Political

Vince Cable sets out Lib Dem approach to talk of military strikes on Syria

Here is what Lib Dem leader Vince Cable said earlier today:

We cannot stand by and ignore the horrific scenes from Syria. We condemn the Russian Government for vetoing a full UN investigation into chemical weapons use in Syria. The Syrian Government must allow full and unfettered access for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

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The use of chemical weapons is a clear red line, and there must be consequences for crossing it.

Britain is an outward facing nation, willing to play our part in upholding international law. The Government should share with Parliament the evidence it has of the Syrian Government’s involvement, and that of their Russian backers, in last weekend’s attack.

The Government must present the objectives of any proposed action to Parliament. A unilateral response by any country, outside of a wider strategy, without allies is not the way forward. There must be a debate and vote in the House of Commons ahead of any military action.

In a later email to party members, he added:

In the next few days, it is possible the Government will ask MPs to decide on potential military action in Syria. This is not a decision we will ever make lightly.

As Leader, I want to be clear with you how I and our group in Parliament will make such a decision.

Firstly, in advance of any debate or vote, the Government should share with Parliament what evidence it has of the Syrian Government’s involvement, and that of their Russian backers, in last weekend’s attack.

Secondly, the Government must present the objectives of any proposed action to Parliament. Any proposed action should be targeted at reducing the capacity of the Syrian regime to repeat these attacks.

Thirdly, any response should be on a multilateral basis. A unilateral response by any country, outside of a wider strategy, without the support of their allies is not the way forward.

And of course, there MUST be a full and frank debate and vote in the House of Commons ahead of any military action.

We will judge any military action the Government proposes against these tests.

This is not a decision we will make lightly, or without the fullest consideration of the evidence. If you would like to share your views on this with me, please email leader@libdems.org.uk.

Such issues often see two contrasting factors pulling Liberal Democrats in different directions – a belief in the need to uphold international humanitarian standards and an aversion to violence. Often the two go together. Sometimes, especially in the face of a violent dictator, they do not. Hence the party both supporting western military intervention in cases such as former Yugoslavia, Liberia and to remove the Iraqis after the invasion of Kuwait, but also opposing it – most notably several years after the Kuwait invasion when Iraq was in the focus for claimed weapons of mass destruction.

That latter incident has laid a heavy shadow over any subsequent talk of military intervention. It shouldn’t, however, be such an all-encompassing shadow that it makes us forget the overall success of military intervention in places such as the Ivory Coast or indeed the lesson of Rwanda. The problem wasn’t western military forces being sent to Rwanda. It was that in the face of genoicde taking place around them they did all but nothing. The subsequent apology from the Belgian government should always be rememberd as a guard against the glib certainties that ‘military intervention always makes things worse’.

They neither always work nor always fail. If you really want to make the right decision, you need far more attention to the specific circumstances than that.

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