Aaron Ellis 10.38am
Britain should help topple brutal regimes only where it is in our interests to help and our help ought to be proportionate to those interests.
I thought up the ‘Ellis Doctrine’ for humanitarian intervention in response to David Cameron’s justification for intervening in Libya, oft repeated by the war’s supporters.
“Just because you can’t do the right thing everywhere doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the right thing somewhere”, argued the Prime Minister.
But by what criteria had he judged Libya to be “somewhere”? Why was intervention the “right thing” for us to do, as opposed to other forms of help? For years, the Conservatives had said that British foreign policy under them would be “strategic”, yet Mr Cameron’s justification for the Libyan campaign was extraordinarily non-strategic. The Ellis Doctrine offered a framework with which to think about a future crisis.
Given the crisis in Syria is far more complex than the one that confronted us in Libya, British policy needs to be appropriately nuanced. There are many reasons why Britain should help the Syrian people topple Bashar al-Assad, but we ought to limit our involvement as much as possible. The risks of too big an investment outweigh the rewards. We must limit ourselves to containing the spillover from the conflict into neighbouring countries.
Yet our policy is trending in the other direction. The Prime Minister has suggested arming the rebels. The Chief of the Defence Staff warned recently that troops may intervene if the humanitarian crisis worsened. And the ‘National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces’ (NCSROF) has been prematurely recognised as the “sole legitimate representative” of the Syrian people.
If Britain is to surmount the challenges of the twenty-first century and re-climb the greasy pole of international affairs, we need a prudent foreign policy. The country must sort out its finances, build up its resources, and think carefully about where in the world it gets involved in and how.
David Cameron used to recognise this, and, in recent months, seems to have rediscovered his ‘grand strategic’ ambitions. At the Conservative party conference, he declared that “[e]very battle we fight, every plan we make, every decision we take” was designed to help the United Kingdom “rise” amidst the decline and fall of other Great Powers. “I am not going to stand here as Prime Minister and allow [us] to join the slide.”
As welcome as his rediscovery of ‘the vision thing’ is, he has also consistently fallen short of realising it whenever put to the test. Unless Mr Cameron wants Britain to become a hegemonic power in the eastern Mediterranean, then our deepening involvement in Syria is part of this disappointing trend. Involving us in a fourth conflict in a decade – with little at stake and with no coherent political-military strategy – will hasten our fall, not reverse it.
British policy must focus on stopping the civil war from spreading into the lands of close allies like Jordan. There are nearly 200,000 refugees there. Speaking in August, when the number was around 140,000, King Abdullah said: “We can’t afford anymore Syrians coming through because of the load it is on the system here.”
In October, the New York Times reported that the United States had sent military personnel to the country to help the Jordanians handle the crisis. Given our long history with the Hashemite dynasty, this is what we ought to be doing.
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