Labour’s shameful fence-sitting on Syria

What would Tony Blair say about Labour's passive and defeatist stance on Syria?

by Peter Cannon on 17 March 2013 11:49

As the Russian foreign minister arrived in the UK to meet William Hague to discuss Syria and other issues, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander popped up in the Guardian to warn the Government: “don't fan the flames of conflict”.

He argued: “Offering support to Syria's rebels risks intensifying a tragic civil war. We must work with Russia for a political transition.”

For Douglas Alexander, even the UK’s current policy of offering ‘on-lethal support’ to the Syrian rebels is a cause for worry and “raises questions as to the real direction of policy”. He argues that “it is far from clear if taking steps that may intensify this conflict will do anything to reduce the appalling level of suffering”.

With 70,000 dead, 200,000 missing or detained, 1.2 million internally displaced, and 1 million refugees, you might think it is far too late to think that the UK giving support to the rebels will really “intensify the conflict”.

The problem with the current EU arms embargo is that it does not keep arms out of Syria; it just keeps our arms out of Syria. The Syrian regime is still being armed by Russia and Iran, but we cannot arm the rebels. In other words, to adapt an expression used in Bosnia, it leaves an “unlevel killing field”.

Given that the UK, France and the EU have recognised the Syrian National Council opposition coalition as “legitimate representative of the Syrian people”, it hardly seems consistent to continue to deny them the weapons which they need to fight against Assad’s forces. After all, it is not as if the Assad regime is short of international support.

Nor, of course, is it the case that the opposition has no weapons at all. But the weapons they do have come from Middle Eastern states that may be less choosy about whom they give weapons to.

Of course we would not want weapons to fall into the wrong hands, but by maintaining the EU arms embargo, we deny ourselves any control over who weapons go to or what they do with them. The more we keep out of the conflict, the less influence we will have and the more the extremists stand to benefit. It is encouraging therefore that the UK and France are trying to change the EU policy on this.

But it is depressing that Labour seems to be taking such a passive and defeatist stance. What would Tony Blair say?

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