News / Europe

    Opposition Blocks British Plan for Syria Attack

    Britain's opposition Labor leader Ed Miliband is seen addressing the House of Commons in this still image taken from video in London August 29, 2013.
    Britain's opposition Labor leader Ed Miliband is seen addressing the House of Commons in this still image taken from video in London August 29, 2013.
    Al Pessin
    Concern over whether chemical weapons were actually used in Syria, and by whom, has moved the British opposition Labor Party to lead a rare successful move to block a foreign policy initiative by the prime minister.  Parliament refused to back military action against Syria - and that could make things more difficult for U.S. President Barack Obama.

    British Prime Minister David Cameron had called Parliament back from its summer recess to seek authorization for military action aimed at “deterring and preventing” the Syrian government from using its chemical weapons arsenal.
     
    But after the opposition and some members of his coalition raised concerns that he was moving too fast - before United Nations weapons inspectors report their findings and before the Security Council can act - he was forced to change his resolution to allow time for that, and to promise a second Parliament vote before any British forces might act.  However, even that was not enough to gain support from lawmakers.
     
    Cameron couched his change in terms of past mistakes, when the opposition party was in power and Britain went along with another U.S.-led military move in the Middle East.
     
    “I am deeply mindful of the lessons of previous conflicts, and in particular the deep concerns in the country caused by what went wrong with the Iraq conflict in 2003.  But at the same time, we must not let the specter of previous mistakes paralyze our ability to stand up for what is right,” said the British prime minister.
     
    But Cameron said what is contemplated in Syria, air strikes on specific military targets related to chemical weapons, is nothing like the Iraq war, which aimed to overthrow the government and involved a long-term commitment of land forces.  He said the international community has a responsibility to protect the Syrian people from chemical weapons, to deter their further use, and to uphold the nearly 90-year-old global ban on them.
     
    Opposition Labor Party leader Ed Miliband, who played a pivotal role in blocking Cameron’s desire for immediate authorization to use force, supports much of the government’s revised plan. But he expressed concern that voting for it would be seen as at least preliminary authorization to use force.
     
    “Today could not have been the day when the House was asked to decide on military action.  For this House it is surely a basic point - evidence should precede decision, not decision precede evidence,” said the Labor Party leader.
     
    Going slow
     
    Still, Miliband agreed that Britain could join military action even without United Nations authorization, under the principle called “duty to protect,” and if there were substantial international support. 
     
    And Cameron acknowledged that even with the evidence already in hand, and the additional information from the inspectors, there will still be a judgment to be made about whether military action is justified. He also warned of the danger of not acting, which he said the Syrian government would take as clearance for more use of chemical weapons. 
     
    U.S. policy expert James Boys at London’s King’s College, says the British adoption of a ‘go-slow’ approach causes problems for President Barack Obama, who is convinced of the Syrian government’s guilt and has indicated he is ready to act.
     
    “If he can’t get British support, he’s got a serious political calculation to make.  Does he go it alone and be seen to be, in the eyes of many, a simple replacement for George W. Bush, acting without U.N. support and without even the support of America’s closest ally, the United Kingdom," Boys said. "Or does he backtrack and perhaps wait for some sort of international support, be that through the U.N. or through other bilateral-lateral actors.”
     
    Boys added any Western nation that decides to take military action in Syria has to be prepared for consequences, including military retaliation by Syria and perhaps its allies, political retaliation by its main supporters, especially Russia, and the potential that Western forces could be drawn into exactly the kind of long-term war officials are determined to avoid.

    You May Like

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Forced Anal Testing Case to Appear Before Kenya Court

    Men challenge use of anal examinations to ‘prove homosexuality’; practice accomplishes nothing except to humiliate those subjected to them, according to Human Rights Watch

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora