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Since the Conservatives gained an overall majority in the May 2015 election, the government has made clear that it will seek a parliamentary vote to authorise bombing missions against ISIS in Syria as soon as it has a ‘consensus’ to do so.
The ISIS attacks on Paris will bring renewed focus to the debate on the extension of UK counter-ISIS air strikes to Syria. A commitment by the House of Commons to take part in coalition air strikes in Syria would be seen as an important demonstration of solidarity with France, which has contributed its own forces to air strikes in Syria since September.
Ultimately, the fate of both Iraq and Syria will be determined by political dynamics within these two states and by the policies adopted by powerful neighbouring states. But coalition air strikes already contribute to protecting Kurdish-majority areas in northern Syria and ensuring that ISIS has no safe haven from which to support its operations in Iraq. If MPs accept that coalition allies are right to use force for these purposes, it is hard to justify a refusal in principle to authorise UK participation in future comparable operations.
In the absence of a wider political settlement in Syria, the UK’s military campaign may need to be sustained over a period of several years. In these circumstances, it is possible – perhaps even likely – that the operation could end without achieving a decisive strategic effect.