Thursday 26 November 2015

Extending British military action to Syria ~ the government's case

The government has presented its case for extending British military action to Syria in its effort, along with other nations, to deal with the threat to international security posed by Islamic State (ISIL).  Let's recall that the United Nations Security Council recently referred to this threat as a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security.  The Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2249 (2015) - previous post and Read the Resolution.

Foreign Affairs Committee Second Report of Session 2015-16 on the Extension of offensive British military operations to Syria published 29th October 2015.  The report contains discussion as to the legality of the proposed action (at page 11).  The evidence given to the committee by Professor Marc Weller and Mr Dominic Grieve QC MP are both referred to.  Their evidence was given in early October and early September respectively - a considerable time before the attacks in Paris (13th November).

The Prime Minister's statement of 26th November 2015 responding to the Foreign Affairs Committee Second Report of Session 2015-16. It is clear from the statement that the prime Minister does not regard military action as the whole answer. 

The more detailed written response to the Foreign Affairs Committee report.

The government is committed to asking the House of Commons to approve military action being extended to Syria.  In his statement, the Prime Minister said - "There will not be a vote in this House unless there is a clear majority for action……because we will not hand a publicity coup to ISIL.  Mr Speaker, I am also clear that any motion we bring before this House will explicitly recognise that military action is not the whole answer."  There is clear reference in the statement to the need for a new Syrian government to replace that of President Assad though it is said that this will be achieved by "political transition."

In large measure, the government bases the legality of its proposal on Article 51 of the United Nations Charter which was discussed back in September in this previous post relating to the killing by drone attack of Reyaad Khan and others.

The United Nations Charter Article 51 states:

"Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security."


  1. >There is clear reference in the statement to the need for a new Syrian government to replace that of President Assad though it is said that > this will be achieved by "political transition."
    Well as it worked so well in Libya, why shouldn't it work in Syria?

    1. The government's case looks at not only the international law legal aspects but at the reasons for acting. There are numerous articles urging either not joining in the bombing campaign or, at least, pointing out the difficulties and problems should the UK decide to join in. Here is just a selection:

      The Guardian 27th November

      Telegraph - There is a strong case for bombing Syria but it's not as simple as David Cameron says

      Would bombing Syria make us safer?

      I think we all know that the abomination known by its various names (IS, ISIS, ISIL etc) will probably not be destroyed by bombing in Syria. ISIL and its supporters are far more widespread than just Syria / Iraq or, for that matter, the wider Middle East. There are other dynamics at work including whether the UK (with its depleted armed forces) can now be seen as a reliable ally / military partner when called upon.
      The British government (and others) wish to see a different government in Damascus. It is said in the British government’s 26th November document (link above) that Assad has been trading oil etc. with ISIL. The Vienna process is working toward a different government though one wonders whether its timetable is realistic.
      The whole idea of getting further involved in Syria is fraught with problems including the possibility that it will actually lead to more terrorism not less though the terrorist threat is certainly high now.

      For what it is worth, I think that Mr Cameron will win the vote he wants but there will be some significant dissenting voices.
      As a footnote, Chilcot is almost an irrelevance now. IF he is to publish lessons, they will be too late for the Syrian action.