It would be a serious mistake for Australia to respond positively to the US request, that we presumably invited, to join in airstrikes on Islamic State (IS) in Syria. Such action would probably be against international law, and in any case be ineffective, while increasing IS recruitment and failing to resolve the undoubted problem. Like US policies towards Syria, it also lacks clear strategic objectives. IS, while certainly brutal is the armed opposition to the also brutal and corrupt Assad government, the overthrow of which ostensibly remains the prime target of US effort.
More importantly for Australia, the civil war raging in Syria, with its multiple competing domestic and international interests, has increasingly developed into an intense Sunni versus Shia sectarian civil war. Whose side are we backing? Despite political concerns about Australia’s domestic security, nothing could be worse for our multicultural society and its security than an action likely to stir a sectarian conflict among our Moslem citizens”.
Stuart Harris was Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs, 1987-88. He is currently an Emeritus Professor in the Department of International Relations, School of International, Political and Strategic Studies, College of Asia and the Pacific, ANU.