Guest Contributor: Robert Halfon MP
27th August 2013
There are always three and half arguments against intervention: first, that it is outside the framework of international law; second, that Realpolitik should be the order of the day; and third, ‘What has Britain got to do with it’? And three and a half: the future after intervention will be disaster.
Well it is worth looking at these arguments each in turn:
First, international law: You may have heard those two words, ‘never again’. They are usually repeated after every notorious act of genocide: after the Holocaust, after Halabja, after Bosnia, after Rwanda. ‘Never Again’ conjures up some sort of dark optimism – that never again will the free world stand by and let dictators mass murder their own citizens.
Watching events unfold in Syria, it is worth casting one’s mind back to 1988, when President Assad’s sister Baathist Party (with the same National Arabist Socialist Ideology) dropped mustard gas on the Kurds, killing 5,000 people over a few days, culminating the Kurdish genocide that had gone on for 30 years or more.
After the collapse of the Kurdish uprising in March 1991, 1.5 million Kurds became refugees. It was only then, after decades of escalating violence and genocide, that in April 1991 the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 688, demanding peace in Kurdistan and access for humanitarian agencies. Disgracefully, this was the first international resolution to mention the Kurdish people by name.
Indeed, that is what the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2) doctrine was all about, when it was signed off by the United Nations on 2005. The guilt of the free world was visited on the UN with the intention of genocide prevention.
It is why R2P was given three fundamental pillars:
- “The State carries the primary responsibility for protecting populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, and their incitement;
- The international community has a responsibility to encourage and assist States in fulfilling this responsibility;
- The international community has a responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take collective action to protect populations, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.”
So it is hard to argue that intervention in Syria is against the wishes of the United Nations or outside the framework of international law.
Second: Realpolitik or ‘Britain has no eternal allies and no eternal enemies’. This realist school has flourished amongst certain sections of the establishment for a number of years.
Realpolitik involves appeasing or collaborating with unsavoury regimes in order to achieve certain foreign policy objectives. It is as far removed from an ethical foreign policy as it is possible to be.
We saw the extreme extent of ‘Realpolitik’, with the last Labour Governnment’s cosying up to Gadaffi, and the then British Ambassador to Libya suggesting that the United Kingdom should have ‘closer relations with Libya than any other country’. Disaster followed, and played itself out following the uprising against Gadaffi by the Libyan people.
So it is not so surprising that Sir Andrew Green recently wrote this in the Spectator:
“Bashar al-Assad is a figurehead, not a dictator…”
It is hardly a shock too, that for a number of years many leading establishment figures were cosying up and visiting Assad, praising him for his ‘reforms’. We’ve all seen the interviews of ‘glamorous’ Mrs Assad too, in the glossy magazines.
What has the result of this cultivation of Assad been? No modernisation, but a Syrian-Iran axis funding Hamas, funding Hezbollah and destabilising the Middle East. A delayed intervention, allowing even more bloodshed in Syria, with a death toll over the past few years of around 100,000 and approximately 1,300 killed in the recent chemical attacks..
The final argument is why Britain? Our country has, over many centuries, stood tall against tyranny. Britain gave the world modern democracy and the rule of law, led the fight against global slavery, took on Adolf Hitler, and was active against Soviet Union Communism.
The Prime Minister’s support for intervention in Libya – as was Blair’s against Saddam Hussein – was very much in this tradition. Our Island History suggests that we don’t stand on the sidelines when chemical weapons are being used. We are a country of muscular enlightenment. Just because it is not always possible to intervene, does not mean that we don’t intervene when it is possible.
Syria is not an isolated island in no-man’s land. Whether we like it or not, what happens there has a huge impact on the wider Middle East, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, refugee flows and of course international terrorism. That doesn’t mean Britain should shoulder the main burden or even send troops on the ground. It does imply working with the United States and others to launch missile attacks on Assad’s chemical weapons capability, supplying weapons and technical know-how to rebel forces on the ground and supporting a no-fly zone as proposed by John McCain.
On the final half point, it is always quite amazing that those who are so against any kind of intervention, do it on the grounds of what might or might not happen in the future. ‘There might be massacres’ or ‘a Jihadist state’ etc.
But all those things are happening now. In my book, the present is more important than the future, and if we can act to stop genocide and chemical attacks we should: Never again.
This article was also published at Conservative Home.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Human Security Centre.