Seven reasons Stop the War are wrong about Syria
The Russian intervention killed 254 civilians from 30 September to 26 October, and since then, MSF have reported, there have been several deadly strikes on civilian targets including hospitals and markets.
However, I still believe the principle of a No Fly Zone (or, better put perhaps: a No Bomb Zone) remains correct, and remains mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 2139, which demands immediate cessation of violence – even if the practicalities around achieving it have changed. It also remains a key demand of Syrian civil society and the Syrian diaspora. Sensible voices within the political establishment – notably Labour MP Jo Cox – have attempted to put a No Bomb Zone on the UK policy table, despite the resistance of the Kissinger-style "realist" Tories who dominate the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and despite Cameron's overwhelming lack of interest in addressing the too-difficult Syrian crisis.
The Stop the War Coalition (StWC) supporters generally attempt to portray all forms of intervention as "bombing Syria", which misses the point that Syria is already being bombed, mainly by the Assad regime and now its ally Russia. The logical response is that what we need is not to "bomb Syria" but to stop the bombs, and it might require intervention for that to happen.
StWC consistently hold their meetings and rallies about Syria in a way that excludes Syrian speakers - even going to far as to veto Syrian refugee speakers at Refugees Welcome marches. This is because they know that most Syrians know that a simple rhetorical commitment to non-intervention will not "stop the war". A war is going on in Syria, and something concrete is needed to stop it, not empty words. StWC's approach to stopping the war is in reality continuing the war, just without our direct involvement.
StWC - increasingly influential, it seems, in the UK Labour Party - have now responded at more length to calls for a No Fly Zone, in a briefing entitled "Syria: Safe Havens and No-Fly Zones". On social media, they link to it as "Seven reasons why Stop the War opposes UK military intervention in Syria". Here are their seven reasons, and why each one is wrong.
2. "Military intervention would risk a military clash with Russia."
3. "Islamic State would not be threatened by a no-fly zone since it lacks an air force. The Assad government and those supporting it can be the only target of such military operations: the goal is regime change."
|Deaths in Syria October 2015 by perpetrator. Source: Syrian Network for Human Rights|
4. "Previous no-fly zones did not prevent attacks on minorities and endangered populations (e.g. the Iraq government’s attack on the southern March [sic] Arabs) but escalated the levels of violence."
It is again true that some previous No Fly Zones and Safe Zones have had extremely negative un-intended consequences – most often because they were proclaimed without being (adequately) enforced, as in Yugoslavia. I think the example of Southern Iraq, however, is a poor one for StWC to use. The Shia Marsh (not March) Arabs had already been victims of genocide under Saddam Hussein, who drained the marshes in the decades before the Gulf War in order to destroy their homeland. After the war, the Marsh Arabs engaged in a popular uprising against Saddam, with no ground support from the Coalition; massive aerial bombardment was Saddam's reprisal for this. The No Fly Zone curtailed death from above, but Saddam's switched to artillery attacks - that is, it didn't escalate violence but changed the form it took. In contrast, the No Fly Zone in Iraq Kurdistan created the possibility for the emergence of an autonomous region there, now a haven of relative stability and freedom in a grim region. (Admittedly, a consistent Coalition policy which went beyond a No Fly Zone and actually removed the Saddam regime in 1991 – "regime change" – would have avoided the whole nightmare of Gulf War II, but I doubt Stop the War would have supported that.)
6. "The war in Syria includes a complex combination of actors: the Assad government and Russia, IS, the US and its international and regional allies (including Saudi Arabia, the Free Syrian Army and the local al-Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front), as well as Kurdish groups (some of which are being attacked by Turkey)."
7. "Instead of getting involved militarily in this dangerous quagmire, Britain can provide much greater help to the people of Syria by seriously focusing on humanitarian aid and on helping to facilitate peace talks."
- Paulo Canning: Have Stop the War Coalition finally jumped the shark?, 4 November 2015.
- James Bloodworth: Stop the War refuse to listen to Syrians during debate…on Syria, 4 November 2015.
- Syria Solidarity Movement: Statement on the upcoming Stop the War event at the House of Commons, 29 October 2015.
- Planet Syria statement on Stop the War, 28 August 2015.
- Letter from Syrian civil society activists: We are losing faith in the international community, 20 October 2015.
- British forces could help achieve an ethical solution in Syria, by Andrew Mitchell and Jo Cox, The Observer, 11 October 2015.
- Syria Between Dictatorship and ISIS: What can the United Kingdom Do? Policy document by Rethink Rebuild Society, voice of the Syrian community of Manchester.
- Stop the barrel bombs in Syria by Raed al Saleh, Syrian Civil Defence.
- US lawmakers call for Syria no-fly zone after chlorine gas presentation, Middle East Eye, 17 June 2015.
- Samer Attar and Zaher Sahloul: How to end Syrian children's living hell, 7 September 2015.
- Former British general calls for NFZ, 27 September 2015.
- The No-Fly Zone debate: arguments for and against No Fly Zone.
- All my previous posts on Syria, including Clear the Skies; Syria FAQ; Is it Assad v ISIS then?; Barrel bombs and the truth war.
- All my previous posts on Stop the War, including Stop the War give a platform to regime mouthpiece "Mother Agnes"; The conservatism of the anti-war "radicals"; Iran censorship in Stop the War; Libya and the case against liberal interventionism.