War on Terror II: How the Markets will Respond

5 mins. to read
War on Terror II: How the Markets will Respond

Tomorrow (Wednesday, 02 December 2015) the United Kingdom, barring some unforeseen upset, will formally enter War on Terror II. Given Jeremy Corbyn’s reluctant decision to give Labour MPs a free vote, it now seems certain that the Prime Minister will get what he wants: Parliamentary approval for RAF bombing attacks on IS positions in the territory once known as “Syria”.

The vote will be less momentous than it seems on three counts.

Firstly, in constitutional terms, the Prime Minister doesn’t need express Parliamentary approval to undertake military operations. In the 18th century prime ministers assumed the royal prerogative to make treaties and to initiate wars and they have used these powers freely ever since. Sir Anthony Eden invaded Egypt in 1956 without even bothering to let Parliament know. Though, true, recently the mood has changed. The current preoccupation with Parliamentary approval arises from the fact that Mr Blair sought such approval to participate in the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 for which he craved validation. This is something that many MPs who were in Parliament then now bitterly regret, given that the prospectus for that war proved false (WMD etc.) and that the invasion had unforeseen consequences which caused untold misery for the Iraqi people and de-stabilised the entire region. By getting Parliamentary approval Mr Cameron knows that Parliament itself will now be complicit in any military adventure which goes wrong.

Second, British aircraft have been active on the Iraqi side of the Syria-Iraq border for some time. The reason why they have been unable to bomb on the Syrian side of the now non-existent border is that Parliament specifically rejected Mr Cameron’s proposal to bomb Syria in August 2013. Of course, at that time the military objectives were quite different. Mr Cameron was not planning to bomb IS (which was not then manifest) but rather to bomb President al-Assad’s offensive positions further to his allegedly having used chemical weapons on his own people (which of course al-Assad denied). That would have been tantamount to interfering in a civil war on the rebel side, by the way, which is actually illegal under the UN Charter. That vote in the House of Commons took the wind out of the sails of both the American and French Presidents. Ironically, if Mr Cameron had got his way in 2013, IS might be in control of even more Syrian territory right now.

Third, the vote is to sanction air attacks, but there would surely have to be another vote to sanction any deployment of British boots on the ground – and that would be the real big ask. Actually British drones have already been targeting IS key personnel in Syria (Jihadi John amongst them) suggesting that there must already be some kind of intelligence operation in play, possibly involving spooks or special forces in situ.

This vote has been pending for many months, if not years, but has come to a head now because our French friends and allies (you know – the guys who stayed out of Iraq in 2003 because they rightly said it was “illegal”) have made a formal request for help in their military campaign against IS. When an old friend asks you for help you do need to think hard before saying “No”.

So, presumably, the French believe that British involvement in War on Terror II will make a difference. Now there have been a lot of siren voices to the effect that we only have eight Tornados based in RAF Akrotiri (Cyprus). But those eight Tornado aircraft, armed with Brimstone missiles and Raptor surveillance systems, are amongst the most sophisticated and lethal fighter-bombers in the world, bar none, and have been doing great things in Iraq. Of course, the military experts tell us that we will need to deploy about 24 Tornados in all to do the job. About “two to four” additional Tornados are already on their way. Where are the rest of the 72 ultra-expensive aircraft which the great British public has paid for? Embarrassingly, it seems that many of them have been “mothballed” by the very Prime Minister who now needs them.

Akrotiri, by the way, as I have just checked on Google Maps, is 566 kilometres from Raqqa, so those Tornados can be over their targets in about 30 minutes. You can see why the French might want our help in what President Hollande has billed a pitiless war. But even if the United Kingdom commits it’s all to War on Terror II, will IS be undone by aerial bombardment alone?

The USA has been bombing IS positions for the last 17 months, supported by the air forces of Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – not forgetting Australia, of course. They have flown an estimated 57,000 sorties and completed 8,300 air strikes. US Central Command reports that they have destroyed, amongst other things, 129 of IS’s tanks. And yet IS are still in business.

Add to this the recent round of Russian bombing raids. (In fact, there are now two distinct coalitions at war with IS.) Even as Britain readies to bomb Raqqa, the military experts are ruminating that IS will never be defeated from the air alone. At some point, there will have to be action on the ground.

And even if there were to be public support for such a campaign, and supposing it succeeded in rounding up all the IS misfits, or even killing them, who is to say that, just as Al Qaida mutated into IS, IS itself might not mutate into something even more insidious? The penny should have dropped by now that the West (I think we should better call it Our Civilisation) is actually engaged in a protracted conflict with a religious-based ideology (think of it as a computer virus, if you will) that has even affected some of its own citizens. Just think: Abdelhamid Abaaoud was a self-styled Jihadist who had bloodied himself in Syria; but many of his minions had hardly ever left the suburbs of Saint-Denis in Paris and Möllenbeck in Brussels.

So, sticking my neck out here, I foresee that the markets will shrug off the vote in the House of Commons tomorrow, and will be sanguine about the bombing raids when they are launched thereafter. Just as in Paris the CAC-40 finished November roughly where it started. But as it becomes clear, perhaps by the early spring of next year, that our Tornados, impressive as they are, will not defeat the computer virus, and the talk of ground war gets louder, there will be a negative change in sentiment. I am already pessimistic about 2016.

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