Chemical Weapons in Syria

This week Parliament was recalled to consider the response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  Ahead of the debate, I received a few e-mails urging me to vote against any form of military intervention.

I read these with care, and I understand why people are concerned.  A decade on, the invasion of Iraq casts a long shadow over this debate, prompting fears that Britain might become involved in another long and costly conflict.

What saddens me is that in the immediate aftermath of the atrocity in Damascus, where there were some 3,600 casualties, including 355 fatalities, among them children, I received no correspondence at all.

Indeed hardly anyone has raised with me the issue of nearly 2 million Syrian refugees and 100,000 deaths in the course of the last two years.  It is as though the West has turned a blind eye to this human suffering.

And I can’t help noting that, by contrast, I’ve been receiving dozens of e-mails about the badger cull which began this week.

The view most expressed about Syria is that it isn’t our affair: it’s a civil war in an Arab country in which we should not become embroiled.

But Britain has every interest in the stability of the Middle East, and specifically to ensure that chemical weapons do not fall into the hands of extremists, a risk intelligence chiefs warned about earlier this year.

The international community has laws to prevent the use of chemical weapons for a reason.  They have the capacity to inflict particularly terrible harm.

This is the first time that chemical weapons have been used anywhere in the world in the 21st century.  Without a credible deterrent, there is every chance they will be used again.

That is why I believe that it is right for the West to act decisively now.  We acted too late in Rwanda and failed to prevent genocide, but NATO acted outside the UN in Kosovo and saved thousands of lives.

Unlike Saddam, Assad actually has chemical weapons.  And no-one is proposing a ground invasion of Syria.  This is not a re-run of Iraq.

These are heavy decisions to take.  But our responsibility is to do what we can to prevent further atrocities.  I do not believe the world can stand by any longer.

Christopher N Howarth