The rise of Islamic State’s brutal caliphate has sent shockwaves across the world in the last couple of years. The international community is rightly united in condemning IS and its destructive sadism, but a huge question remains over whether we should be intervening militarily in Syria with airstrikes.
It’s clear that some sort of intervention is needed; the sheer brutality of the IS regime, their explicit goal of trying to eliminate the moderate “grey area” to split the world into two warring camps and the fact that to them violence seems to be not just a means but something to celebrate in itself all make it clear that IS cannot be negotiated with. To expect a political, non-military settlement from such zealous fanatics as IS is naïve.
The unyielding viciousness of IS also makes Syria in 2015 different from Iraq in 2003. The justification for Iraq was clearly based on lies and misdirection, but now there is at least room for discussion. IS is barbaric and pose a threat to us which they make no effort to hide. There is a clear target and compelling reasons for engaging this target; allusions to Iraq, although understandable, don’t do justice to the key differences between then and now.
While airstrikes cannot defeat IS on their own, they have proven effective in aiding ground forces such as Kurdish troops in bids to recapture strategically important cities. Indeed, Kurdish troops themselves have repeatedly said that airstrikes have significantly aided their campaigns, allowing them to carry out operations with smaller losses and quicker results. And though IS may have grown wise as to the best ways of avoiding airstrikes, that doesn’t change the fact that a sustained airstrike campaign limits their mobility, keeps them pinned down and grinds away at their morale – important assets that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Speaking of morale, part of the appeal of IS lies in its success. Fighters are drawn in by the image of a glorified, righteous war against non-believers, one in which IS makes sweeping gains against numerically or technologically superior armies. Bursting this bubble by keeping up the military pressure will tarnish the all-conquering image IS would very much like to promulgate. There’s no better example of this than the siege of Kobani in summer 2014, where airstrikes repeatedly blunted IS’ attacks against the Kurdish defenders and played a crucial role in denying IS a key symbolic victory. Defeat at Kobani showed the world IS could be beaten, and this stalled their momentum for some time.
The government’s plans need much work, especially with regard to the faith they (mis)place in 70,000 “moderates” in Syria. As such, perhaps boots on the ground, while regrettable, will be necessary. But for the time being, while the international coalition decides on its next steps, military pressure against IS needs to be sustained. This problem will not simply go away with a diplomatic or political solution – we are talking about an organisation that has made abundantly clear that it believes there is no room for negotiation. Airstrikes are a terrible thing to resort to, and it would of course be much better if we didn’t have to use them. But sadly we don’t live in that kind of world yet.
Using airstrikes in Syria will “make us safer” according to David Cameron. We’ve heard it all before. The now infamous ‘WMD’ claim in 2003 was the same, a pathetic attempt to justify an illegal war. The idea that dropping bombs on civilian areas will bring peace and stability to the region and the world as a whole is as laughable as it dangerous. A war is exactly what ISIS want, and it is of the upmost importance that we don’t give it to them.
Too often people assume that dropping bombs in Syria will only kill members of the caliphate. We forget the thousands of civilians living in the areas controlled by the terrorists, half a million in Raqqa alone, civilians who would be killed by airstrikes. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Russian airstrikes have killed 485 civilians in the past two months, including 117 children. This loss of innocent life is the reality of airstrikes, and if the UK were to partake in bombing Syria then we would be contributing to the death toll.
It is true that terrorists are also killed in these strikes, but if we use this as an excuse to take innocent lives can we claim to be any better than these terrorists? Furthermore, western airstrikes play into the hands of ISIS, as they are a powerful tool in their radicalisation process. 21st century western intervention in the Middle East has not brought peace to the region, but only made it more unstable. Invading Iraq has dramatically increased resentment towards the UK, and was a major factor in the 7/7 bombings, the last major terrorist attack on British soil. UK airstrikes would only exacerbate the situation, and almost definitely increase the likelihood of further terror attacks.
ISIS want a war. They want a reaction from governments. They aim to create fear, and a retaliation of airstrikes would only show that they are succeeding in their aim. Violence ought to be a last resort, and that the UK has taken such drastic action shows we are frightened and unsure. Bombing Syria would further isolate them from the international stage, and therefore make it easier for ISIS to expand into more areas of the country.
The way to defeat ISIS is to bankrupt them financially, not to stoop to their lows and kill innocent civilians. If the UK were serious about stopping ISIS, then we would stop trading with the countries that supply them with arms and money, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey. We should cut ties with and place sanctions on these countries. If the UK were to take this leading role, other countries may follow suit and force nations like Saudi Arabia and Turkey to rethink their actions.
UK airstrikes on Syria will prove a terrible decision, both on an ethical and a practical level. The main beneficiaries of such a strategy are ISIS themselves and the weapons companies who manufacture the planes and bombs, and not the people of the UK or Syria.
[Images: Independent & New Statesman]