Nick Herbert: Only force will check brutal progress of ISIS

Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert
Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert

As I write, it is rumoured that the House of Commons will be recalled to debate Britain’s involvement in military action against ISIS (or ‘Islamic State’).

The United States and five other countries from the Gulf and Middle East have already launched air strikes against ISIS in Syria. France has taken military action.

So far, we have provided substantial humanitarian aid, as well as arms and surveillance support to Kurdish forces. It is time for Britain, with the world’s fifth largest defence forces, to support military action fully.

Any doubt that our interests are affected by the ISIS threat should have vanished after the horrifying videos of journalists - including a British national - being beheaded, while others are held hostage.

It has been suggested that, following the Commons’ refusal to endorse military action against President Assad’s forces in Syria last year, Britain may only take action in Iraq, whose Prime Minister is expected to make a formal request for our support.

That makes little sense. ISIS controls an area crossing both states that is now the same size as the UK. They are using brutal force to take this territory, and only force will check them.

Both Britain and America have ruled out ground forces. But ultimately these may be needed to defeat ISIS, in which case the Middle Eastern nations who are rightly now joining this cause may need some form of Western support. Some politicians will oppose even air strikes. After the experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, many have retreated into a great shirk or denial.

But ISIS cannot be willed away. The refusal even to arm the secular rebels against President Assad - something which President Obama is now doing - helped the extremists to surge in Syria.

Over three and a half centuries ago, Thomas Hobbes wrote that ‘covenants without the sword, are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all’.

ISIS cannot be defeated by military action alone, but neither can they be defeated without it. So far, the House of Commons has shown itself ill-equipped to assume the mantle of military authorisation that it now claims. Even the use of chemical weapons was not enough to persuade the Labour Party and others to act a year ago. Perhaps the stark threat that ISIS poses will now stir this chamber into action.

If you would like to get in touch with me, please write to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA, or email me at nick@nickherbert.com.