The UK Decision on Syria: Will air-strikes solve the problem?


On Wednesday 2 December, the British Parliament voted 397 to 223 in favour of extending the air bombing campaign, targeting DAISH (aka Islamic State, IS, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL) from Iraq to include Syrian territory, following a one-day debate in the House of Commons. The wrangling in parliament understandably played into lobbying for domestic support at times, particularly between the Conservative PM, David Cameron and the opposing Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, nevertheless the debate was concerned with eliminating the DAISH threat.

This perceived growing threat has been tied to the strength of DAISH. Indeed, since establishing itself as a Caliphate in June 2013, DAISH has seen an ebb and flow of the territory which it controls in Iraq and Syria. On the other hand, the success of the terrorist organisation’s operations overseas has followed an upward trajectory, with attacks related or conducted by the group, targeting civilians in Sinai on 31 October, Baghdad, Beirut and Paris all in November. These developments have prompted a heighted level of concern and alert, not just in the UK but also in the broader international community.

The reaction to this has varied and seen France double its airstrikes on DAISH territory whilst simultaneously leading the call for a ground offensive, the United Nations (UN) decreed that member states use all means necessary to combat DAISH, Egyptian authorities significantly increased their level of security in their airports, and Moscow called on its diaspora to return to Russia and stepped up its air offensive against the terrorist group. The vote in the UK Parliament was another step in line with this reaction. However, one must ask the question, can this solve the problem?

Whilst actors in the international system have identified that ‘you cannot bomb an ideology’, the task of combatting the terrorist organisation in the realms of the economy, society, media, education, among others, appears to be a far too arduous task – particularly with an eye on instant and measurable gains. Indeed, the UK government itself identified this tack back when DAISH established the Caliphate. However, with the up tick in the number of DAISH-supported attacks, a tendency to politicise the issue and an increase in the range and numbers of members of the anti-DAISH Coalition, it appears as though the decision has been made to focus on the air-bombing element in the war against the terrorist organisation.

The issue then becomes one of innocent Syrian (and Iraqi) civilians being killed, seeing their families and friends being killed and having their livelihoods destroyed – all of which play into the hands of the DAISH rhetoric of anti-Western/foreign intervention, and increases the pool from which the group can draw support. Therefore, the only way for the UK decision to have any chance of being successful in achieving its goal, it must exert an equal, if not more, amount of effort and resources on the non-military means of tackling DAISH. This must be done on a multi-dimensional and multi-national level, in order to not only remove the conventional capability of the terrorist organisation (by taking out its weapons infrastructure), but to also nullify its even more powerful and dangerous foundation. This being DAISH’s propensity to resonate with disenfranchised and potentially sympathetic individuals by simultaneously targeting the group through other means, i.e. sanctions, isolation, and providing a viable alternative to its potential audience, i.e. through political means, education, economic mobility, etc.

Image: A Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 at RAF Marham, courtesy of SAC ANDY MASSON/MOD via Wikimedia Commons.

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