All available evidence indicates that the Syrian regime was responsible for this attack on its own people. This must be stopped not just to protect innocent people in Syria, but because we cannot and will not allow an erosion of international norms that prevent the use of chemical weapons.
I voted for action in Syria back in 2013. As was the case then, we are neither trying to change a regime, nor to impose some Western style democracy. No British troops are committed to the region. There are no risks taken with British pilots. Instead, there is one clear and modest objective: to prevent and deter the use of chemical weapons which have been subject to a worldwide ban since 1925 and the use of which is a war crime. This was a very limited intervention to address a particular crime and was nothing like Tony Blair's engagements in Iraq fifteen years ago which were hugely ambitious and ran into severe problems.
Wars leave a profound imprint on the public consciousness and we are always at risk of allowing the experience of our most recent conflict to cloud our judgment about the events of the day. The horrors of the First World War led to the policies of appeasement and disarmament which then contributed to the Second World War. The world did too little, too late in Rwanda and in Bosnia but was then too ambitious in its intervention in Iraq. This week many MPs who voted against action in Syria in 2013 expressed their regret at having failed to act.
In the Balkans twenty years ago, the world also did too little too late. The diplomatic establishment stood on the sidelines insisting that nothing could be done, reciting the ancient adage that you should not “mess with the Balkans” and fearful that they might upset Russia. As a result around 100,000 people were killed, 8000 men and boys were massacred at Srebrenica in 1995 and an estimated 30,000 women and girls were subjected to systematic rape which was used as a weapon of war. There were lots of “what if?” doubters at the time who cautioned against involvement but when we did finally intervene in Kosovo in 1998, we actually found it was a relatively simple operation that should have been done far sooner.
There are only three countries in the world that have the military capability to stop the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria: Britain, America and France. We must stand with France and the United States to do the right thing.