WITH parliament being recalled from recess, it is clear that military action by British armed forces against the Syrian regime is now, at the very least, a possibility.
Even the fact that this is now on the cards is a clear message to president Bashar al-Assad that the West’s reticence about getting involved in his country’s civil war – a reticence that Assad has cynically exploited to bring cruel force to bear on his own civilian population – may be about to come to an abrupt end.
The apparent use of chemical weapons by the Damascus regime – in a suburb of its own capital city, with gruesome and indiscriminate effects on innocent men, women and children – has made this move by David Cameron necessary. The alternative – to sit back and watch some of the most barbaric weapons known to man being used on yet more of Syria’s population – is unthinkable.
But there are a number of things we have to be clear about before British assets are scrambled for action. It is all very well for Foreign Secretary William Hague and US secretary of state John Kerry to say it looks like Assad-controlled forces were behind the chemical weapons attacks. There were meant to be weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, until that proved – too late – to be a chimera.
United Nations weapons inspectors are currently doing their work in Damascus – albeit under intolerable circumstances, including coming under sniper fire. We should wait until we have their conclusions before, if necessary, taking the next step.
The second point to make clear is that an attack against government forces in Syria cannot be a precursor to ground troops from the British Army being deployed in Syria. With the British dead of Iraq and Afghanistan a constant reminder of the cost of overseas “boots on the ground” deployment – whether justified or not – this lesson has been sorely learned. The example of western air bombardment of Colonel Gadaffi’s forces in Libya, which hastened his demise, is the more appropriate template.
Britain and its allies must also ensure the widest possible support in the international community – particularly among Arab states. This will be particularly important in the likely absence of UN Security Council endorsement, given Russian president Vladimir Putin’s intransigence.
It is also important that any military action by British forces has the expressed support of the Westminster parliament. Gone are the days when prime ministers can act as commanders-in-chief and make decisions of their own volition committing this country to armed aggression.
All the indications are that the Ministry of Defence plan taking shape would be to concentrate an attack on Assad’s chemical weapons capabilities. This would be a smart move. Not only does it limit the scope of any conflict, it would also give a clear signal that we will not stand by in the face of barbarity.
Ideal platform to bridge tourism gap
THE Forth Bridge is more than just a useful way of getting from North Queensferry to South Queensferry. This is one of the engineering wonders of the world, a happy marriage of power and elegance that has made it one of Scotland’s most iconic structures.
Usually we only glance at it in passing, while driving on the nearby road bridge or watching the red girders sail by as we travel across the Firth of Forth by train. Or we might be lucky enough to see it from the air – a majestic sight – on approach to Edinburgh Airport, if the clouds part long enough. Now, however, we and visitors to Scotland are to be
offered the opportunity to experience the bridge in a way that has previously only been available to painters, engineers and Blue Peter presenters.
The new development, with the chance to view the world from the top of one of the red arches, promises to be a wonderful opportunity for those with a head for heights.
The £15 million visitor centre and lift is an excellent and innovative addition to the range of sights and experiences that Scotland offers to the hundreds of thousands of tourists who come to our shores every year.
It will also prove a useful and most welcome boost for the communities at both ends of the bridge.
Despite their proximity to one of the world’s most recognisable landmarks, they could do with earning more from a more prominent place on the country’s tourist map.
The two new visitor facilities – the viewing platform and visitor centre on the north landfall and a smaller facility on the opposite bank – will, hopefully, help both communities and tourists.