As Member of Parliament for Erith and Thamesmead, I represent all of the people in my constituency, and I am grateful to everyone who has taken the time to contact me by email, twitter and in face to face conversations to share views about the proposal to carry out air strikes in Syria and the vote in parliament today.
I have read every email received and considered all of the issues fully and very carefully. I have also listened to colleagues in Parliament on both sides of the house and read the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report.
ISIL are a truly abhorrent and morally reprehensible organisation and I believe that we should take all reasonable steps to defeat them.
I listened very carefully to the Prime Minister’s statement and arguments in the House of Commons last week. However his arguments and the case he put to the Chamber did not convince me.
Against that background I have decided to vote against air strikes.
This is why.
A continuing bombing campaign in Syria by the US has not brought about major degradation to the terrorists’ ability to operate so far. It did not prevent the Paris attacks, which were carried out by home-grown terrorists. Given that American weaponry, satellite and on the ground intelligence is superior to anything the UK possesses, I fail to see how our involvement in an air campaign will change that to any great degree.
Aerial bombardment is not possible without the killing of innocent people. Do not let anybody convince you that it is possible to drop bombs without a high risk of civilian fatalities. The limitations rightly put on targeting and engagement from the air, for that very reason, mean that many missions are aborted and jets fly thousands of miles for no reason. And even with these limitations in place, mistakes can be made. Recently the US admitted that its bombing of a Medicins Sans Frontieres hospital in Kunduz in Afghanistan was a mistake. The 22 dead and the injured survivors paid a very heavy price for that error. I am concerned that terrible mistakes will occur, and that bombing will swell the ranks of the terrorists.
The terrorists in Syria are ready to disappear into civilian cover or tunnel networks to escape air attacks. I suspect ISIL already have in place plans for their most senior members to “disappear” elsewhere should the scale of attacks increase. The US carpet bombed North Vietnam for years and years, but their opposition was neither degraded nor defeated.
I have not heard a single military expert argue that an air campaign on its own could achieve the desired end. All say that ground troops would be necessary to achieve a major victory. Our last effort at an air only campaign, which we instigated in Libya, probably did save a large number of people under threat at that time, but our intervention without a post conflict plan has also led to a great loss of life, massive destabilisation of the country, and a warlord governed gateway to Europe for the human traffickers.
It is widely acknowledged that a ground force in Syria is required to make significant progress. Yet, there is no credible example of any recent action in the Middle East using Western ground troops that has resulted in a lasting stable, terror-free democracy. Where Western troops have been deployed, perceived successes have often led to terrorist organisations regrouping afterwards.
The Prime Minister points to a potential 70,000 “moderate” opponents to Assad in Syria, who could provide the necessary force on the ground to complement our air campaign. I cannot believe that statement. To believe it I would have to find credible that the Free Syrian Army has 70,000 troops who are willing, able and organised enough to fight across Syria. They would have to travel through both Assad held and ISIL held territory, while at risk of air attack from Russia and potential friendly fire from western forces. It is neither credible nor plausible. There is, in my mind, no convincing evidence to support the Prime Ministers statement that there are 70,000 ground troops ready to support any British air campaign. I fear the 70,000 claim is being used in a similar way to the 45 minutes claim about Weapons of Mass Destruction that led us down a path to military intervention in Iraq.
I agree with the Prime Minister when he says the risk to people in this country will not be reduced in the short term by the UK commencing an air campaign in Syria, and that it cannot be guaranteed there will not be a deadly attack in Britain. I regret to say I believe the risk of such an attack may be increased in the short term, because the terrorists may seek to respond directly to any military escalation.
Much has been discussed about the UN resolution number 2249 which was unanimously passed on 20 November 2015. Although this does provide a legal basis to any military action, it does not compel us to take military action.
I believe, what is needed is a comprehensive and coherent strategy coordinated through the United Nations to defeat ISIL. We need to target the funds of ISIL to diminish their ability to operate. This could be achieved through targeting their oil industries and other revenue and logistical networks. I have not heard a compelling case from the government addressing these concerns.
In reaching a decision, it comes down to two important questions. Will bombing increase the security of UK citizens? And will civilian casualties be avoided?
I am afraid I am not convinced that the Government has adequately answered these questions to ensure that this action will make the UK safer and that civilian life will be safeguarded. I will therefore be voting against air strikes in Syria.
Teresa Pearce MP