A true mandate for military operations
MEMBERS of Parliament have every right to voice unease about the lack of a parliamentary green light for the UK’s participation in the military strikes against the Syrian regime in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons.
There is a strong and compelling argument that the international community should come down with overwhelming force on any government or group that uses chemical weapons. The world will be a much more frightening place if the use of these odious arsenals is normalised.
It is deeply concerning that the evidence suggests the regime of Bashar al-Assad has calculated that the tactical advantage of using these weapons is greater than any setback incurred by retaliation. It is all too easy to imagine terrorist groups and despots scrambling to build toxic arsenals if deploying such weapons will not automatically result in their own downfall.
However, this is an argument that a Prime Minister could make in the House of Commons. Theresa May may want to avoid the humiliation experienced by David Cameron in 2013 when MPs declined to give their backing to military action in Syria; that blow may have played a similar role in dissuading President Obama from pushing for US strikes.
Generally, the preferable way to deal with challenges in the Commons is not to try to dodge the fight for a democratic mandate but to come to the chamber with the best possible arguments. Even if it is not possible to share intelligence information in a public forum, it should be possible to present relevant findings to party leaders and members of the Privy Council.
There will be also be disquiet that the strikes could not be delayed for just a couple of days so that Parliament could debate whether to make the UK a participant in this controversial action. Given our recent experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, there is little doubt that the world would be a safer place if leaders had spent greater time thinking about the next steps after an intervention.
We should have learned that the decision to launch military action must not be divorced from diplomatic and humanitarian planning. We need a strategy for tackling both the security threat that Syria poses to our national interest and the human catastrophe that has unfolded in this troubled country.
Our failure to stop the slaughter reveals the limits of our power and the need for true debate about how to secure peace and justice.