No UK attack on Syria: a victory for sanity

Following the defeat of both the Labour amendment and the government’s motion on Syria in the house of commons last night, the prime minister has rightly decided that the UK will not now take part in any military action against Syria. This seems to me an excellent outcome, which reflects and respects UK majority public opinion, and averts a foreign policy blunder of significant proportions.

But I am shocked by the views widely expressed in the blogosphere and by MPs on both sides of the house of commons according to which it would have been perfectly all right to go ahead and use force against Syria even if we had failed to get the authority of the Security Council for it. This careless willingness to subvert the whole basis of the UN Charter and the central provisions in international law governing the use of force in international relations is deplorable and disreputable. The existence of a doctrine of “humanitarian intervention”, as a justification for military action without Security Council authority, and asserted by the Attorney-General in his legal advice to the government, is hotly and rightly disputed.  If accepted, it makes the whole UN Charter system in chapters VI and VII redundant, and we’re back to the law of the jungle.  The international community has indeed accepted that there may in certain circumstances need to be ‘humanitarian intervention’ to protect civilians from their own governments, by unanimously endorsing the new norm called the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in 2005 at a special summit of heads of state and government at the UN:  but it explicitly requires that action under it must be in accordance with the Charter and that the use of force under R2P must be authorised by the Security Council in accordance with the relevant chapters of the Charter (see It’s sad to see Dominic Grieve dredging up the discredited notion of a separate ‘doctrine of humanitarian intervention’, needlessly duplicating R2P, simply to enable the government to escape from the inconvenient requirements of international law.

Several MPs and bloggers are complaining that it would be ‘madness’ to abandon our plans for a strike against Syria to deter further use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people just because one or two members of the Security Council (Russia and China) would veto any resolution authorising that action.  Some go so far as to say that we should ignore such vetoes as obviously self-interested and unwarranted — an echo of Tony Blair’s ludicrous proposition in the Iraq context that “an unreasonable veto” could legally be ignored.  There’s room for debate about the usefulness or otherwise of the veto provision in the UN Charter.  But the fact is that the veto power exists: and had it not been included in the Charter, there’s a real possibility that either the United States or the Soviet Union (succeeded by Russia), or both, would not have become members of the United Nations, which would have rendered the UN virtually powerless and irrelevant.  The proper response to a frustrating and unwelcome veto is to sit down with the government that has cast it and try to work out an alternative course of action that both (and a majority in the Security Council) can agree to.  It is nonsense to say that the alternative to using force, if that is blocked by a veto, is to do nothing.

However, in any case, had the UK-US resolution to authorise a strike against Syria come to a vote in the Security Council, it’s extremely unlikely that there would have been Russian or Chinese vetoes, because in the light of the present composition of the Council, it’s almost impossible to imagine that the necessary minimum of nine affirmative votes would have been cast in favour of authorising the US, UK and France (or anyone else) to use force against Syria. Our resolution would virtually certainly have been defeated by our failure to win the required majority. In that situation negative votes by Russia and China would not have been vetoes. Russia and China might even have abstained, in order to rub in the fact that it was not their vetoes that denied us the permission to use force that we had asked for, but the fact that the majority of the Council disagreed with us. So it’s no good bleating about it being crazy to let a country like Putin’s Russia stop us doing what we wanted by threatening to use its veto. It would have been a representative selection of the international community that would have refused us the permission that we had sought.  This accurately mirrors our failure to secure UN authority for the attack on Iraq in 2003: we never managed to get the required majority of Security Council members to support our attempt to get that UN authority, and had to withdraw our draft resolution for that reason.  It was never a question of a Russian or French veto, as Blair falsely claimed afterwards.

Of course all this is now hypothetical, as far as the UK and Syria are concerned. But anyone who disagrees with the scenario outlined above needs to list the nine members of the present Security Council who might be open to persuasion to vote for us to bomb and rocket Syria. I can’t see it.

I am massively relieved that this marks the end of any idea of Britain joining in a foolish, counter-productive, pointless, dangerous military enterprise which would almost certainly be illegal under international law, undermine the authority of the UN and the Charter, kill innocent people for no discernible reason, and fail to deter future use of chemical weapons by the Assad government. We’re well out of it. Enough MPs reflected a sane and humane public opinion that was strongly against yet another intervention in a middle east country which poses no conceivable threat to British interests, to make it impossible for Cameron to commit this major blunder. It’s just a huge pity that Ed Miliband, as leader of the Labour Party, didn’t say loud and clear that there was no case for our military intervention in Syria and above all that such intervention would be illegal and insupportable without the authority of the UN Security Council. He had the perfect opportunity to say precisely that; but he failed to take it, perhaps because of the hot breaths of the New Labour perpetrators of the Iraq disaster down his neck.  Still, by insisting (presumably under pressure from his own MPs who were rightly opposed to a strike against Syria in any circumstances) on increasingly stringent conditions for Labour to support military action, Miliband forced the government to retreat further and further from its original intention of launching a virtually immediate attack on Syria, and helped to create a space for MPs of all parties to ask devastating questions about the government’s plans to which ministers had no answers.  MPs of all parties accurately reflected public opinion, and forced a delusional government to bow to it.  A victory for all of us.




11 Responses

  1. T S Allen says:

    I understand Parliament greeted the Munich agreement with similar enthusiasm …….

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Tim. Obviously I don’t accept that there’s even the faintest similarity between the two cases. Deciding not after all to act as a self-appointed world policeman and attack another country illegally for no obvious achievable purpose is one thing: licensing a fascist dictator to steal part of someone else’s country in the name of appeasement is quite another.

  2. If you want a much better view from someone who is actually a lawyer, try this:

    Brian writes: Thank you. I have read these comments with interest and note that the errors in some of them are corrected by others, so there’s no conflict with my post, which indeed they basically confirm — apart from the mistaken suggestion that a UK attempt to get UNSC authority for an attack on Syria would have been stymied by a Russian and/or Chinese veto. In fact it would almost certainly be stymied by inability to get nine Yes votes for it, so no question of a veto would arise. The only other difference between us is the suggestion that because Assad’s alleged use of gas was a war crime under treaty law, therefore by implication any country is entitled to punish the breach by force, without UNSC authority, under international customary law. This idea is briskly disposed of by other contributors, I’m glad to say.

  3. Derek Tonkin says:

    The trend towards Russian and Chinese vetoes in the UNSC began in earnest in January 2007 when these two countries joined to veto a draft UK-US Resolution which alleged that the situation in Burma was a Chapter VII “threat to the peace”. Whether the situation was or was not a threat to the peace was a matter of opinion. There were arguments on both sides. The West had to content itself with sanctions which most now agree were massively counterproductive, and in any case Western action was counterbalanced by virtually all the countries in the region, including China, Russia and eventually India.
    The legal advice given to the UK Government on this occasion I find weak, unconvincing and worst of all self-serving. This is not only my view, but that of a member of my wider family who was an FCO legal adviser.
    The JIC assessment speaks only of “some intelligence to suggest regime culpability in this attack”. “Some evidence” does not in my view put the matter “beyond reasonable doubt”. The legal advice though talks of “the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime” as though the use was already established, even before the UN inspectors have issued their report. The notion that three conditions required for action outside the UN “would clearly be met in this case” is contradictory. Either the conditions already exist, or they do not. It is not logical to say that they “would clearly be met” – this statement is itself conditional and to me accordingly as “clear” as mud.
    Decisions in the Security Council are taken for political reasons, and only have the force of international law provided draft Resolutions are adopted. There are political reasons for acting, and also political reasons for not acting, e.g. that action might only make matters worse. The “something must be done” and “no action is not an option” syndromes are politically powerful on Governments, but have no internal logic of their own.
    In this case, although I think Syrian regime culpability is likely to become more apparent with the passage of time, I also think that military action could well be counterproductive at this stage and not in the UK’s best interests.
    The argument that the UK can legally use force is not necessarily invalid in all circumstances, but threatens to  undermine, as Brian says, the very basis of the UN Charter. Unless there are compelling reasons to do so, which I very much doubt in this case, action outside the UN framework would seem to me to be illegal.
    Those responsible for this atrocity should be held to account, but attempts at retribution and punishment at this stage are a slippery slope. I am not in the least persuaded by Carl Gardner’s reference to the Security Council failing “to live up to its responsibility to take prompt and effective measures…….” which presupposes that such measures exist, when in fact they may not.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this useful analysis, which looks right to me. But before questioning whether the three conditions for military ‘humanitarian intervention’ outside the requirements of the UN Charter are satisfied (and I agree that they are not), I would dispute the premise that there is general international acceptance of a doctrine of humanitarian intervention (as an alternative to R2P) in the first place. I believe that one of the purposes of developing the R2P ‘norm’, approved unanimously by the heads of state and government of the UN, was to dispel any idea that nations could attack each other with impunity and without UN authority for allegedly humanitarian purposes under some vague concept of international customary law such as that now being put forward by the Attorney-General in order to allow us to attack Syria even if the Security Council ‘fails’ to give us permission to do so. Even if such a doctrine were to have general acceptance (which I don’t believe it does), it seems to be posited on UN authority being blocked by one or more vetoes by permanent members acting to defend their own national interests and thereby frustrating the wishes of the majority in the Security Council. That seems to me irrelevant to the Syrian situation — as it was irrelevant to the Iraq situation — because I believe that our failure to get authority to attack Syria would be due to the opposition of a clear majority in the Council, not to anyone’s veto, as was undoubtedly the case over Iraq. Indeed, if a majority in the Council were to be opposed to the grant of authority to use force against Syria, there would be no vetoes anyway. So on all possible grounds the humanitarian intervention without UN authority argument seems to me to fail.

  4. Peter Harvey says:

    Presumably the real reason for wanting to intervene was not Assad’s beastliness to his own people but a strategic desire to keep Iran and Russia out of the Mediterranean (Russia already has a small naval base in Syria). That is a worthy objective, but I don’t see that it would have worked in the long run. I fear that we will have to come to terms with Iran as a regional power in the Middle East whether we like it or not.

    Brian writes: Thanks, Peter. I agree, although I don’t doubt that there’s also a genuine humanitarian desire in western and probably other capitals to try to stop the growing practice of using chemical weapons and also to bring the conflict in Syria to an end, although views clearly differ on how this should be done. I also doubt whether there’s much point in trying to obstruct or nullify Russia’s interests in a Mediterranean presence. Russia is an awkward diplomatic partner but the cold war is over and a Mediterranean presence is not necessarily a zero sum game. Would a growing Russian presence in the Mediterranean pose a threat to legitimate western interests? I don’t know the answer to that. I’m sure others do.

  5. Owen Barder says:

    It seems to me that there are two distinct parts to your argument:
    – military action would have been illegal without UN approval, which would not have been obtained
    – military action would be foolish, counter-productive, pointless and dangerous.
    I’m not clear which is really driving your opposition. Suppose hypothetically (and I agree that this is unlikely) that UN approval were explicitly given. What then? Would you still be wholly opposed to UK involvement in a military effort? (To do what? To punish Assad? Deter him? Remove him? Protect civilians? I don’t really know). Or, to put it another way, would you be in favour of the UK and US seeking UNSC agreement to a military effort?

    I’m with you in believing that, absent a UNSC resolution, there should be no military intervention in Syria.  But I’m genuinely undecided about what the international community should do, if it could reach agreement. I don’t buy the pure isolationist view that if we have no interests in Syria, we have no interest in doing what we can (if anything) to protect its people from slaughter. We should have obtained UNSC approval to intervene in Rwanda, for example.  
    So if we could get UNSC agreement, what if anything should we do?

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. I’m sorry if my two-part argument is confusing. For the avoidance of doubt, as the lawyers say, I would be opposed to military action against Syria of the kind apparently envisaged even if it were to be authorised by the Security Council; and if it were to take place without Security Council authority under some ill-defined and questionable doctrine of humanitarian intervention, unconnected with R2P, I would be even more strongly opposed to it.

    As I understand it, and according to Lord Goldsmith, former A-G, the only legally acceptable purpose of military action would be to deter the régime from repeating its alleged use of gas, which is undoubtedly a war crime. I don’t believe any likely form of military action against Syria would achieve that purpose. Instead of focusing exclusively on the chemical weapons and gas issue (about which there seems to me nothing to be done apart, obviously, from an effort to persuade the Russians to use their influence with Assad to stop him doing what he and the Russians deny he has been doing in the first place), I would advocate a major diplomatic effort to end the conflict, probably by means of the kind of international conference, including Russia, and including Assad, that the UN Secretary-General has been working for. I realise that the difficulties in the way of this are enormous, not least because of the fragmented nature of the rebel groups and the inclusion in them of groups associated with al-Qaeda, but I don’t know of a more promising or easier route to ending the violence. However, I lack the expertise in middle eastern affairs in general and Syria in particular to be able to suggest a more detailed prescription. Even without that expertise, though, it seems to me that diplomacy offers a more promising approach than yet more bombing, destruction and killing, all liable to make a very bad situation worse.

  6. David Ratford says:

    I heartily endorse your view that this was an excellent outcome as regards our policy towards events in Syria. But more than that, it was an all too rare instance in the Commons of truly representative Parliamentary democracy at work. Currently liberated by the accident of a hung Parliament from the tyranny of a single-party majority Government, enough MPs for once felt strong enough to do what we ought to be able to count on them to do as a matter of course – namely, first to sound out their local electorate, but then to exercise their own judgement on the policy choices at issue and to vote according to conscience rather than at the dictates of the Party Whips.
    Here’s hoping for yet another hung Parliament next time round, followed by another Coalition based on whatever the new Parliamentary arithmetic happens to provide (and certainly NOT on a prior stitch-up of the Liberals by the Labour Party of the kind you have the cheek to advocate!)

    Brian writes: Thank you, David. I agree that this was a good day for parliament, although (as you would expect) I don’t think that it would have been materially different even if the Tories had had an overall majority and there was no coalition — except that in that event Hague would have done a far more effective job of summing up than the unfortunate Clegg did. Parliament in 2003 was not hung, yet Blair came within a whisker of losing the vote authorising him to go ahead with the attack on Iraq, and he was able to save the day (and his premiership) only by misrepresenting both the intelligence and the position of France, in both cases knowingly. Cameron came clean and paid the price for his candour.

    You will also (correctly) expect me to disagree with you about the most desirable outcome of the next election. I hope devoutly for an overall majority for Labour; failing that, for Labour to emerge as the biggest party; and if Labour is the biggest party, but without an overall majority, I hope it will take office as a minority government with a confidence and supply arrangement with other smaller parties, but emphatically not a coalition — see

  7. Clive Willis says:

    Amid all the present right-wing handwringing about the ‘Special Relationship’, I’d mention two matters easily overlooked: the career of Benjamin Franklin, and Harold Wilson on Vietnam.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. I think much of the agonising about the special relationship — not only from the right wing: Paddy Ashdown’s hands are thoroughly wrung, it seems — is grossly overdone. The US benefits from the intelligence-sharing relationship with us, just as we do, and if that survived our much more strongly resented refusal to take part with the Americans over Vietnam, it certainly ought to survive a relatively minor disagreement over Syria, especially as our government would have been an enthusiastic ally in attacking Syria if our parliament and public opinion had allowed it to. (I must do some Googling about Benjamin Franklin, obviously.)

  8. Oliver Miles says:

    Fascinating exchange, much I agree with. Here is my two penn’orth. Brian, for once I must jeopardise my reputation for Tacitean brevity.

    Like you, I suspect, I am not enthusiastic about R2P. I believe the earlier “uniting for peace” concept, also devised to get round Security Council vetoes, faded away because the Americans foresaw that it was a weapon which might eventually be turned against them. That is how the Russians and the Chinese see R2P (think Tibet, think Georgia), and farsighted Americans probably feel the same. Let’s stick with the veto, the devil we know.

    Peter Harvey is too cynical. Beastliness is a reason for wanting to intervene.

    I agree with you that a Russian presence in the Mediterranean is not necessarily against our interests, indeed nor is a Chinese presence (in 2011 the Chinese had to evacuate 40,000 workers by sea from Libya, more than any other country, by Greek ferry). Russian and Chinese participation in the anti-piracy patrols off the Horn of Africa contributed to world peace.

    I also agree that we should work through the Security Council to support the US/Russian proposed international conference. Although a conference is unlikely to end the civil war, it is part of the process that will eventually end the civil war. The experience of other civil wars, notably Lebanon, is that agreements and ceasefires are repeatedly broken, and that arm-chair critics denounce them as useless, but in the end they deliver. I am wondering whether our U-turn on military intervention may even enhance our credentials as a champion of a political solution.

    A word on the “special relationship”, a term on which I think diplomats have always been less keen than the media. Our relationship with America is strong for a number of reasons, the main one being that a strong relationship is in the interest of both parties. I suppose nobody would want a “special relationship” defined as a relationship in which Britain always does what America wants. Vietnam is the outstanding example where two prime ministers, Harold Wilson and Ted Heath, defied American pressure without any noticeable damage to other aspects of the relationship (and that at a time when the Sterling area was regarded as a major British national interest, and could have been at the mercy of the Americans). Suez, though less happy, is another example. Mark Urban has quoted Somalia 1992, although I think he may have got that wrong. I was myself involved in another story when we resisted American pressure, which was of major political importance although it didn’t get so many headlines. In 1981, following the Camp David peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, the Americans set up an international force to keep the peace following Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. They insisted that it would not be a UN force in blue berets, but a “multinational” force under US command. After a great deal of argument, and there were many factors involved, we refused to participate – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, France, Italy, Norway and others agreed and are still there in the desert.

    I think the last time I noted President Obama referring to the special relationship it was with Israel. Now that is a special relationship.

    Brian writes: Many thanks, Oliver. All good solid stuff — and especially interesting about Sinai. I agree especially about the misnamed ‘special relationship’, which is grounded in mutual interest, not in sentiment.

    I also agree that there are potential problems with R2P, mainly over the question of what constitutes a humanitarian disaster threatening, or visited on, people whose own government can’t or won’t protect them from it. IOW, it potentially extends the power of the Security Council to authorise the use of force even when there’s no obvious threat to international peace and security. In most such cases it will be extremely difficult to get agreement internationally and in the Council on what remedial measures are appropriate — as indeed over Syria now. Hence the R2P proviso that any use of force under R2P must be authorised by the Security Council (and must be a last resort where every possible peaceful means of resolving the problem have been tried and failed). In this kind of case one can see the necessity for a veto power, to protect the vital interests not only of a permanent member but also those of other countries who look to one or other of the permanent members for protection. In practice I agree that a proposal to resort to force under R2P is likely to be rare. I don’t know whether the UK draft resolution in the Security Council on Syria (sponsorship of which I assume we have now withdrawn) relies explicitly on R2P, or, if not, under which provision of the Charter defining the Council’s powers it seeks authority for the use of force against Syria?

  9. Rob Storey says:

    Your lead letter in the Guardian also played its part on the final outcome. I’ve Googled around the R2P resolution and couldn’t fault your logic – even if I’d wanted to. 

    All the options are bad but not bombing has to be the least worst option.
    I lost count of the number times “Iraq” was used during the debate. A better night for Ed but Douglas Alexander’s summing up stole his show. I thought Cameron’s “I get it” after defeat was worthy. Politically damaged? Perhaps in the short term. He messed up but, contrasted with the manner of Blair over Iraq, Cameron may build a grudging respect. Nick Clegg’s support might come back to haunt him.

    Brian writes: Thank you for these perceptive comments, Rob. The contrast with Blair’s performance over Iraq is indeed instructive, and to that limited extent Cameron comes out of it rather well. To get parliamentary approval for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Blair was reduced to misrepresenting the reliability and even the content of the intelligence, and to putting the blame on France for our failure to get a second UN resolution by deliberately and knowingly misrepresenting the actual French position. By contrast I don’t think Cameron has been guilty of any attempt to conceal the weakness of the government’s case — and he has paid a heavy price for his candour, although it has revealed a serious lack of judgement on his part.

    Clegg’s summing up at the end of the debate was indeed pitifully weak, mainly because the government clearly had no answers to many of the shrewd questions asked during it. His heart didn’t seem to be in it and he looked thoroughly miserable. He should have left it to the insufferable and hawkish Hague.

    Ed Miliband was tactically astute and probably got the outcome he really wanted — certainly the one that many of his MPs wanted. But he failed to come out clearly against British participation in any military action against Syria in any circumstances, and above all he failed to declare unequivocally that Labour would regard any military action without the authority of the Security Council as illegal, period. Both failures presumably reflect pressures on him not to take a position which would imply that the Blair government’s attack on Iraq had been illegal as well as misconceived. Perhaps because of these unfortunate inhibitions, his opening speech in the debate seemed halting and uncertain. Since he has declared his repudiation of the Iraq war immediately after being elected leader, it’s surely time now to carry that through to its logical and ethical conclusion, despite the profusion of old New Labour warriors around him jumping up to defend their shabby records on every possible occasion. However, overall the operation was undoubtedly a victory for Miliband and Labour and an extraordinary and dramatic defeat for Cameron, Clegg and Hague.

  10. ObiterJ says:

    Good post and I agree with your view that Res 1674 (2006) only permits action via the Security Council.  It is highly unlikely that the UK would have secured a vote in favour of its military plans.
    You say in the final paragraph that the vote marks the end of Britain joining in this military enterprise.  I would not be so sure though it does so for the moment.  Cameron was denied his ‘Falklands Moment’ (sought by all PMs since Thatcher) but perhaps only for a short time.  The actual vote was close and it would not take a lot to change the situation – e.g. the Chemical Inspector’s report is due within 3 weeks and may point to the Assad regime as the responsible party even if the inspectors are not actually allowed to so conclude.    Cameron could return to the Commons and secure a vote in favour and the fact has to be faced that the Law Officers have stated that the UK can act on humanitarian grounds.  I disagree with their analysis but my opinion will count for nought.  (Foreign Office legal opinion counted for nought in 2003 when the Attorney-General spoke (twice) on the matter).
    Another interesting thing is how this is developing in the USA.  The President is to seek Congressional approval for certain measures to be taken and he does not appear to see it as necessary to act immediately.  Even if Obama gets Congressional approval, any action will be at some unspecified future time.  This seems to undermine any case for rapid intervention on humanitarian grounds.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, once again. I agree, with sinking heart, that the imposition by Obama of along delay in a decision to launch an attack on Syria (or conceivably not to) opens up the grim possibility that Britain may after all play a minor supporting role in any eventual operation. (When I wrote that this was clearly not on the agenda any more, all the signs were that the Americans would strike at Syria within a few days.) However, having listened to and watched almost the whole of the debates last Thursday in both the Commons and the Lords (the latter was broadcast yesterday on the Parliament Channel), I’m struck — not the right word in this context — by the depth of the concerns expressed by numerous Conservative peers and MPs, and by peers with military or diplomatic experience including two former heads of the diplomatic service, that any military action would do much more harm than good and would have unpredictable consequences going far beyond Syria. The likely illegality of the enterprise seemed the least of the concerns raised. One question repeatedly raised, vehemently by Lord (Norman) Tebbit and only slightly less so by many others, and never answered, was what the US and any others who joined in an attack on Syria would do if, soon after the western military operation, the Assad régime went ahead with another chemical weapons attack on rebels somewhere in Syria. IOW, what is the exit strategy? The Tory-led Coalition seems to have no answer to that.

    Much of the opposition to the attack on the Tory benches would not be satisfied even if the UN inspectors produce evidence that proves beyond doubt that the Syrian government had been responsible for the use of gas on such a large scale. Most of the opponents simply believe that a missile and bomb attack on Syria can achieve nothing positive that could justify the harm it would do and the risks it would entail. And there’s the comforting possibility that the Congress will decline to give the President the authority he now seeks to go ahead with the attack. Even if it authorises the attack, could our government seriously go back to parliament for a second opinion? Having messed up badly by grossly under-estimating the scale of the opposition to the proposed attack, Mr Cameron and his Whips will surely think long and hard before risking yet another parliamentary defeat on this issue. I don’t see how Cameron could continue in office if he misread the parliamentary weather a second time.

    But this is largely speculation. If the Americans do go ahead in three or four weeks’ time, and if Mr Cameron does go back to parliament with an invitation to change its mind, perhaps making it clear that he will regard it as a vote of confidence, how many Conservatives will repeat their votes against military action if they know that by doing so they may bring down their government and precipitate an immediate general election? As you say, we’re not out of the wood yet.

  11. Oliver Miles says:

    It’s worth watching what role the British Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus will play. We have already sent some aircraft reinforcements there, which seems prudent if they are for defensive purposes.
    I assume that the intelligence-gathering role is important to the Americans and will continue, which will expose us to the charge that we are participating in any US military action.
    More serious would be actual use of the bases by US (or French) aircraft. I have not yet seen any report of US aircraft there, though the RT (Russian television) website reports that commercial pilots have spotted “possibly European fighter jets”.
    Although any attack is likely to be launched mainly from ships and submarines, military planners are bound to be looking for air bases as well whether or not their plans include use of them initially. There are several to choose from, particularly Incirlik in Turkey and others a bit further away in in the UAE and Qatar. Akrotiri in Cyprus may not therefore be essential but it is the closest to some at least of the targets in Syria.
    RT quotes the Cyprus Foreign Minister: “I have the impression that the British bases won’t play any primary role… because they are not needed, but we will have to see.”
    Interesting to remember that the newly elected AK majority in the Turkish Parliament in 2003 denied US forces use of Incirlik to invade Iraq, which require some major last-minute rewriting of plans.

    Brian writes: Thank you for these interesting observations. I think it’s already been made clear, although I think it’s obvious, that the sharing of relevant intelligence with the Americans will continue: as you say, this may draw criticism of us from some quarters, although I wouldn’t myself take it seriously if it did. Use of British bases by aircraft involved in any operation against Syria would be another matter altogether and will presumably be ruled out (or, if it happens surreptitiously, denied!).