Caroline Lucas – 2015 Speech on Syrian Air Strikes

Below is the text of the speech made by Caroline Lucas to the House of Commons on 2 December 2015.

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer). Although I do not agree with the position he put forward, I think he put it very clearly and passionately, for which I thank him. I thank the armed forces for the work they do.

I share the horror and revulsion at recent atrocities in Paris, Beirut, Syria itself and elsewhere. yet I have still to hear convincing evidence to suggest that UK bombing of ISIS targets in Syria is likely to increase our security in Britain or help to bring about a lasting peace in the region. On the contrary, the evidence appears to suggest that it would make matters worse. I want to highlight that in the few minutes available.

If we are interested in evidence, a good place to start might be to examine the effect of the US-led bombing campaign so far, explore whether it has been successful and see whether our contribution would make a real difference. From what I have seen, the sustained bombings to date have not done much to push Daesh into retreat. According to the latest figures from the US Department of Defence, US-led forces have flown some 57,000 sorties, while completing 8,300 airstrikes over a 17-month period, but they have relatively little to show for it. While the air war has so far killed an estimated 20,000 ISIS supporters, the number of fighters ISIS can still deploy—between 20,000 and 30,000—remains unchanged.

Moreover, there are very real dangers that airstrikes on Syria have become increasingly western-driven. All four of the middle eastern states previously involved—Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—have now withdrawn. That risks feeding the Daesh propaganda, in which it presents itself as the true guardian of Islam under attack from the crusader west. Although utterly pernicious and wrong, precisely that message is being reinforced by western bombings, with every indication that the attacks are an incredibly effective recruiting sergeant. According to US intelligence sources, last September, 15,000 recruits were reported to have joined Daesh from 80 countries; a year later, the figure has risen to 30,000 recruits from 100 countries. I have had no reassurance that western military action would not simply drive more recruitment.

I have not heard any evidence to contradict the conclusion of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report about the military challenges. The report very clearly stated that its witnesses did not consider that extending air strikes into Syria

“would have anything other than a marginal effect.”

Indeed, as other Members have pointed out, far from the issue being a lack of allied aircraft above Syria, the real problem is actually a shortage of viable targets on the ground. The dangers are compounded by ISIS’s deeply cruel use of human shields, which makes targeting more difficult and will add to the civilian death toll.

There is much talk of focusing on Raqqa, but according to recent exiles, many in the ISIS leadership have gone to ground in places such as Mosul. They suggest that to get rid of ISIS in a city like Mosul, which has 1.5 million people and perhaps 150,000 ISIS terrorists, we would literally have to flatten the entire city.

Those of us who are sceptical about the use of air strikes are often accused of saying that we do not want anything to happen and that we want inaction. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Government can and should be playing a role in brokering peace and stability in the region. The Prime Minister could be redoubling his commendable efforts to find a diplomatic solution. The civil war is inextricably linked to the rise of ISIS in Syria, as the Foreign Affairs Committee report emphasised repeatedly. ISIS flourishes where chaos reigns, so renewed efforts are needed to end the Syrian civil war.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind):

Is the hon. Lady inviting the House to ignore completely UN Security Council resolution 2249?

Caroline Lucas:

That resolution calls on us to use “all means”. I want to make sure that we are using all of the means short of military action. [Interruption.] I do not believe that we are doing that and I do not believe that we should use military action unless there is evidence that it would make things better. There is laughter on the Government Benches at the idea that we might not want to take military action if there is no evidence that it will work.

One reason I do not want to use military action is that there are no ground forces. We have heard again and again that air strikes will not work without ground forces, yet when we ask where the ground forces will come from, it turns out that they are mythical—they are “bogus battalions”, as the Chair of the Defence Committee said.

Let us not suggest that those of us who do not think that there is an instant military answer are not just as committed to seeing an end to ISIS as those on the other side of the House who seem to think that there is a military answer. All of us are committed to getting rid of ISIS. Some of us are more committed than others to looking at the full range of measures in front of us and to looking at the evidence that suggests that bombing, to date, has not been successful.

I was talking about the other measures that I would like to see taken forward. I talked about the diplomatic efforts, building on the Vienna peace talks. The diplomatic effort must extend to Iraq, where the Abadi Government must be encouraged to reach out to the neglected Sunni minority, especially in those parts of the country where ISIS is recruiting.

Why are we not applying sanctions to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that have turned a blind eye and allowed the flow of finance to ISIS and, potentially, other terrorist groups? Why are we still selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, when they are then used in a vicious and destabilising war in Yemen that has killed thousands and made millions homeless, and that is creating yet more chaos in which al-Qaeda can thrive? Why are we not putting pressure on Turkey over the oil sales and the transit of fighters across its border?

Why are we not doing more on refugees? We should have more refugees here in the UK—of course we should—but we should also put more pressure on our allies to put more resources into the refugee camps in the region. I appreciate that the Prime Minister has done a lot on that. This country has been good on that issue. Let us make sure that our allies do the same, because those refugee camps are becoming absolutely desperate. It is cold, there is more poverty and desperation, and we can be sure that ISIS will be recruiting in those refugee camps too.