UK Parliament’s rejection of military intervention in Syria is a major turning point

Following the unverified claims that chemical weapons were used in Syria, British Prime Minister David Cameron was ready to take military action against the Syrian state within days of the incident. The media and the public were certain that Britain was about to embark on another military campaign, to add to the recent tallies of Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. However a major rebellion by Conservative MPs and the rejection of military intervention without stronger evidence from the Labour party ensured that David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague were stopped in their tracks and were left feeling embarrassed and powerless following all the tough talk about how Britain was going to punish the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The vote in Westminster was a shock to many for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was the first time in many years that democracy actually did its job. It is well known (and has been verified by official polls) that the British public is strongly against any military intervention in Syria, approximately 2 to 1. However public opinion is not always taken seriously by the politicians. The British public was also against the Iraq War and wanted troops out of Afghanistan for many years now, and yet that never influenced the UK government, therefore many were sceptical that the vote on Syria would reflect public opinion.  And yet, this time Members of Parliament did what they are supposed to do – listen to the citizens and act accordingly. For the first time in many years, the public – through protests, petitions, letters to MPs and other means – have played their part in stopping what would have been a disastrous decision to get involved in another Middle Eastern conflict, which would have simply added more fuel to the fire and may have even led to big players like Iran, Russia, Israel and China getting involved.

But the vote did much more that prevent another disaster like in Iraq and Afghanistan. The vote screamed out loud and clear that the British public is simply tired of the United Kingdom playing a role of a police state. The vote was a realisation that this country has finally let go of the crippling mentality that UK ought to play a major role in the international arena. The vote symbolised an end of an era – a new beginning – where Britain has finally accepted that it is a small fish in a big pond. Some important points need to be made regarding this. Firstly, while some will see this as a negative outcome and as an embarrassment, this could actually favour Britain in the short and long term. The UK has been struggling economically for some time and expensive bills for an expansive foreign policy did nothing to help the financial situation. The Afghanistan campaign alone cost the taxpayers nearly £40 billion. Additionally, war weariness has been crippling the public’s morale, not only because of constant news of more British soldiers dying on failed missions, but also because of the constant threat of a terrorist attacks from angered individuals who were fed up with the British hawkish foreign policy. Stepping back from military interventions will give Britain a chance to look inward, to find itself a new place in the world arena, to join the many other European countries that refuse to get embroiled in foreign conflicts and yet have a much higher standard of living than Britain. The UK can also start making amends with the Arab world. Let America continue making enemies in the Middle East through detrimental foreign policy decisions which result in destructive and toxic outcomes. Britain is better than that. It can still play an important role in providing humanitarian assistance and push for diplomatic solutions to conflicts, but it was time to admit that bombing countries to achieve peace has been a failed plan from the very start.  This is an opportunity for Britain to build friendlier relations with other parts of the world and not just rely on America to get by.

Furthermore, the vote in Westminster has far reaching consequences which may forever change the way governments make decisions about military issues. Already, the US President Barack Obama has rightly followed UK’s example by announcing that Congress will debate and vote on the Syrian issue before any decision is made regarding whether to carry out any military strikes. I have always advocated that governments ought to carry out a national referendum regarding military decisions. Whilst this is unlikely to happen in the near future, giving MPs and Congressmen (who represent the public)  the vote is the next best option. Now that people have tasted real democracy, it is crucial that we hold on to it. In the future, any other major decisions should also be put to the representatives who can gauge the public’s opinion and act accordingly. Hopefully this could be the first step towards giving the citizens a platform to voice their thoughts and genuinely influence parliament.

Regardless of what one thinks the British government ought to have done about Syria, nobody can argue against the fact that giving MPs a vote on the issue was the right thing to do. Not only has it illustrated that politicians have learned the mistakes of the Iraq War, it has also demonstrated that ordinary people do have the power to play a major role in politics. We have prevented what would have been another catastrophic military intervention in Syria, which would have only helped the extremist “rebels” and would bring Syria no closer to an end of the civil war. Let us continue to use our power to direct our parliament towards right decisions, for the good of this country and the world.

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Categories: Global Political Insight, International politics

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4 Comments on “UK Parliament’s rejection of military intervention in Syria is a major turning point”

  1. Melvyn WINGFIELD
    September 1, 2013 at 6:04 pm #

    I am so happy that I have played a very small part in the vote against attacking Syria. I am enormously conscious of the horrific events in Syria, and so wish it were not so.

    I want to add so much more but I will resist

    i wish us all well.

    • Alexander Clackson
      September 1, 2013 at 8:02 pm #

      A small part played by many will result in big outcomes. Thanks for your active support.

    • Siv
      September 15, 2013 at 7:09 pm #

      Unless your MP was a rebel Tory/Lib Dem, you are unlikely to have played any part in the outcome of that Parliamentary vote. Both Labour and the Conservatives were in agreement with the possible use of force. See below for why this is now completely off the table.

      Also, in response to this comment: “I am enormously conscious of the horrific events in Syria, and so wish it were not so.” I am afraid this might as well read as, “I do not care about horrific events in Syria”. Passive sympathy does not makes amends for inaction.

  2. Siv
    September 15, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    Sorry to say that I disagree with your article. Democracy did not succeed. There was in fact a consensus between all three parties on the need for military action, however, Ed Miliband reneged on his promise in order to capture some quick political capital. It was a cowardly move and certainly not one reflective of democracy, what it does reflect is the capacity of the opposition to play politics at a time of international crisis.

    Having said of all the above, Labour still did not outright reject the use of military force, they just conditioned it with the need to obtain further proof, something that would have inevitably arrived. Therefore, I am sorry to disappoint you but, the majority of Parliament was in fact in agreement that military action was possible. The only reason why this is now completely off the table is because Miliband’s sly political manoeuvre fractured military action into two separate votes.

    So yes, democracy failed. MPs either voted irresponsibly along party lines (Labour) or rebelled on the anti-war impulse of their constituents (Conservative and Liberal Democrat). As unfair as it may sound, a decision as vital as upholding international law should not be left to the whim of public sentiment. Cameron made a mistake by going to Parliamentary, a domain where politics and emotions run wild, not informed decision making.

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