An independent inquiry should examine the UK’s failure to intervene militarily in the Syrian conflict, MPs have said, with a Commons committee concluding the “price of inaction” has been “unacceptably high”.
The UK carried out air strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in April 2018 following a chemical weapons attack, but calls for action to protect civilians had been made as early as 2011.
The Commons foreign affairs committee said there had been a “manifest failure to protect civilians and to prevent mass atrocity crimes in Syria”, adding that the lack of an early response had contributed to a crisis with “repercussions in Europe and the UK”.
The committee accepted that the government had made a “significant contribution” to humanitarian efforts, but said the failure to act had resulted in severe consequences and opened the door for Russia and Iran to intervene.
The committee’s report said: “It has become clear through our inquiry that the price of inaction in the case of Syria has been unacceptably high.
“Starting as a peaceful protest in March 2011, the Syrian conflict has subsequently claimed an estimated 400,000 lives, and led to 11 million people – half the Syrian population – being forced to leave their homes.”
The MPs said that investigations such as the Iraq Inquiry had examined the “cost, complexities and challenges of intervening” but “the consequences of not acting are less well understood”.
“We believe that the consequences of inaction can be every bit as serious as intervening.”
Calls for intervention to establish no-fly zones, or humanitarian corridors to protect civilians in Syria, had been made in 2011 and 2012.
In August 2013, following a chemical weapons attack, David Cameron’s government was defeated in the House of Commons over intervention in Syria.
Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat said yesterday: “The consequences of inaction can be devastating.
“The people of Syria show clearly that choosing not to act, standing aside, can have consequences every bit as real and horrific as the decision to act.”
With the situation in Idlib reaching “crisis point”, action to prevent mass atrocities is ever more urgent, he said.
The 2018 air strikes, in conjunction with the US and France, were justified by ministers on the basis of “humanitarian intervention”.