Syria strike signals UK’s active role in global security


David-Cameron

Authorising airstrikes in Syria against the Islamic State, the British Parliament voted overwhelmingly on December 2 to support the government’s decision to intervene in Syria. The vote was seen by many as a referendum of UK’s willingness to play an active role in global security.  Over the years, the UK has been criticised for withdrawing from participating in international affairs.

 British warplanes launched their first attacks hours after the Parliament approved the air strikes. The Defense Ministry said that four Tornado jets took off from the Akrotiri Royal Air Force Base in Cyprus and returned to base safely after carrying out airstrikes, according to British news media reports.

The vote came after months of debate, which vindicated the stance of Prime Minister David Cameron. The Conservative Party, which has a majority in Parliament, aims to restore Britain’s reputation as a serious global player. “The threat is very real,” Mr Cameron said of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, on December 2 as he opened the debate in the House of Commons. “The question is this: Do we work with our allies to degrade and destroy this threat?”

The British lawmakers endorsed the government’s decision by voting 397-223 to go along with Mr Cameron’s plan. There were some forceful speeches against the strikes. With serious questions being raised about the extent to which British airstrikes would make a difference in the fight against the Islamic State, the military is already conducting strikes against the militants in Iraq. The biggest criticism of Britain has always been its lack of leadership in the international realm in recent years. The country was being seen as a reluctant participant in global affairs.

Analysts have differing views on the decision. “It will not make a big operational difference,” said Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute, a research organization specializing in security. “It is important symbolically, useful operationally, but not transformative,” he said. “A willingness to deploy will allay the concern that the U.K. is not a reliable partner.”

During his first term, Mr Cameron had earned a reputation for lack of interest in foreign policy that seemed to contradict Britain’s history, or its status as a nuclear power and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

Mr Cameron was reluctant to follow through on his commitment to spend 2 percent of the GDP on military, citing a need to reduce Britain’s national deficit. By not honoring the 2 percent commitment, it caused enormous differences between the US and UK governments. After winning the 2015 elections with a narrow majority in May, Mr Cameron wanted to restore Britain’s reputation on the global stage and play a more tangible role in the international sphere. He now plans to follow through on his promise to expand airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Mr Cameron has announced an increase in military spending in real terms of 3 percent over the next four years. The spending will focus on special forces, intelligence gathering and doubling of Britain’s drone fleet.

After Britian’s fiasco in Iraq and Afghanistan, the country has remained sceptical about involvement in Syria. Mr Cameron has had to invest a lot of political capital in cajoling lawmakers which included even  his own party to support him.