Syria: The Government's limited and targeted action was necessary to alleviate suffering

This is a rather different article from the one I first set out to write this week. The House of Commons has reassembled after the use of military force by the UK, France and the USA, following the chemical attack on people in Douma, in Syria. Two emergency debates have taken place and the PM has answered several hours of questions on it.

The Prime Minister expressed this country’s repugnance at the use of chemical weapons when at international meetings last week and this weekend in her statement after the military action. Mrs May stressed that the action was limited and targeted. It was done on the basis of alleviating further humanitarian suffering and to strengthen the international conventions against using such weapons.

This country has taken action on a number of past occasions when there has not been a United Nations resolution in place to authorise it.  Examples of these actions were in Kosovo, when Serbian forces were about to commit ethnic cleansing, and in Northern Iraq when Saddam Hussein was about to attack the Kurds. In this case no UN authorisation was possible because Russia has blocked each attempt to stop the use of banned chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.

The UK has always adhered to the principle that humanitarian necessity should be a guiding principle in these circumstances. The action taken was only what was considered to be necessary and proportionate to protect civilians from further such attacks. I believe that the legal basis for doing this is well established. If the right to take such action did not exist no genocide or human suffering however horrifying could ever be prevented if a UN resolution could not be obtained.

In general I would not advocate that a Government, using prerogative powers , should undertake military action without seeking the agreement of Parliament through the House of Commons first. But  there are occasions, and I consider this was one of them, when the time frame for a specific action is constrained and makes this impossible.

Dominic Grieve

This article first appeared in the Bucks Free Press on 20th April 2018.