Leading figures warn of unintended consequences, but foreign policy analysts insist red line crossed
Former leaders of the British armed forces led objections on Tuesday to military strikes against Syria following last week’s poison gas attack in Damascus, which killed hundreds and injured thousands.
General Lord Dannatt, former head of the British army, and Lord West, former first sea lord, both warned of unintended consequences if, as seems increasingly likely, US forces launch missiles against President’s Bashar al-Assad’s military facilities in the coming days.
A former UK ambassador to Syria, Sir Andrew Green, urged Russia and China to use their influence against Assad rather than military force while Lord King, the former defence secretary, said it was imperative to find a solution, “and it mustn’t be military”.
Backing strikes were the former prime minister Tony Blair, who warned of “the consequences of wringing our hands instead of putting them to work”, and foreign policy analysts from Chatham House in London and the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, who said Assad had crossed a red line by using chemical weapons.
Geoffrey Robertson QC said in the Times that there “is a right for regional groups like Nato and the Arab League to use force to stop crimes against humanity such as a state mass-murdering its citizens by poison gas”. Robertson went on to say that the United Nations would not require a full mandate to go ahead with limited strikes as long as evidence was first established that the Assad regime was responsible for last week’s attacks.
“It’s wrong,” said Dannatt of the strike plan being drawn up in Washington, Paris and London. “Because although undoubtedly by any moral standards at all using chemical weapons against your own people – which is what on the balance of probabilities it now seems Assad has done – this does not constitute an open invitation for the international community to impose themselves on the internal affairs of another country.”
He said that one of the many unknowns about Syria was “what the effect of these strikes would be on the developments and consequences of the civil conflict”.
Lord West, a former minister, 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 told the Daily Mail he was “very wary” of an attack and said if Assad was responsible for the attack, there should be a UN resolution condemning him. “The region is a powder keg,” he said. “We simply can’t predict which way military action will go.”
The sense of military disquiet preceded the chemical attack. General Sir David Richards, who only stood down as chief of the defence staff earlier this summer, is understood to have previously cautioned against attacking Syria, while on Tuesday a former senior naval officer, Rear Admiral Chris Parry, said he believed London and Washington were repeating a mistake by turning to the military before properly establishing their objectives.
“More responsibility needs to be thrown at Russia and …read more