THE BLOG
02/09/2013 08:10 BST | Updated 30/10/2013 05:12 GMT

We Must Act on Syria

The crisis in Syria is escalating fast and forever changing. For the past two days, we have listened to British and American politicians choosing their words with extreme caution as the list of potential options available is narrowed. Already this has gone on to long. There comes a point where the talking has to end and action must be taken. There can be no more discussions at the United Nations, nothing is going to be resolved there regarding this crisis.

For me the solution seems clear cut, military action must be taken to stop the Assad regime destroying Syria and its citizens, literally. We cannot end up with another situation like Rwanda where in the eyes of then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the world could not bring itself to act. That must not be allowed to happen again.

Since March 2011, when the conflict erupted in Syria, it is estimated that over 100,000 people have been killed. Now, the Syrian government has denied it is responsible for a suspected chemical attack near Damascus on 21 August in which hundreds of people are reported to have died, blaming opposition forces for the deaths.

Figures suggest that 3,600 patients with neurotoxic symptoms were treated at three hospitals and that at least 355 of them died. But that is not the whole story. The Violations Documentation Centre, the most measured and least sensationalist of the organisations logging casualties in the conflict, listed the names and details of 457 people it said died of chemical poisoning in eight Damascus suburbs on Wednesday. That too is likely to be a minimum figure. US Secretary of State John Kerry says 1429 people were killed in chemical attacks.

These are the first chemical attacks of the 21st century, so the response from the international community is important as it will set the precedent for future responses and can be used to deter future attacks.

Over the last few days, the world seems to have become tangled up in a never ending line of questions over whether a military intervention would be legal. I for one cannot see what all the brouhaha is about.

There is no international court that is going to give the go ahead to intervene in the crisis.

But there is rapidly developing framework for military intervention on humanitarian grounds, known as the Responsibility to Protect, which was born out of the disasters that occurred in Kosovo and Rwanda in the 1990s. This framework is widely accepted and its main principles are:

• States must protect their own populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, while, simultaneously, the international community has an obligation to help states prevent such crimes

• Where there is strong evidence of these crimes and a state cannot or will not stop them, the international community should exhaust all peaceful means in seeking to bring the atrocity to an end

• If all that is done, and fails, the international community can use military force

In the case of Syria, they will argue that there is an ongoing atrocity, all peaceful means of stopping it have been exhausted, and that targeted military action could achieve the dual goals of ending the atrocity and protecting the civilian population.

Despite this, the UK Parliament, in a shocking turn of events, voted to remain completely absent from all forms of military action in Syria. This is an absolutely disgraceful decision. Prime Minister David Cameron had been keen to secure the support of his parliament in order to begin operations as quickly as possible in support of the US. But the leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband, surprised the government by wishing to amend to motion that action was needed. Following Cameron's surprise defeat, Miliband has been claiming political victory, in a sickening display of political point scoring whilst innocent lives are lost in the conflict.

The US will continue on its path to military action with or without UK support but it seems clear to me that the UK should be involved in some manner. We cannot be seen to condone chemical attacks by refusing to respond and bring about justice.The main fear of course is the similarities to the crisis in Syria to the situation in Iraq a decade ago. It is merely substitution of the main political players. Instead of Bush, Blair and Hussein, it is Obama, Cameron and Assad.

However, the public appear to remain deeply affected by what happened a decade ago. Polls suggest opposition to military strikes running at two to one. What happened in Iraq has made citizens and politicians alike very averse to more conflict in the region, but in this case, where there has been chemical attacks, the simple fact is this. We may not want to act, but we simply must.

This conflict is entirely different to Iraq. This is not about boots on the ground. This is not about regime change. This is about upholding international and humanitarian law and deterring the use of chemical weapons to protect innocent people from being murdered in future by brutal dictators.

The UN inspection team will not be able to determine who was responsible for the attacks, although in the US' eyes the evidence is fairly clear that the Assad regime is responsible.

This is partly why Russia and China will continue to refuse to cooperate with the West on this issue, and as permanent members on the UN Security Council, they can block resolutions that attempt to allow military action over Syria. The Russians have not stopped arguing their case that military intervention would be wrong. Newspapers in Moscow have likened the stand-off to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

"If optimists in the Pentagon believe that Russia will limit itself to warnings and expressions of anger, like it did over Iraq and Yugoslavia, they may well be mistaken," one declared on its website.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has made it clear that his country has "no plans to go to war with anyone". But there are other ways in which Russia could display its disapproval of Western intervention and its anger with the United States. Moscow may increase weapons supplies to Damascus, forge closer ties with Iran and reduce co-operation with Washington, further weakening the US-Russian relationship that was already on rocky ground.

Many will not trust the US's reasoning for the need for intervention after its previous experiences in the region. But by actually listening to President Obama, you will see he is reluctant for conflict. Mr Obama also knows that his own public does not want another costly, open-ended adventure in the Middle East.

Listening to him, he does not sound like a man gung ho for military action. It sounds like the pleading of man being dragged, by allies and world opinion to do something but who wants to be certain it doesn't end up in a new war. This will not be another Iraq.

What has happened already in Syria has been a terrible tragedy, and world cannot sit idly by and let such attacks continue to happen, action must be taken. If not, that would be an even bigger tragedy.