The purpose of any government is to guard its population against preventable ills. For world leaders such as the UK, this responsibility extends—as it rightly should—to defending individuals and communities around the world who lack a government of their own to safeguard their freedoms. Ultimately, being a world leader is meaningless if a nation opts to treat the interests of the world as somehow apart from its own.
Political & Economic Costs
Already, following some six years of global inaction over the Syrian conflict, the refugee crisis in Europe has transformed from a humanitarian issue into a deeply political one. Aside from devaluing the desperation and appalling hardship felt—and indeed still being felt—by those fleeing the conflict, the politicisation of the crisis has propelled to prominence a slurry of ultra-nationalist groups and unsavoury politicians throughout Europe and across the Atlantic, thereby contributing to the global political uncertainty we are presently mired in.
A Mass Atrocity
Meanwhile, half the Syrian population has been killed or displaced, their infrastructure destroyed beyond repair, and all possibility of economic stability in the nation has been shattered. The UK government’s priority must now be protecting those that remain, rather than continue to watch as their numbers dwindle further. Moreover, while the Syrian conflict has garnered significant media and political attention, there are of course many other conflict zones in which atrocities of a similar nature, if not similar proportions, are presently occurring yet remain unreported.
Although the UK has been the largest contributor of aid to the Syrian region and is one of only six countries honouring its pledge to give 0.7% of its income to poorer nations, present efforts seem deeply inadequate. The foreign aid budget is woefully mis-spent: a hefty portion sits within inactive World Bank funds and even nations such India, Pakistan and China—all of whom have active space exploration programs—are recipients of British goodwill. The Prime Minister has recently said that the 0.7 % benchmark will remain enshrined in law. Unless, however, the new government reconsiders how it is spent, little will change for those facing identity-based violence around the world and the political and economic costs of reacting to such atrocities will likely increase.
The June Election
The outcome of the June election indeed appears a forgone conclusion. Accordingly, should Theresa May remain in power and pursue her hard Brexit agenda, the prioritisation of mass atrocity prevention and a reshuffling of how foreign aid is distributed will contribute towards her vision of a global Britain. Doing so would also bring down the long term costs of reacting to atrocities as and when they occur, improve international stability and security, and mend domestic political divisions. Most importantly, however, there are lessons that must be learnt from the Syrian conflict: in today’s politico-economic environment, simply waiting for the right moment to act is, from the perspective of the UK and those suffering directly from identity-based violence, a lose-lose proposition.