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8:35am on Wednesday, 24th September, 2014:

War Games


Hmm, so it looks as if the UK government is planning on joining in with air strikes on the Syrian operation of the organisation that calls itself Islamic State. Quite aside from the practical problems of this (you can only bomb them when they're in the open, otherwise it would have been like bombing the IRA in the 1980s — you're basically bombing civilian targets), there's the little matter of its legality.

It's OK to bomb IS in Iraq because the internationally recognised government of Iraq asked for help. However, it's not OK to bomb IS in Syria because Syria hasn't asked for help and is extremely unlikely to do so. This means that it would require a UN revolution to attack IS, which again won't happen because Syria's ally Russia would veto it. It's made worse because although the UK government no longer recognises the Syrian government as being the legal authority to govern Syria, it doesn't recognise the right of any other group either; none has yet emerged from the several loose coalitions fighting against the Assad regime.

Attacking IS legally is therefore difficult. There are some exceptions that allow for conducting military operations in country without its permission, for example if you're at war with it, or if it poses an imminent threat to you (not merely a potential threat), or if there's a humanitarian disaster (although that still needs UN support). It looks, therefore, as if the UK will be breaking international law if it joins in the air strikes (although I'm sure the Attorney General will find a graphene-thin justification).

What the government should do is ask a gamer. A gamer would look at the situation and note that Iraq is an ally of the UK, IS is at war with Iraq, and therefore attacking IS would be legitimate if IS were a state. IS has declared itself to be a state, so merely by recognising that it's a state, the UK can quite legitimately attack it in defence of its ally, Iraq. There's no need to get Syria's permission to bomb parts of Syria, as those are no longer parts of Syria, they're parts of IS. When the dust settles, IS can be derecognised and the situation returns to what it was before. It's a mere legal device, but gamers are good at spotting loopholes in rules...

Of course, if Ed Miliband hadn't been so duplicitous a couple of years ago in promising Labour support for air strikes on Syria itself then reneging in the emergency debate that Cameron subsequently called, IS perhaps wouldn't have come to be in the first place.

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