The government of the UK proposes to bomb Islamic State in Syria, arguing that Islamic State is a threat to the UK. In the debate, there are often references to the attacks in Paris, but I don't understand the link.

How does bombing Islamic State in Syria reduce the likelihood that Salafi extremists from Brussels (or Birmingham, or …) commit terrorist attacks in Paris (or London, or …)?

I may be misunderstanding something.

The cynical answer would be that the proposed military action in reality serves to bolster the military-industrial complex. But I suspect some may have other explanations.

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    Sorry, you're nowhere cynical enough. The real cynical answer is because the government cannot be seen as "doing nothing" and then be accused of "doing nothing to prevent an attack" if an attack occurs. Voters Demand Decisive Actions.
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 15:07
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    @user4012 Interestingly, doing something is better than doing nothing is sometimes stated explicitly. For example, in The Netherlands proponents of toothless peacekeeping missions use this argument, persuading a majority on the left AND right and claiming anyone opposing the peacekeeping mission to be heartless and selfish, not listening to arguments (again made on both extremes) that without clear aims and the means to achieve those aims, the mission is not useful. Maybe the Dutch are unusually sober.
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 15:30
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    I have some reservations about the UK deploying assets over Syria, but the UN is toothless especially when a global response is required. An acting member of the Security Council has a duty to consider all options including force. UK military intervention won't bring Islamic Terrorism to a stop. The entire 'War or Terror' cannot be won - but it must be fought. Shall we instead see if it all blows over? Should powers in this world let entire generations of youth pervert a religion and terrorize the innocent? "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
    – PCARR
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 17:02
  • @PCARR UNSC is actually unified in its hatred for IS, however they disagree on Assad.
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 17:12

4 Answers 4


There are two possible positive interpretations, and the cynical one:

  • Bombing as retalation, signaling Daesh that if it does not stop terror attacks in Western Europe, Daesh will be bombed weakening them. It assumes that Daesh has a tight control of terror cells, and that it will find that the bombing does more damage than the political/propaganda gains it can get with the terror campaign. IMHO, since the Daesh regime should have expected such retalation, it means that they think the terror attacks are worth the bombing damage (unless Western analists find some unexpected way to hurt Daesh bottom line).

  • Bombing as a plan to weaken and finally expel Daesh from the territory it holds. Having a "free harbour" where radical Muslims can openly meet and receive training, funds and/or materiel helps in the preparation in terror attacks. Someone training with AK-47 shoting in the outskirts of Paris is bound to attract police attention, which means capture risk and less opportunities for training. Asking people to join you for suicide attacks in Amman is likely to get you denounced to police. Weakening Daesh until it is overrun by Iraq/Kurds/Syria would stop that.

    The issue with that is that bombing is not enough, you need troops (yours or allied) in the terrain and to commit to a stabilization process, with allies like either Assad's Syria or the notably unreliable Iraq. Look a Libia for an example of what could go wrong.

    Anyway, in case of success you could not guarantee that there would be no more attempts at terror attacks, but you could trust in more of them being discovered before they are performed and the ones not detected being of a smaller scale.

  • The cynical interpretation is that politicians must show that they have a response, even if they do not have one (or they have one but are unwilling to commit themselves to it because it involves painful or unpopular decisions).

    Even if they know they are not really making a dent, sending some bombers to kill someone (hopefully, terrorists and not "collateral damage") in Syria and Iraq will make some people "feel good" and that the country is still powerful, which will mean more votes in the next election that if the government just does nothing.

For the "military-industrial complex" theory, I do not think those operations are lucrative enough to justify a conspiracy theory: some ordenance will be spent, maybe an aircraft or two will get damaged... it will sound like a lot of money if you compare it with your salary, but most likely it will be just peanuts compared with the regular defense spending.

  • +1, especially for third bullet. Nothing bothers a politician more than a worry of being Seen Doing Nothing About A Problem.
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 15:11
  • So it seems there is only the alternative of bombing or doing nothing in the discussion. What about doing something effective: for example putting an embargo on countries which support ISIS, try to expose oil sales by daesh, gather intelligence about money transfer (cannot be that they transport oil to Turkey and at the border receive the cash for it) which banks are involved? Stop supporting countries which spread hate- ideology of Wahhabism/Salafism, the main cause of Takfiri terrorism. All this would be more helpful than bombing.
    – Noor
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 21:57

According to the interpretation of Islam that Daesh uses, the fact that they have a caliphate with a caliph creates an obligation for all Muslims to pledge allegiance to the caliphate.

If Daesh loses its territory, it won't be a caliphate any more (a caliphate is, by definition, a state, and states must adhere to four criteria to be 'legitimate'). The obligation of Muslims to pledge allegiance to it that exists in Daesh's interpretation of Islam would disappear.

Not all Salafi Muslims believe that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a valid caliph according to Islamic scripture. There are also Salafi extremists who believe that he isn't because becoming a caliph needs Allah's intervention, and isn't supposed to be a title that a person can simply give himself. For them, a Muslim should instead focus on doing his regular prayers and implementing similar Islamic actions in his daily life, instead of getting distracted by fighting against the local government.

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    Interesting perspective. Is the point that this obligation would disappear your own reasoning, or something claimed by either Daesh or by proponents of military action against Daesh?
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 11:02
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    @gerrit : The fact that the obligation arises through the existance of a caliphate is what Daesh argues. Without a caliphate to rule over Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is no caliph.
    – Christian
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 11:13
  • Is there evidence that these are indeed the aims of UK government? Or for that matter that achieving the goal you stated would be effective (note that Islamic terrorism in the western countries - including UK - predates Caliphate's creation)
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 15:15
  • @user4012 : Daesh is not the only faction that does Islamic terrorism, but that is no reason not to fight it.
    – Christian
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 15:35
  1. Funding. Daesh is believe to make $3 million per day from oil refineries. We don't know who it is who is buying this oil, or selling them guns, which would suggest they're good at laundering the money to, say, Brussels.

  2. Morale. Daesh associates in the West will be more motivated if their Caliphate compatriots in Iraq and Syria are performing well. Critics argue that associates would be pleased with the fact that Daesh is able to force the hand of major Western powers to have to attack their caliphate, and that the collateral damage is often high.

  3. Media. I would expect that those in Daesh-controlled territories with expertise in media are being put to use by the group to produce propaganda and promote outreach via social media. A large proportion of Daesh's media/PR muscle is bound to be based in their own territory, and are able to use their position on the frontline to produce content related to it. If you're a Daesh sympathiser or associate in Brussels, you can't make beheading videos as easily, for example.

  4. A show of strength. As a terrorist group, Daesh thrives on exploiting fear. Military action can help to allay this fear. Critics point out that memories of Iraq and Afghanistan are fresh in the minds of the public, and there is increasing popular opposition to air strikes, as we've seen in many protests.

  • We being the general public. It wouldn't surprise me if secret services knew or suspected a great deal more than what is publicly stated.
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 14:55
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    Russia proclaimed that it does have a list of who buys the oil and that includes Turkey. It's inconvient for Western forces to admit that a Nato country buys the oil but that doesn't change it from being true. Giving area survaillance via drones and satellites spotting where the oil trucks drive also isn't that complicated.
    – Christian
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 14:57
  • @Christian True. See also question on Skeptics.
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 14:59
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    @ScottMoore - TY.reversed :)
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 15:19
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    The NSA/GHCQ will know very well who finances Daesh - and Putin is telling the world: Turkey (and most likely Saudi Arabia). Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 23:06

I fear the main reason for stepping up military action is not fighting ISIS but Assad and his supporters. Cameron is considering the so called moderate opposition forces as an ally on the ground and his aim two years ago was bombing Assad out of office.

We should not forget Britain's very long record on meddling into the affairs of Islamic countries.

The reference to the attacks in Paris is just a reason to push his agenda forward. He was not successful in the Commons two years ago but he might be today by pressurizing MPs supporting the French friends.

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