Liam Fox – 2015 Speech on Syrian Air Strikes

Below is the text of the speech made by Liam Fox, the former Secretary of State for Defence, in the House of Commons on 2 December 2015.

It is very important that the whole House is clear about what this debate is not about. It is not about provoking a new confrontation with Daesh, given that it has already confronted peace, decency and humanity. We have seen what it is capable of—beheadings, crucifixions, mass rape; we have seen the refugee crisis it has provoked in the middle east, with its terrible human cost; and we have seen its willingness to export jihad whenever it can. It is also not about bombing Syria per se, as is being portrayed outside; it is the extension of a military campaign we are already pursuing in Iraq, across what is, in effect, a non-existent border in the sand. I am afraid that the Leader of the Opposition’s unwillingness to answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) will give the clear impression that he is not just against the extension of the bombing campaign into Syrian territory, but against bombing Daesh at all, which is a very serious position to hold.

To understand the nature of the threat we face and why it requires a military response, we need to understand the mindset of the jihadists themselves. First, they take an extreme and distorted religious position; then they dehumanise their opponents by calling them infidels, heretics and apostates—let us remember that the majority of those they have killed were Muslims, not those of other religions; then they tell themselves it is God’s work and therefore they accept no man-made restraint—no laws, no borders; and then they deploy extreme violence in the prosecution of their self-appointed mission. We have seen that violence on the sands of Tunisia, and we heard it in the screams of the Jordanian pilot who was burned alive in a cage.

We must be under no illusions about the nature of the threat we face. Daesh is not like the armed political terrorists we have seen in the past; it poses a fundamentally different threat. It is a group that seeks not accommodation but domination. We need to understand that before determining our response.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con):

My right hon. Friend will know of concerns that Daesh fighters are leaving Syria for Libya in greater numbers. Does he believe that when we are tackling Daesh in Syria, we will have to confront it in Libya at some stage as well?

Dr Fox:

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I said, we have not chosen this confrontation; Daesh has chosen to confront us—and the free world, and decency and humanity. It is a prerequisite for stability and peace in the future that we deal with the threat wherever it manifests itself.

There are two elements to the motion: the military and the political. On the military question of whether British bombing, as part of an allied action in Syria, will be a game changer, I say, no, it will not, but it will make a significant and serious contribution to the alliance. The Prime Minister is absolutely correct that some of our weaponry enables us to minimise the number of civilian casualties, and that has a double importance: it is important in itself from a humanitarian point of view, as well as in not handing a propaganda weapon to our opponents in the region. Britain can contribute: we did it successfully in Libya, by minimising the number of civilian casualties, which is not an unimportant contribution to make.

We must be rational and cautious about the wider implications. No war or conflict is ever won from the air alone, and the Prime Minister was right to point out that this is only a part of the wider response. If we degrade Daesh’s command and control, territory will need to be taken and held, so ultimately we will need an international coalition on the ground if this is to be successful in the long term. There may be as many Syrian fighters as the Joint Intelligence Committee has set out, and they may be co-ordinating with the international coalition, or be capable of doing so, but we must also recognise the need for a wider ability to take and hold territory. To those who oppose the motion, I say this: the longer we wait to act, the fewer our allies’ numbers and the less their capabilities are likely to be, as part of a wider coalition. If we do not have stability and security on the ground in Syria, there is no chance of peace, whatever happens in Vienna.

On the political side, our allies think it is absurd for Britain to be part of a military campaign against Daesh in Iraq but not in Syria. It is a patently militarily absurd position, and we have a chance to correct it today. But we must not contract out the security of the United Kingdom to our allies. It is a national embarrassment that we are asking our allies to do what we believe is necessary to tackle a fundamental threat to the security of the United Kingdom, and this House of Commons should not stand for it. Finally on that point, when we do not act, it makes it much more difficult for us diplomatically to persuade other countries to continue their airstrikes, and the peeling off of the United Arab Emirates, then Jordan and then Saudi Arabia from the coalition attacking Daesh is of great significance. We have a chance to reverse that if we take a solid position today.

This motion and the action it proposes will not in itself defeat Daesh, but it will help, and alongside the Vienna process it may help to bring peace in the long term to the Syrian people. Without the defeat of Daesh, there will be no peace. We have not chosen this conflict, but we cannot ignore it; to do nothing is a policy position which will have its own consequences. If we do act, that does not mean we will not see a terrorist atrocity in this country, but if we do not tackle Daesh at source over there, there will be an increasing risk that we have to face the consequences over here. That would be an abdication of the primary responsibility of this House of Commons, which is the protection and defence of the British people. That is what this debate is all about.