THE BLOG
04/02/2016 11:06 GMT | Updated 04/02/2017 05:12 GMT

Without Decisive Action on Syria, Life Jackets Will Keep Piling Up on the Shores of Europe

Just hours before today's Summit on Syria got under way, peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition in Geneva were suspended. In the last few weeks, as negotiations floundered, Russia stepped up its bombing campaign in support of Assad. And up to one million Syrians are being slowly starved to death as a brutal act of war perpetrated primarily by the Assad regime. My fear is that unless we redouble our efforts to address the root causes of this conflict however deep donors dig today it will not be enough.

When the Prime Minister came to Parliament in December asking MPs to back military action against Da'esh he promised that UK diplomats would work 'day and night' to secure a peaceful end to the conflict.

Sadly, two months on there is precious little progress to report either at the negotiating table or in the UK playing a more active role. British humanitarian leadership, the impact of the crisis on our shores and the role the UK is now playing in military strikes against Da'esh should all have secured a position of real influence for the UK but according to those most involved in the talks we remain semi-connected and mostly irrelevant.

The vacuum we have left has contributed to two worrying trends.

Firstly, Russian dominance in Syria is now almost complete. Since Russia intervened to shore up Assad last September it has deployed a formidable array of weaponry, including advanced war planes, their best tanks and more recently cruise missiles. And though Putin talks the talk about targeting terrorists less than 30% of their air strikes have hit Da'esh. The vast majority are aimed at Syria's moderate opposition. They have also been accused of incriminate bombing in civilian areas resulting in hundreds of civilian casualties. Their intervention hugely strengthens Assad on both the battlefield and at the negotiating table.

Secondly, the UK has been unable to influence the US position. Those close to the negotiations say that the US is focused on a short-term deal at any cost. And as such is prepared to offer concessions to Assad and his Russian allies that diminish the chances for a sustainable peace.

Without more leadership from the Prime Minister and a unified European voice to balance both the Russian and US approach we risk prolonging and worsening the crisis in Syria and, by extension, here in Europe.

That will require widening the UK's thinking beyond Da'esh and engaging in the real conflict dynamics. Da'esh and Assad are not separate problems. Assad's brutality has nurtured extremism and been its main recruiting sergeant.

As a practical first step this wider approach should mean the UK pushing issues that would build confidence with the Syrian opposition groups. That should include measures to end the brutal sieges and the use of starvation as a weapon of war, the use of barrel bombs and cluster munitions. These steps have all been agreed unanimously at the UN Security Council, including by Russia. The UK should be strongly insisting that these not be up for re-negotiation.

Without action the life jackets will keep piling up on the shores of Europe as desperate people continue to flee. And the flames of this conflict will continue to rise, driving even more Syrians from their country or into the arms of extremists.

Jo Cox is the Labour MP for Batley & Spen