I was in the House of Lords last week for the debate on Syria, parallel with the debate in the Commons which, quite properly, got much more media coverage. But the Lords’ debate was of an extraordinarily high standard. It was a privilege to listen to the wisdom of those who have led us through previous conflicts in the Middle East and in Eastern Europe and the most convincing contributions came from those who had served in the armed forces or as Foreign or Defence Secretaries during previous interventions. With only one exception (Paddy Ashdown), they were all either cautious or out-rightly against any military action.
There were and are two key arguments. First, it is no part of international law to punish nations or regimes. The only kind of punishment in international law is a court that tries individuals (not nations) for war crimes. We have to hope and pray that President Assad will one day face such a court.
Second, under international law, much based of it on the Christian just war doctrine, the only justification for military intervention in a sovereign state would be if every other method of bringing justice has been exhausted and if there were a likelihood that the intervention would reduce the suffering of those being oppressed. The case has not yet been made that an airstrike on Syria would reduce the suffering of people there. On the contrary, there’s a good chance it would increase it, for any retaliation the regime might employ would be more likely against its opponents within Syria than against the international community. And there is also the likelihood that the Christian minority in the Middle East would become more a target in response to action by the West.
Caution and diplomacy is what we need if we are not to make matters worse and, of course, for the person of faith, prayer. It is hard to be impotent to act in the face of wickedness, but sometimes to admit that impotence is better than taking action that could make matters much worse. This is one of those times.