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

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More