The UK Parliament has a vote this evening about bombing Syria. I’ve said before (On Syria, 2013) that I believe that bombing Syria would be a mistake. Here’s a summary of why it doesn’t help:
- No matter how careful we willÂ kill civilians that we should be protecting
- It will cement the view that the West destroysÂ indiscriminately, because sometimes the wrong target is hit
- Destroying infrastructure hinders humanitarian aid and post-war recovery
- Air power is a force multiplier, but with no force on the ground it is ultimately ineffective
- We don’t appear to have a clear strategic goal
Bombing Syria – the impact
If we were to start bombing Syria, alongside a number of our allies, what would happen?
Well we can see that because others are already doing it. We also have experience over the last twentyÂ years in bombing from the former Yugoslavia to Libya. We know that bombing Syria would work best if it was in direct support of ground troops. This provides the best impact, because it minimises targetting mistakes and it also aids the ground forces to make progress with fewer casualties. We can see this operating in Iraq just now.
The other side we can see in other nations bombing Syria. There has been a lot of criticism that both the Russians and the French are hitting the wrong targets, things of little or no military value. Some of this is clearly propaganda from those that oppose their intervention. However there is a point here that without excellent targeting intelligence the value of some of the things you bomb will be insufficient to justify the strikes. The US are not bombing Syria as heavily as they are bombing ISIS in Iraq. This is because they recognise the limitations on their intelligence. I believe that the US bombing Syria is political tokenism rather than something that they feel has strong military value, the same is almost certainly alsoÂ true of the French.
The UK military teaches “selection and maintenance of the aim” as the master principle of war. At the moment we seem to lack a clear strategic aim. Daesh have painted the West as a blundering enemy. Based in the experience of locals over the last 14 years this isn’t obviously false. Getting involved as a knee jerk reaction and solidarity for others isn’t a good enough substitute for a clear strategic goal. In fact it will serve as a recruitment call for Daesh, both in the UK at overseas. We’ve already tracked hundreds of British Citizens leave the UK to fight in Syria, we don’t really want any of them to bring that fight back to the UK.
That said, I believe that we should develop a clear strategic goal of stopping Daesh wherever they are operating globally. However the best way to do this is not a limited military action, but a concerted effort to stabilise other countries. Politically we seem to recogniseÂ that, but the public narrative hasn’t quite caught up. Also, when conducting military operations we should obey one of the other principles of war “Economy of Effort“.
If we want to provide peace and stability in the Middle East we would be better with a lot of preparitory diplomatic work to build an effective coalition of Arab states. We need to help those with positive democratic leaning to establish their credibility with their people so that they don’t end up falling to military or theocratic controls. We also need to help them to fight the disruptive elements in their own countries and their neighbours.
The best military intervention we can make is to train and arm more locals. Help them vet recruits, extend and firm up the rule of law and avoid arbitrary rule. This has advantages that the locals provide their own solutions, and we are seen as builders rather than destroyers.
No Bombing Syria – Yes to Building Stability
In conclusion I think we should vote against bombing Syria tomorrow, but instead move the narrative to building stability across the region. We need to position the UK as a builder for the future. It is in everyone’s best long term interests.