Emile Roemer and Harry van Bommel: Syrians are crying out for bread, not bombs

1 February 2016

Emile Roemer and Harry van Bommel: Syrians are crying out for bread, not bombs

Foto: SP

The PvdA (Labour Party), the junior partner in the Netherlands’ coalition government, is no longer an opponent of airstrikes being carried out by Dutch F-16s on ISIS targets in Syria. This is a remarkable decision, because the arguments against bombing used by this party in the recent past are still valid. The civil war in Syria has already led to the deaths of more than 260,000 people and created tens of millions refugees. From humanitarian considerations it’s clear that intervention is needed, but the lessons of previous interventions must not be forgotten. For these reasons we were pleased by the Labour Party’s refusal to give its support to airstrikes. Its leader, Diederik Samsom, was right to observe that what was needed first was a political plan for the future of Syria. There is still a need for such. Warring parties are arguing about who gets a seat at the negotiating table.

A second argument used by Labour against airstrikes is that Assad should not be left sitting pretty. This is important, because he bears the major responsibility for the disaster. Now that Russia has joined in the bombing, however, Assad’s troops are winning back territory from the insurgents. If the Netherlands is now going to bomb ISIS positions, Assad will be getting unintentional help in this. This isn’t the aim of the PvdA’s decision, but it will certainly be its result.

The social democrats further stated that bombing would be ‘unwise’ as long as Turkey continued to attack the Syrian Kurds and Russia the moderate armed opposition. That is, however, precisely what is now occurring. Dutch support for the bombing of ISIS positions will change nothing in relation to this. Increasing attacks from the air will, indeed, result in yet more refugees who will not all be able to be accommodated in neighbouring countries. Camps there are already bursting at the seams.

There are of course more reasons than this to oppose extending the airstrikes by Dutch F16s. They will ensure more civilian victims and make it even easier for ISIS to recruit new fighters. Extending Dutch participation to Syria makes our country an even more attractive target for IS. We shouldn’t keep quiet about that. Lastly we agree with military experts who are unanimous in their view that terrorism cannot be combatted with airstrikes, and certainly not when the terrorists form part of the indigenous people. Fifteen years of the ‘war against terrorism’ must in fact lead to the conclusion that terrorist groups thrive in the chaos which is repeatedly the result of western adventures. Just think about the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the latter an important cause of the rise of ISIS. A military focus in the struggle against terrorism creates its own enemies.

Instead of airstrikes, which could work counterproductively, every effort should be made to bring a diplomatic solution closer. A cease-fire with no close conditions would be a first step. The supply of anything which fuels the conflict, whether arms, money or fighters must be ended. An arms embargo and control of the border between Syria and Turkey are needed to achieve this. In the short term humanitarian aid saves lives and it is there where the accent must be put. Syrians are crying out not for bombs but for bread, medicines and blankets. Without urgent humanitarian aid and a diplomatic offensive there will be no hope of a future for the people of this country and waring groups will continue to fight. In that respect, Dutch bombers will change nothing.

This article first appeared in the original Dutch on 1st February in the national newspapers Nrc.next and NRC Handelsblad. Emile Roemer is leader of the SP. Harry van Bommel is a Member of Parliament and the SP’s parliamentary spokesman on foreign affairs and defence.

You are here