Letters: So, could it be legal for Syria to bomb us?

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, 3 September, 2013

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The government has yet to provide a straightforward and convincing answer to the all-important question: would British military intervention in the Syrian civil war be legal?

One country can use military force against another in self-defence, but this does not apply here. One country can militarily intervene in another country’s affairs, which would otherwise amount to an act of war, if the United Nations sanctions this course. This sanction is obtained from the Security Council, but is subject to the permanent members’ power of veto (which would currently be exercised by Russia and China).

Dapo Akande, a respected international lawyer at Oxford University, suggests that the UN General Assembly might have the power to authorise the use of force if its Security Council was not willing to.

As far as I am aware, no tenet of international law authorises a country to take aggressive military action against another country on humanitarian grounds alone. If it were otherwise, absurd consequences could flow. For example, Syria could have militarily intervened in Northern Ireland as a result of the British soldiers’ alleged misconduct towards innocent civilians on Bloody Sunday.

David Ashton, Shipbourne, Kent

I agree with Diane Brace (letter, 31 August) that we shall now not be taking part in killing any Syrians. No, we shall leave such activity to Assad and his thugs, who do it so much better.

Sadly neither shall we be making any attempt to save them from one of the worst warfare atrocities, namely death by chemical weapons. The Geneva Protocol banning such weapons was drawn up in 1925, with Britain one of the first signatories. Now we have refused to join the coalition to enforce that ban.

A sad day for Britain, yes, but thank God for President Obama – and France.

Stuart Russell, Cirencester

Amid all the arguments over whether and in what circumstances military action against Syria might be in accordance with international law, do not forget that there is at present no means of definitively answering the question. There should be an international court to reach a judgment on which everyone could rely.

Richard Laming, London NW2

The fanatics who planned 9/11 believed that they would gain revenge if they killed people in the West, even though their victims had had no influence over their grievances. Bush and Blair believed that they would gain revenge for 9/11 if they killed innocent Iraqis even though they knew those Iraqis had no influence over what had happened on 9/11.

Now some believe that we would gain revenge for those chemical attacks, if we killed conscripts and civilians in Syria who we know had no influence over such attacks. 

Brian Christley, Abergele, Conwy

Regardless of personal politics and the personal aims of the Prime Minister, I am simply glad to live where I live in the world, where the voice of Parliament is listened to and acted upon. The special relationship between Parliament and the people outweighs any special relationship with the US.

John Patrick, Thame, Oxfordshire

Your correspondents who share the “shame” felt by Paddy Ashdown that the UK “white feather brigade” has stopped them bombing yet another Arab country should join the old warhorse in forming their own brigade, and go fight in Syria.

Peter McKenna, Liverpool

Drop pointless badger cull and go for a vaccine

The National Farmers Union is pouring all its effort into promoting and trying to justify the badger cull; a policy that science shows will, at best, have a marginal beneficial effect on the incidence of cattle TB, whilst dividing communities and giving farmers a very bad press.

The union could get the public behind it if it accepted the science and lobbied the Government to develop and deploy a cattle vaccine as a matter of urgency. I’m sure many organisations would support this action. 

This must be achievable technically, as vaccines exist already for humans and badgers. The cost, I imagine, would also be very much less than currently deployed in compensating farmers for the ineffective policy of culling infected cattle. It just needs a determined effort to overcome the red tape of acceptability.

This policy would have winners all round. Let’s join together and put an end to culling cattle and badgers.

Dr Clive Mowforth, Dursley, Gloucestershire

It seems quite extraordinary to me that the badger cull is proceeding alongside measures that should have been in place many years ago. Since introducing tighter bio-security, restricting cattle movement, and improving testing methods the incidence of bTB has fallen, and will no doubt continue to do so.

By insisting on the slaughter of badgers, Owen Paterson will no doubt claim victory on the back of other measures already in place. No one will ever know if this hitherto protected species is involved in the spread of the disease. It is not a viable scientific experiment.

Jill Deane, Staveley, Cumbria

Back to a future of maritime power

Having just returned from another south-coast air show, I realise once again that we British excel at rebuilding old Second World War aircraft such as the Lancaster, Spitfire and Swordfish.

I know we are a poor country, and cannot afford supersonic fighters like the French navy’s Dassault Rafale, but we cannot allow our two new aircraft carriers to put to sea with no aircraft at all. Whilst we still have the plans, and the know-how, we should set about building at least two squadrons of Swordfish, to be ready for action when the carriers are commissioned. 

We may not be able to match French or American fire power at sea, but we will, at least, be more than a match for Indian Ocean pirates.

D Waddington, Ringwood, Hampshire

Atos needs some facts

The Government is discriminating against people with disabilities, including Parkinson’s disease, as a result of entirely unacceptable ignorance. Appointing an agency such as Atos to make life-changing decisions about people, giving them neither the knowledge or information necessary to make  correct judgements is entirely unacceptable.

As a specialist physiotherapist in Parkinson’s, I know that many of my patients’ anxiety levels, already heightened as a symptom of Parkinson’s, are alarmingly threatened by suggestions of benefits being removed. Symptoms of Parkinson’s commonly fluctuate, and medication can wear off, causing sudden changes in mobility and ability to carry out activities of daily living.

Atos needs to accept that it is making wrong decisions based on inappropriate information, and seek guidance from medical experts.

Fiona Lindop, Duffield, Derbyshire

The schools parents choose

The finding of a survey that half of parents would opt to send their children to state schools even if money was no object (report, 28 August) does not tell us much. It would be more informative to judge the actions of those already in that position.

Top bankers, Premier League footballers, successful company directors, chief executives of councils, quangos and big charities are a diverse bunch. What proportion of these opt for the state system? 

Admittedly, those of modest means who find their circumstances change dramatically may be different. Can anyone provide the relevant statistics for lottery winners?

Rupert Fast, Esher, Surrey

Make things, like the Germans

John Rentoul’s article of 28 August was largely about the inadvisability of investing in HS2, and I find myself in agreement with much of what he has to say. However, his references to banking and manufacturing are simplistic.

To say that we are “good at banking” defies the mountain of evidence that has been built up since 2008. Mismanagement at the Co-operative Bank has added to the mismanagement, and worse, at almost all of the British banks.

Rentoul argues that as it is cheaper to make things in the Far East, all manufacturing should be based there. Tell that to the Germans. They understand the importance of manufacturing to their economy. They have a better balanced economy than does Britain and they are the powerhouse of the wider European economy.

I suggest Mr Rentoul make a study of the German economy. He might then find some of the answers that he apparently seeks, especially to the unhealthy economic dominance of London and the South-east.

Roger Barstow Frost, Burnley, Lancashire


Presumably, the BBC will mark the 50th anniversary of President John F Kennedy’s assassination on 22 November 1963. It would be a fine gesture to broadcast the superb That Was The Week That Was programme which David Frost and the rest of that brilliant team put together in 24 hours, a copy of which is, I believe, preserved in the Library of Congress, such was their admiration.

John Birkett, St Andrews

Gove’s puzzle

Michael Gove has been most troubled recently about the number of times some students retake exams. Now he is insisting that those who have failed to achieve Grade C in English and maths should study them further and, presumably, retake the exams until they achieve the necessary standard. How does he square this circle?!

David Downing, Wimborne, Dorset

Help for the Bard

The revision of Romeo and Juliet by Julian Fellowes reminded me of the 1929 Hollywood production of the Taming of the Shrew, which lists in the credits – “The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare – With additional dialogue by Sam Taylor”.

Peter Evans, Walton on Thames,  Surrey