Some military figures balk at thought of attacks, while others including Tony Blair favour action
The poison gas attack in Damascus in the small hours of last Wednesday morning killed hundreds, injured thousands and crossed a red line in international affairs. Amid growing signs that America, backed by Britain and other allies, will soon launch military strikes against Syria, expert opinion is dramatically divided on how to respond to the use of a weapon of mass destruction.
For most considering the merits of intervention in the violent chaos of the Syrian civil war it is not a question of the best course of action, but the least bad.
General Sir David Richards, who stood down as chief of the defence staff only earlier this summer, is among several British military figures understood to be balking at the thought of direct attacks.
Lord West, the former first sea lord, urged diplomacy before military aggression and was among those worried that the west could find itself sucked into a vortex of violence in the region. He said the first move should be determining who launched the chemical weapons and, if it was Assad, there should be a UN resolution condemning the head of state for using them against his own people.
“I’m very wary of military action, even if it is a limited missile strike,” he told the Daily Mail. “What do we hope to achieve? Where will it lead? What if Assad says: ‘Get lost,’ and uses chemical weapons again? Are we going to escalate military action? I have a horrible feeling that one strike would quickly become more. The region is a powder keg. We simply can’t predict which way military action will go and whether it would draw us, unwillingly, further into a conflict.”
The former defence secretary Lord King said it was imperative to find a solution “and it mustn’t be military”.
“This is turning into such a conflagration that it is becoming extremely dangerous,” he said. “I am appalled by the idea that the regime, if that is the case as it appears, would use chemicals against its own people. But the difficulties in how we respond do not become any easier.”
Richards has previously voiced fears that pin-prick strikes could aggravate rather than resolve the situation in the country and that the extent of an effective campaign to rescue Syria is beyond Britain.
“I think the scale of involvement to make a decisive difference in Syria would be so huge that it is something that we at the moment cannot safely contemplate,” the Sun reported him saying in an interview he is understood to gave given several weeks ago.
The anxieties about worsening the situation do not wash with those who insist that Assad’s use of sarin gas cannot go unpunished. To avoid action would weaken the international community’s future power of deterrent against the use of weapons of mass destruction more widely, they say. Leading voices in America are arguing strongly that …read more