I am no pacifist. If a terrorist is about to fire on us or about to blow us up, I am all in favour of our uniformed services shooting him. If a foreign power is about to invade us I support us having formidable fire power by air and sea to prevent or deter the invasion. I accept that the knowledge that we will retaliate is important to deterrence, so we need to keep open the likelihood of retaliation against violence. The nuclear deterrent of course rests on understanding that in extreme circumstances a UK PM would retaliate. It works for us every day it is not used.
I also believe that violence can beget violence. I believe that politics and diplomacy is a better way forward in most cases than fighting. If you choose to fight a war you also need to plan ahead for the peace. You need not only to see how you can win the war militarily, but also see ahead to how victory can lead to a better political settlement afterwards. Why enter a war you cannot win, or force a peace which is no better or worse than what it replaces? If you are retaliating you need to know who is causing you the trouble in the first place, so that the retaliation goes to the right place. Only a war of national self defence should alter observance of these simple rules.
Some seem to be arguing that we have to respond to the terrorist attacks on France. They argue these attacks were outrageous – I agree – and that therefore we must do something. I also agree we need to respond to the current terrorist threat, and could do more to improve our resilience and reaction to it.
They then move to saying the thing we have to do is to bomb ISIS in Syria. This is a curious response to the French attacks. The terrorists in Paris came from France and Belgium. Those keen to bomb presumably wish to do so both to kill potential future bombers, and to retaliate for Paris. Fortunately they do not recommend bombing the suburbs of Brussels and Paris from whence the bombers came – I would regard that as inhumane and counterproductive as I assume they do. But why then do they want to bomb the suburbs of Raqqa, when the terrorists did not come from there in this recent case? Are lives there of different value to lives in Europe? How can bombing ISIS embedded in a community help without ground troops to deal with them house by house, flat by flat?
The UK authorities also need to answer the question what magic could UK bombs do that US and French bombs have not already done? Why has bombing ISIS for months on both sides of the Iraq/Syria border not killed enough of them yet? It does not seem to me that Syria is short of bombs and bombers. It is very short of decent political leadership and good government.It is also still well short of a reliable army on the ground that could regain control over all of Syria with a view to creating better government for the whole country.
I have no problems with killing known terrorist organisers in the Middle East who have been responsible for organising mass murders there and abroad. Co-operation with the governing powers where they have authority is important when doing this. I do have worries about more generalised bombing campaigns seeking to kill imperfectly understood groups of terrorists embedded in civilian communities in Syria without the permission of the Syrian authorities and without clear intelligence on the ground from having enough people there observing targets. I do not wish my country to be involved in seeking change in Syria by force without having sufficient control or knowledge of local conditions. I dislike ISIS as much as the next person, but I do not think ISIS is the only or uniquely unpleasant extremist organisation we face. If we intervene we need to back forces on the ground strong enough to take over in Syria.Then they with our assistance need to be able to put in place a government for the whole of Syria or for constituent parts of Syria that could command the support of the people it is governing and could govern peacefully.