UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s remarks on Thursday that the ‘UK would find it very difficult to refuse a US request to strike Syrian Regime targets in response to another use of WMD’, hopefully, is an indication, at last, in a change in British policy towards Syria.
After 6 years of fighting, over 500,000 dead, 4 million refugees, and 11 million internally displaced people, it is clear to most, that our policy of acquiescence, along with many others, is not working. Had we intervened at the beginning the crisis the situation could not possibly have been worse. Too many inward looking, inexperienced and unworldly MPs in Westminster appear paralysed in thought and action, by the fear of repeating the mistakes of the Iraq 2003 misadventure. This I find most frustrating; there are WMD in Syria and Assad is prepared to use them and against his own people.
Our inactivity, in no small measure has also fuelled the rise of ISIL, which as we now know is a direct threat to those MPs in Westminster and the country as a whole. To turn the other cheek to ISIL and Assad is likely to get it well and truly slapped, again and again.
It is right and proper, as the US’s closest ally, and a P5 member, that we take our responsibilities to protect the innocent, wherever they are, and reinforce the taboo of the use of WMD to the absolute degree. Some in Westminster, would have our nuclear deterrent and military confined to barracks, and would avoid confrontation at every opportunity in the hope that the worlds’ despots, dictators and terrorist will ignore us. This ignorance, naivety and complacency by some on the far left, especially in British politics, could lead to the terminal decline of the UK as a global honest broker.
But it is not direct military action by the UK against Assad that will resolve the crisis in Syria. The Geneva Process, which even the Russians are a part of, provides the framework for a political and democratic solution; but without UN military support it has virtually no hope of success.
The first and overriding requirement in Syria is a ceasefire. There is one, in name only however, agreed by all parties, including Russia, in Astana earlier this year. But it is not enforced and never will be without the UN monitoring it. Just this month alone, the Regime and Russian jets have attacked and destroyed seven UOSSM hospitals in Idlib Province. The UN must police this ceasefire with monitors and peacekeepers, and I hope Mr Johnson, who also previously offered British troops to this task, will now, after his comments, be good to his word?
The second requirement for peace is Safe Zones. Millions of civilians are without the bare essentials in life and are besieged by the warring factions. UN military are required to protect these people, and to enable the millions of tonnes of aid, which sit gathering dust in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan etc to get to where it should be, and to support reconstruction of the shattered infrastructure.
With the bare essentials of a ceasefire and Safe Zones in place, monitored and protected by the UN, there is just a chance that the Geneva Process can progress. It is President Putin who holds the cards. I cannot believe that the combined influence of the other members of the P5, or at least US, UK and France, who vastly over match his deterrent, cannot persuade him to come to the negotiating table. It could mean relaxing sanctions against Russia and allowing them a naval and air base in the Mediterranean? If this is viewed as ‘humble pie’ it must be worth eating?
So, I for one welcome the Foreign Secretary’s comments. Israel has shown this week that it will strike targets at will in Assad’s heartland and against his a-lies with impunity, to protect their people. Russia, Syria and Iran, do not lift a finger or comment in the face of these attacks, knowing that Israel has no qualms at using all its military capabilities to protect itself.
Sometimes you just have to use force when all other options are exhausted. It is now time for the UN to use its collective military capability to force the peace in Syria, and I hope Great Britain is in the van of this battle.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon OBE. Director Doctors Under Fire & advisor to UOSSM