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Last week’s vote is being seen by some as a significant moment in our nation’s history, as a moment when we might, albeit unintentionally, have redefined ourselves and our role in the world.
It is also being seen as a ten-year old reaction to the way we were misled over Iraq. I must therefore set my decision to vote for the government motion in a slightly wider context.

Although I maintain severe reservations about the wisdom or likely effectiveness of military intervention in Syria, I am also deeply disturbed by the regime’s use of chemical weapons so I concluded it was right to support the government motion last Thursday. This was because the motion condemned the Assad regime, gave time for the United Nations process to work and stipulated that there should be a further Commons vote before any action was taken.

This was a motion that the whole House of Commons should have supported, leaving open as it did the question of whether or not the UK should have become involved in any international action against Syria. I did not then and I still do not see it now as a vote on the principle of military intervention – this would have been a matter for the second vote.

How we tackle such deep evil is a question of the most profound importance. I do not accept that the UK can stand by and allow such things to happen. We cannot stand by and simply watch evil anywhere in the world, but we must always be prepared to fight it, diplomatically, economically and sometimes militarily. I agree with the great Elizabethan poet and cleric John Donne that,

“No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Our military intervention succeeded in both Sierra Leone and in Libya (although that country is still far from perfect, it is a better place than it would otherwise have been) and our assistance to our French allies led to a stabilised Mali. In the Balkans, NATO’s intervention ended genocide. More controversially, I support our mission in Afghanistan too, for precisely these reasons. That country will not now be a safe haven for Al-Qaida and nor is it as likely to be a threat to wider regional stability. It will be far from perfect when we leave, but it will be better than it would otherwise have been, and that is important for our national security.

In all these cases, the military interventions served wider regional and national security interests too. In a more complex and interdependent world even “simple” civil wars can have serious international consequences. So I do believe the UK can and should intervene using its armed forces where the circumstances mean it is right to do so.

However, in the specific case of Syria and the specific action proposed, I felt there was a real risk that seeking to punish Assad for his regime’s actions could easily do greater evil still. This was not a coherent military strategy but rather one that risked further conflagration in the region and more, not less misery for the people of Syria. However, the words in the Commons motion last Thursday were honourable and appropriate and, crucially, did not commit us to military action. I am sorry the motion was defeated.


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