Syria Airstrikes

The week began with the parliamentary debate on the UK’s military action following President Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his own citizens in Syria.

I had urged such action.  I believe the use of such weapons crosses a line and that it is essential to uphold the international agreements that for nearly a century have sought to prevent them.

This was not the first time that Assad had used chemical weapons.  But five years ago a majority of MPs in the House of Commons shamefully refused to act - an ill-judged decision which in my view had damaging consequences.

On this occasion swift action with our allies was essential.  I believe it is right that the Prime Minister has the freedom to take such important decisions and then be held accountable, rather than think that MPs can collectively assume the responsibilities of Ministers.

Every attempt was made to deal with the issue through the United Nations - but Russia has a veto on the Security Council and has persistently refused any action, including basic steps such as sending in independent inspectors.  We could not allow Russia to threaten the global community into paralysis.

Inevitably the legacy of Iraq has made many people sceptical of any intervention in the Middle East.  The Prime Minister emphasised that this action was targeted, designed to degrade chemical weapons facilities and deter their use in future.

It was not an attempt at regime change or to intervene in the civil war.  And clearly there is little public appetite in the US or the UK for deeper military engagement - although we are taking action against ISIL in the region.

Yet the consequences of broader inaction have been profound.  I have witnessed Assad’s attacks in Syria, and I have met refugees from the country who had fled across the border to Lebanon, leaving behind families whose whereabouts they simply didn’t know.

The eight-year conflict is a complicated one.  Stepping back so as to allow the involvement of Russia has created even greater difficulties.  

But one thing is clear: it has been a humanitarian catastrophe, killing nearly half a million people, internally displacing over seven and a half million, and creating five million refugees.

Our inability to prevent it, and the failure to remove Assad, has been a global tragedy.  Responding to the use of chemical weapons was essential - and the least we could do.

Joe Coombes