Syrian Airstrikes

ISIL/Daesh poses a threat both regionally in its main area of military operations and internationally through terrorism.

Labour agrees that we must act to end the threat from ISIL/Daesh to the region and internationally and that it is a vital national interest to defeat ISIL/Daesh. The tragic events in Paris have emphasized just how important this is to us all.

Labour has consistently called on the government to strain every sinew to secure international agreement on a plan to end the Syrian civil war – which has created the chaos, fear and violence in which ISIL/Daesh has thrived and has led to a large number of refugees seeking shelter in Europe – and to develop a plan to end the threat from ISIL/Daesh. Labour has also called on the Government to take more refugees from Syria, and communities up and down the country are preparing to welcome them after the horrors that they have fled from

Labour has been critical of the Government’s narrow focus on possible UK involvement in air strikes in previous months and has called for a more comprehensive plan to end the civil war in Syria and to defeat ISIL/Daesh. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee was also critical in this regard of the Government’s approach in its recent report.

It is clear that aerial bombing by itself cannot defeat ISIL/Daesh in Syria. It is different in Iraq where there is an integrated ground/ air campaign involving a number of countries – this integrated approach is how Kurdish peshmerga forces retook Sinjar last week with US air support.

I believe Britain should push for a UN Chapter VII Security Council Resolution which could cover both a peace process for Syria and action to end the threat from ISIL/Daesh. Such a resolution may be vetoed, though the extensive Russian involvement in military action against ISIL has changed the picture. In the event of a veto MPs would need to look at the position again. But the Labour Party has the clear view that it is essential the Government should work to bring the issue before the Security Council.

At the second round of talks in Vienna (14th-15th November), the outline of a Syrian peace plan emerged in which President Assad and certain opposition groups would start formal talks on 1st Jan about the formation of a transitional government prior to national elections. This would include a ceasefire, possibly with United Nations peacekeepers as an observer force. One major issue to be resolved is which opposition groups should take part. These groups would not include ISIL/Daesh or Jabhat al-Nusra with which there can clearly be no negotiation.

Getting a Syrian peace process going will help in the fight against ISIL/Daesh because ISIL/Daesh thrives in the vacuum of governance and the chaos, fear and violence created by the Syrian civil war. It is important to note that over 90% of all civilian deaths in Syria – over 200,000 - are attributable to forces controlled or loyal to President Assad and half the population has fled their homes as a result of a civil war for which the ultimate blame lies wholly with Assad.

On British military involvement, the UK is already taking action in Iraq and contributing to action in Syria through intelligence, surveillance and refuelling using RAF drones and planes.

The Government hasn’t yet come forward with a specific proposal on extending UK airstrikes against ISIL/Daesh targets in Syria despite a lot of talk in recent months. At the weekend the Prime Minister finally acknowledged the strength of the case that has been being made by Labour and the Select Committee and he told a press conference at the G20 summit in Turkey:

“I think people want to know there is a whole plan for the future of Syria, for the future of the region.

“It is perfectly right to say a few extra bombs and missiles won’t transform the situation.

“The faster we degrade and destroy ISIL, the safer we will be. But we will only be safe in the longer term if we can replace ungoverned space by ISIL with a proper Syrian government.”

If the government now has a proposal to bring forward relating to airstrikes against ISIL/Daesh in Syria then – as we have consistently said, and our position has not changed – we will consider it against the tests we have set. We need to be clear about what difference any extension of military action would make to our objective of defeating ISIL/Daesh, the nature of any intervention, its objectives and the legal basis. Any potential action must command the support of other nations in the region, including Iraq and the coalition already taking action in Syria. And, crucially, it must be part of a wider and more comprehensive strategy to end the threat they pose and the Government must seek a Security Council resolution for it.


Hilary Benn

MP for Leeds Central
Shadow Foreign Secretary

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