Britain opts out of bombing Syria

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Britain’s decision not to join the US and its allies in bombing IS in Syria is good news, particularly but not only for Syrian civilians. Even though David Cameron didn’t mention the illegality of such an attack, he knows that the Commons would raise it in a Parliamentary debate, and that because of uncertainty about the purpose and outcome of bombing, the Tories would be likely to lose a vote, as they did in 2013.

There are two lessons in this for Australia. Our RAAF operations in Syria, whether inspired by Tony Abbott or President Obama, are illegal for the same reasons as British ones would be, and their purpose and outcome are equally undefined. Our Parliament, however, has not debated or voted upon the deployment, which began as a ‘captain’s pick’ by Abbott last year. If it had done so, Australia might not be bombing Syria now.

Canada’s new Prime Minister Trudeau has acted quickly to take the Canadian Air Force out of Syria, with no apparent damage to relations with the US. Prime Minister Turnbull could do the same, in solidarity with our Commonwealth partners, now that he has a clear opportunity to correct Australia’s moral and legal position.

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