Attacking Syria: an MP replies

August 30, 2013 2 Comments

syriaLetter 1

From: Andrew Green
Sent: 27 August 2013 20:07
To: CATON, Martin
Subject: Syria

Dear Mr Caton

I find it hard to believe that the UK government is seriously intending to take part in a US-led military attack on Syria.  It seems that nothing has been learned from the experience of invading Iraq.  It cannot be right to support military intervention:

  • unless the UN approves it is almost certainly illegal under international law
  • UN inspectors have reached no objective judgement yet on who was responsible for the chemical attacks
  • the objective of an attack seems vague and shifting: punishment? deterrent? assassination? destruction of government military capability? humanitarian relief?
  • innocent people are almost certain to be the main victims; ‘well targeted’ attacks never turn out to be well enough targeted
  • no thought seems to have been given to what steps should follow an initial attack
  • as in Afghanistan in the 1990s the US and UK would be assisting violent Islamists who lead the internal opposition to Assad
  • as in Iraq an initial attack may lead to a long and bloody engagement by the invaders
  • Russia and China are against intervention, and relations with their governments may become strained or hostile

In short, military intervention is likely to make matters worse, not better.

I was dismayed to hear on Channel 4 News that Ed Miliband appears to be complacent in the government’s intention to attack.  You were brave and principled enough to oppose the war in Iraq.  Can we count on you as our representative to oppose military action by the UK in Syria in the parliamentary debate on Thursday?

With best wishes,

Andrew Green.

Letter 2

[30 August 2013]

Dear Mr. Green

House of Commons consideration of Government motion on British involvement in military action against Syria

Thank you for your recent e-mail urging me to oppose British involvement in any military action in response to the allegation that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its civilian population resulting in hundreds of deaths and many more injuries.

I believe those who argue that any action by other countries should only be considered if the UN sanctions it are right and, therefore, the Government’s proposal as outlined in the motion put before Parliament on Thursday was legally questionable.

However, perhaps more important, is an assessment of whether the type of attack the US and the UK were talking about would achieve its objective of deterring further use of chemical weapons or would trigger reactions in Syria and the wider Middle East region that would escalate what is already a humanitarian tragedy.  I think rational analysis leads to the conclusion that the risks are far too great.

For those reasons and others, some of which were raised in communications from constituents like you, I voted with the majority of the Members of the House of Commons against the motion.

I think Parliament did its job on Thursday night and am glad that the Government accepts the will of the House and, indeed, of the country.

There remains the real risk of the US and others launching missile attacks in the near future and there is a continued need for the international community to provide resources to help with the support for the refugees in Syria’s neighbouring countries.

Yours sincerely

Martin Caton MP

Comments (2)

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  1. Emyr Lewis says:

    Annwyl Andrew,

    Dwi newydd ganfod dy flog, a dyna ryddhad.

    Dwi wedi bod isio rhywle i fynegi pethau sydd wedi bod yn fy mlino am yr holl fusnes yma yn Syria, felly diolch.

    There’s quite a bit that’s puzzling about the whole Syria business, but the most puzzling to me is how David Cameron and William Hague are behaving. They are (or at least appear to be) behaving like misguided idealists not pragmatic Tories.

    The justification for striking Assad has been put forward on moral and legal grounds. Chemical weapons are evil, and “unlawful” and therefore there must be a strike.

    Let us leave aside for the time being the question of lawfulness. International law is at this level a set of conventions as to how to behave, with questions of “enforcement” and “sanctions” being determined in reality not by reference to legal principle, but to political expediency. If the Security Council says it’s OK you can do it. I agree that a unilateral strike may well be unlawful in these terms, but if there is cogent evidence of Assad using chemical weapons (not clear), and if a strike stops that from happening (even less clear), there is nevertheless a moral case for intervention (cf Kosovo).

    Let us also leave aside the question of hypocrisy and double stadards, and the myriad unlawful and murderous actions carried out by states, Western, Eastern (near middle and far), Northern and Southern, and by those who oppose them.

    Let us assume that there is the evidence on which a moral case can be made out.

    It does not appear to be in the tradition of British Toryism to engage / intervene in military action for moral reasons alone. There must always be reasons of state. There must be a “national interest” of England / Britain / the UK (depending on which era we’re in) in taking the relevant action. These may be reasons of trade, reasons of power on the international stage, or reasons of protecting British territories or their citizens (or a permutation of these), but the argument that “it’s wrong and it shouldn’t be allowed” has rarely been the actual reason for the British state engaging in a war as far as I’m aware. It may have been one of the reasons, but usually it is the rhetorical makeweight for reasons of state.

    In the current case, it is not clear what the “national interest” might be, and I’m not aware that one has been articulated.

    It’s perhaps worth an ironic reflection on the Iraq invasion in this context. In that case, Tony Blair persuaded many people that the war was right because of the national interest in protecting against weapons of mass destruction. Some might argue that this was the pragmatic makeweight to what was in fact a war waged for moral reasons.

    As in that case, the only practical reason of state I can think of is staying in America’s good books. Is that really what Cameron and Hague are thinking? Or are they genuine idealists?

    • Andrew Green says:

      Diolch yn fawr, Emyr: braf iawn clywed dy lais!

      I suspect you’re right about the strangeness of Cameron’s intentions. What he tried to do was quite deeply unTory. It was left to UKIP to express what would have been the expected Tory line. Clearly many Tory MPs felt deeply uncomfortable with the motion exactly because no discernible ‘national interest’ was at stake.

      It’s very interesting that Obama now finds it necessary to ask for Congressional backing for a decision to attack. The circumstances in the US are different, but to see the same anxiety to gain democratic approval for a decision that formally belongs with the head of the government (something Blair started!) is interesting – and encouraging.

      Whether or not Polly Toynbee is right in detecting a definite shift in the UK away from the long-held imperial delusion that Britain is and must show itself to be a world power I don’t know. I suspect it will take a generation or two more for Britons to grow up and become like the citizens of the Netherlands, Spain and other post-colonial countries who no long feel the need to strut and swagger.

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