Stuart Harris. Who are we backing in Syria?

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.


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This is an appalling statement. The West’s failure to support the non-violent Arab Spring in 2009/10 was a tragic failure of leadership that has so far cost 250,000 lives, displaced 3 million people, shattered the democratic hopes of a generation throughout the Arab world, and created a military vacuum which ISIL has exploited very effectively. Australia and the international community should have intervened five years ago, initially with air strikes against the Assad regime. The lack of a UN Security Council resolution authorising the action should never have been accepted as an excuse for inaction – the exercise of a… Read more »