Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron: Syria, 2013

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, 11th July 2013:

Those Members with long memories will recall that interventions and arms supplies have all kinds of unintended consequences. When the Soviet Union went into Afghanistan in support of the Najibullah Government, who were under a lot of pressure, the USA responded by supplying vast quantities of arms to the mujaheddin opposition, along with training, facilities, logistics and all the other things that are now being talked about in relation to Syria. Those arms all ended up with what eventually became the Taliban, and then with what eventually became al-Qaeda, and they are still around and have perpetuated the most appalling situation in Afghanistan for many years, including our intervention in that country. We should think a little more carefully about where the arms go.

Other Members have made the point about the more recent intervention in Libya and the supply of large quantities of arms to a rather complicated set of opposition groups that are not interlinked, and where are those arms now? They are in Mali, Senegal and all over north Africa. They are promoting all kinds of conflicts across the region. Were we to be so unwise as to supply arms to the opposition in Syria, where will they end up, in whose interests will they be used, and who will use them against anybody else within the civil war in Syria?

I say all that not because I am in any sense an apologist for the Assad regime. The Oxfam report estimates that about 93,000 people have already died in the recent conflict and that there are 1.7 million external refugees and a very large number of internally displaced people. The situation is truly appalling, as are the human rights situation and police state methods of the Assad Government. However, there is a far from clear commitment by all the opposition groups in Syria to any respect for human rights or any democratic approach. If we send arms, we will be supporting groups whose intentions we do not know, nor do we know where those arms will end up. All we know is that we are sending arms into a situation, people are going to use them, more people are going to die, and the prospects for peace are much further away.

We should also recall, again for those with short memories, that there have been times when the Syrian Government have been very popular with the west. Syria has been a supporter on various occasions. There are suspicions that it has been used as part of the extraordinary rendition process. There have been lots of temporary allies across the region. Indeed, successive British Governments sought to have good relations with Gaddafi at various times, and there have been many others.

Finally, I want to make two brief points. First, on the refugee question, there are a very large number of Palestinian refugees in Syria who have made their way there from Nakba in 1948, from Iraq after its invasion, and at many other times. They are now being driven out, being treated very badly by many of the opposition groups in Syria, or ending up in Lebanon with very little support or resources, just like all the others.

Secondly, the answer has to be to look for a political solution to the whole issue that must involve Iran, Russia and all the neighbouring countries. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are pouring money and arms into the situation. Russia is supplying arms to Syria at the present time. Iran, as a neighbouring state, feels that the war in Syria is a precursor to a future invasion of Iran. I want the Minister to say that there is a serious attempt to use the opportunity of the new President of Iran to engage with the Iranian Government. We should obviously condemn Iran’s human rights record—the executions and all the other human rights abuses—but we will not achieve a political solution in the whole area unless we engage with all the powers that be, which must obviously include Iran. A date needs to be set for Geneva II so that we can bring about some kind of political solution that will end the fighting. All wars have to end with a political solution; let us have it now rather after another 100,000 are dead.

Question: Prime Minister, have you made a decision on UK military intervention in Syria and, if so, what’s the case for it?

David Cameron, interview transcript, 27th August 2013:

Well, no decision has yet been taken. But let’s be clear what is at stake here. Almost a hundred years ago, the whole world came together and said that the use of chemical weapons was morally indefensible and completely wrong. And what we’ve seen in Syria are appalling scenes of death and suffering because of the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. And I don’t believe we can let that stand.

Now of course, any action we take or others take would have to be legal, would have to be proportionate. It would have to be specifically to deter and degrade the future use of chemical weapons. Let me stress to people: this is not about getting involved in a Middle Eastern war, or changing our stance in Syria, or going further into that conflict. It’s nothing to do with that. It’s about chemical weapons. Their use is wrong and the world shouldn’t stand idly by.

The question we have to ask ourselves is, if there is no action following this big use of chemical weapons, is it going to be more likely in future that more and more regimes will use chemical weapons? That this regime will use them again and again on a larger scale, and we’ll see more death and more suffering? It must be right to have some rules in our world, and to try to enforce those rules.

Now of course, as Prime Minister, I take my responsibilities about safeguarding our armed services incredibly carefully, incredibly seriously. But the question we need to ask is whether acting or not acting will make the use of chemical weapons more prevalent.

….. Any decision would have to be proportionate, would have to be legal, would have to be about specifically deterring the use of chemical weapons. But I’ve recalled parliament so this issue can be properly debated, so the government can listen to views in parliament. And yes, it is my intention to put forward a motion in parliament so that members of parliament will be able to vote.

….. we shouldn’t stand by when we see this massive use of chemical weapons, the appalling levels of suffering, morally reprehensible, something the world came together almost a hundred years ago and said, “These weapons shouldn’t be used”, and they are being used here in Syria. And that is why, in my view, we need to discuss the need to act.

But what we know is, this regime has huge stocks of chemical weapon. We know that they have used them on at least ten occasions prior to this last wide-scale use. We know that they have both the motive and the opportunity, whereas the opposition does not have those things, and the opposition’s chance of having used chemical weapons, in our view, is vanishingly small. We know all these things.

The question now for us is, are we more likely to deter the future use of chemical weapons by acting or not acting? That’s the consideration. But let me say again, I understand people’s concerns about getting involved in wars in the Middle East, getting sucked into the situation in Syria. This is not about wars in the Middle East. This is not even about the Syrian conflict. It is about the use of chemical weapons and making sure, as a world, we deter their use and we deter the appalling scenes that we’ve all seen on our television screens.

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