Syria is allowed to descend further into bloody chaos it will become a prime place for Islamic extremism to expand. In addition lawlessness could lead to a Somalia by the Med, with severe economic consequences for the EU (Though unfortunately I expect the EU to be split on this as it was Libya). And yet more thousands more refugees will continue to flood out of Syria, something that is already a major concern and humanitarian crisis.

And if we do intervene we shall have to make sure not to give up on Syria after Assad’s fall. Even light touch intervention can have dire consequences if not followed up, as shown in Afghanistan. Investment in building a Syrian democracy and restoring peace will be costly, but when one considers its proximity to our vital interests it would be more costly not to. Let’s hope the US has learnt from the mistakes of the 80’s.

For the public to support this action in Syria it must not be linked in any way to American posturing towards Iran or Israel-Palestine. Public opinion in the UK is massively against any sort of military involvement in Iran, and even the opinion of the government is at odds with the US over Israel; shown by the abstention at the UN and the condemning of settlement projects in E1. We are a war tired nation and a repeat of the ‘Axis of Evil’ linkage will not be conductive.

Ultimately we can only hope for this war to come to an end soon, but we must not allow fears of a repeat of the illegal war in Iraq to stop us doing what may be necessary.

* Mike Green is a student of politics and history from East Yorkshire, who’s been a member of the party for two years.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • Charles Beaumont 7th Dec '12 - 6:00pm

    Iain’s second point is spot-on. I don’t think this is a bad article, but any intervention needs a crystal clear goal and evidence that the Syrian people want us to take action, and understand the ramifications.

  • David Wilkinson 8th Dec '12 - 8:02am

    Anyone who demands intervention,please enlist and do the fighting instead sending someone else.
    Armchair warriors!

  • Well done to Mike for highlighting this issue..

    Mike asks “should we finally become involved in Syria if Chemicals Weapons are used?” and answers ‘Yes’ subject to verification that chemical weapons are about to be used and cites Nato’s defence of Turkey as the legal basis for military action.

    Firstly, we need to understand that the UK is already involved. We have been supplying non-lethal communications equipment, power generators and medical suppliesto Syrian Rebel Forces for some time. Other countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar appear to be supplying arms to the rebel forces. Turkey provides a sanctuary for the Syrian Free Army within its borders

    We have rejected the legitimacy of the Assad regime and the UK has joined France, Turkey and the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council in formerly recognising the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as, in William Hague words, the “sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”

    As Mike notes in the article, UN authorisation of armed intervention under the doctine of ‘responsobility to protect’ would run into Russian and Chinese vetoes. But if the Americans and Europeans were to follow France, Britain, Turkey and the GCC countries in recognising the Syrian opposition alliance, recently formed in Doha, as the legitimate government of the country, then they could legally provide it with military assistance, without the need for a UN resolution.

    US diplomatic recognition of the Syrian Opposition and a lifting of the EU arms embargo on Syria will likely be the green light for both arming of the rebel forces and Nato support.

    As the article notes ‘If Syria is allowed to descend further into bloody chaos it will become a prime place for Islamic extremism to expand.’

    There are no clean choices in these kind of situations. If we are going to be dragged in, I would rather we act quickly through Nato, in coppoeration with the Arab League, to stop the use of air power, heavy weapons and chemical weapons against the Syrian population There is probably little we can do to prevent sectarian conflict in a post-Assad Syria.

    Responsibility for Investment in building a Syrian democracy and restoring peace can only realistically be undertaken by the Sunni-Arab states in the middle-east with little input or influence by the West.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Dec '12 - 1:26pm

    Yes, but a very similar case could have been and was made for intervention in Iraq. I don’t hold much for the line whether it is “legal” or “illegal”, what this amounts to is whether the Trade Union of world leaders (aka “United Nations”) agrees to it. I believe the intervention in Iraq was a tragic mistake which wiser leaders would have seen coming and avoided, but I do not believe Tony Blair did it it of some evil wish to cause harm to Muslims, as is often suggested, I think in fact the genuinely supposed that intervening to topple the dictator there would lead to a better Iraq.

    I’m afraid the reaction of the Arab and Muslim world to the intervention in Iraq settles things. Since that established they believe any western intervention in their part of the world is an attack on them and their religion, fine. We should not intervene, and the bloodshed resulting from our not intervening is on THEIR hands.

  • Al Jazeera reporting on the EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels yesterday have said:

    “..ministers have met the head of the newly formed Syrian opposition coalition in Brussels, with some arguing Ahmed Mouaz al-Khatib should be recognised as the legitimate replacement for President Bashar al-Assad.

    Welcoming Khatib “is a clear signal of how the status of the Syrian coalition is being reviewed,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Monday as he went into a meeting with his EU colleagues where Syria was to figure strongly.

    “It is a coalition which represents the legitimate interests of the Syrian people. We want that to be recognised as such by the European Union,” Westerwelle said.

    Earlier British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was happy that EU ministers would meet Khatib and hoped that other member states would follow Paris and London in giving the group full recognition.

    The EU currently recognises the coalition as “legitimate representatives of the aspirations of the Syrian people,” which falls short of recognising it outright as a potential successor government.

    Full recognition could allow Western powers to arm rebel forces seeking to oust Assad but that is a sensitive issue, with some EU member states still cautious about the possible unintended consequences of such a step.

    The EU recently rolled over its arms embargo on all Syrian parties for another three months to March 1.

    EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton met Khatib earlier on Monday, saying she had stressed that the new coalition had to ensure that it included all opinion in Syria and that it was committed to democratic standards.

    After the talks, the European Commission announced that it would provide another $39m in humanitarian aid to help people affected by the Syrian civil war, bringing its total contribution to about $210m.

    German expulsion

    Westerwelle said that Germany had expelled four Syrian embassy staff as part of a drive to reduce ties with Assad.
    In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria

    Berlin has told Syria’s acting envoy that the four people have until Thursday to leave the country.

    “With the expulsion of the four embassy employees announced today we are sending a clear message that we are reducing relations with the Assad regime to an absolute minimum,” Westerwelle said in a statement.

    “We are counting on the [opposition] National Coalitionstrengthening further and building as soon as possible
    functioning institutions for a political transition.”

    Germany expelled the Syrian ambassador in May.”

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