Putting aside, if we can, the question of whether airstrikes on Syria will, in general, work (I don’t see that they can, without ground forces well beyond the 70k of presumed allies somehow spontaneously settling all of their disagreements), I want to ask why the UK needs to become involved. Broadly, there seem to be two possible reasons:
- 1) the RAF has capabilities beyond those of the US, Russia, France, etc., and therefore our involvement will make a material difference. Somewhat implausible.
- 2) we’re doing it purely out of solidarity with those countries. In this case, is the UK’s involvement going to cause ISIS to back down? Persuade those thinking about joining or funding ISIS to change their minds? Or to buy us some goodwill with countries who we already have a relationship with.
I know France is grieving in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, and the anger is understandable. But we should not launch a bombing campaign on the basis of friendship. There are going to be civilian casualties in Syria, no matter how much we talk of the precision of modern armaments. The real question has to be: is that a price we are willing to pay? If our actions save the lives of a greater number of people in Syria and the region, then I could listen to a case for action. How many lives may be sacrificed to save an unknown number of others is a grim calculus, but not unthinkable. But if we join a coalition because Something Must Be Done, and to show solidarity with a mourning France, then we are treating the lives of those in Syria – who, we should not forget, are already suffering in countless ways because of ISIS and the civil war – as mere commodities.
So I want to ask those who are advocating or supporting UK airstrikes in Syria, what is your motivation: is it a genuine belief that they will better the situation (in Syria, the region, or on the streets of Paris, London, etc.)? Or is really about our status and out relationship with France, NATO, and the wider world?