Letters: Dangers of acting – or not – in Syria

These letters are published in the print edition of The Independent, 30 August, 2013


Dangers of acting – or not – in Syria

However the decision may be viewed here in Britain, the U-turn by David Cameron and his government is bound to look to President Assad as weakness. While prudence is important in considering military action, decisions once made are best stuck to.

The likelihood is that the US and possibly France will now go ahead with the long-overdue chastening which the Syrian regime deserves. Britain will be left in a nondescript, neutralist position on the sidelines.

Andrew McLuskey, Staines,  Middlesex


We threaten to intervene in Syria. We intervened unilaterally in Iraq. We have a long history of intervening unilaterally all over the world.

So China, in 25 or 50 years’ time, will follow repeated Western practice, and feel free to intervene where they wish in the world, without working through the United Nations. Is that what we want? 

Do we want China intervening unilaterally in the world’s shipping lanes or in oil-producing countries, or even in the Falklands? Do we want China copying the West, as Japan did in creating its own empire in the 1930s?

It is in the West’s best long-term strategic and security interests to work through the UN.  The UN is the place to resolve this type of problems.

Philip Morgan, Winchester


It is difficult to believe that there are those who refer to the destruction of chemical weapons from the air (i.e. by setting fire to them).

Complete combustion of chemicals requires closely controlled conditions in a purpose-built incinerator, often with the help of a catalyst bed and/or flue gas treatment. A chemical fire produces a toxic mixture of partial combustion products and unburnt gas.Is that what the proponents of aerial bombardment want to release on to the surrounding population?

Alan Pearson, Great Ayton, North Yorkshire


We are being told an unlikely story. If the Assad regime had decided to use chemical weapons to destroy their enemies, they would have made large-scale attacks on multiple targets.

It is more probable that they have dispersed their stocks to avoid destruction from air attack and either there was accidental release or some was misused by local forces of either side.

Peter Saundby, Air Commodore RAF (rtd), Llangynidr, Powys


Any strike on Syria’s chemical weapons depots will involve taking out associated air-defence systems. Is the unspoken, but underlying motive  to clear the way through Syria for the Israelis to strike at Iran?

Edward Hooper, Poole


Cameron, Clegg and Miliband say that military action against Syria will conform to international law. It will not. The United Nations forbids armed attack on other states.

The 1970 UN Declaration on Principles of International Law declares: “Every State has the duty to refrain in its international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. Such a threat or use of force constitutes a violation of international law and the Charter of the United Nations and shall never be employed as a means of settling international issues”.

What part of this do they not understand?

We are told that their action is justified by the “Responsibility to Protect”. Not so. This is not a licence for any bombastic state to attack another. The 2005 World Summit document which approved this responsibility states that ‘The international community, through the United Nations (see UN Security Council resolution 1674), also has the responsibility to....” The responsibility must be exercised through the United Nations Security Council.

Jim McCluskey, Twickenham, Middlesex


We don’t know whether we want Assad to win his civil war or not. We don’t have a candidate to replace him. We just want to send him to bed with a sore bottom and feel important because we will be acting with the Americans again. We are on the verge of a calculated act of premeditated stupidity.

Robert Edwards, Hornchurch, Essex


The rail project we really need

I wholeheartedly agree with John Rentoul’s conclusion that the best way to help the North is to spend on regional transport projects in preference to HS2 (Voices, 28 August). Fortunately such an opportunity exists – northern local authorities are campaigning to have local control over the next Northern Rail franchise, which starts in 2016, and have prepared bold improvement plans for which the benefits, unlike those of HS2, will be felt all across the region.

This is a great contrast to 2004, when idiotic bureaucrats based in London planned the current Northern Rail franchise for zero growth and zero investment. Is it any wonder that the economy in Northern England lags behind London and the South-east, who benefit from 89 per cent of transport spending?

Despite planning for stagnation, passengers on Northern Rail have grown 40 per cent since 2004, so there is a huge backlog of urgent investment in infrastructure and trains. Recent approval of the “Manchester Hub’” and partial trans-Pennine electrification (using cast-off trains from London) are both welcome, but these schemes are nowhere near ambitious enough.

Control over the rail franchise needs to be devolved to the region. And a substantial budget needs to be provided, if necessary by cannibalising HS2.

Dr Andrew Whitworth, Harrogate, North Yorkshire


Before we get too engulfed in despondency about HS2, let’s consider its Cost Benefit Analysis. I remember from using CBA to check viability of road projects; if it is assumed that construction costs are fixed and user benefits are linear variables, the exponential effect of time lost due to congestion will mean that the project will eventually become viable. That is why bypasses are built around bottlenecks.

If the Government dropped the High Speed moniker and stressed the importance of putting in more capacity, it would make the project more palatable.

Paul Coleman, Barkhamsted, Hertfordshire


Get children out of the house

The study from Public Health England (“Television and computer games ‘cause depression in children’ ”, 28 August) confirms the need to reconnect our children with nature and the outdoors.

A sedentary, screen-based childhood is making our children sad and sick. I agree with Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, who two weeks ago argued for a return to an “outdoor childhood” as a way to address poor health. As a filmmaker, I don’t deny the amazing potential of television and the internet to entertain and educate children. But the balance has swung far towards screen time and away from wild time.

Making Project Wild Thing, a documentary about children’s relationship with nature, I strapped a camera to my five-year-old daughter’s head to see how she spent her time. A third is spent in school, over a quarter on screens and just 4 per cent playing outside. Research shows she is not atypical.

How, with indoor entertainment so addictive, do we market nature to children and parents?

David Bond, London SE14


Enough is enough for true Lib Dems

I imagine most honourable Liberal Democrat MPs would like their party to leave the Coalition now, appalled by the changes they are enabling: potential war in the Middle East, privatisation of large parts of the NHS and of Royal Mail, fracking, increasing numbers of people in desperate poverty, even proposals to allow companies such as Serco and G4S to bid to manage services for vulnerable children in England (not just selling off the family silver, but selling off the family).

Decent Lib Dems must shudder at such retrogressive measures, for which they will be blamed together with the Conservatives (“Don’t link us to Osbornomics, say Lib Dem activists”, 28 August).

Lib Dem MPs probably would not dare leave the Coalition individually, but might feel freer to do so simultaneously with others. 

Many former Lib Dem members, workers and voters say that they will not vote Lib Dem again. If these people contacted local Liberal Democrat MPs and constituency and local party offices, by letter, email, phone or in person, to say that they would not vote Lib Dem in future unless the party leaves the Coalition now, many Lib Dem MPs might feel obliged to act, thus preventing even more damage to our country.

Sally Parrott, Cranleigh, Surrey


Hospital food

A simple and, presumably, quite cheap means of monitoring, assessing and improving the standard of hospital meals (leading article, 28 August) would be for all the management and clinicians, while working at each hospital, to eat only the food served to patients. That would be self-regulation at work.

Roger Thomas, Aberlady,  East Lothian


Who is speaking?

Research has shown that two thirds of adults have received unwanted calls from people trying to sell payment protection insurance (report 29 August). I wonder if as many people have received unwanted research calls.

Gary Clark, London EC2


Tory morality

Your headline reports that “Cameron makes “moral case” for attack on Syria’ ”. Would he now like to make a “moral case” for starving the English poor?

Martin London, Henllan, Denbighshire

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