Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
World powers unlikely to act on Syria: expert -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

SCOTT BEVAN: Dr Rodger Shanahan has been watching the unravelling of Syria with intense interest. He's a non-resident fellow at the Lowy Institute and he's extensively studied the Middle East.

Dr Shanahan is also a former army officer, and he served with the UN in Syria. I spoke with Rodger Shanahan a little earlier about this latest incident.

(To Rodger Shanahan)

Who could have done this and why now?

RODGER SHANAHAN: Well, I mean that's the $64,000 question. The timing of the reports of this, you would have to think are suspicious. It's two days after the UN weapons inspection team which has been denied access for months has just arrived. They're set up in Damascus and then on the outskirts of Damascus an alleged chemical weapons attack has occurred.

Now there could be a range of reasons. The Syrian opposition says point blank that it's the Syrian government that has done this and if that's the case then it could either be a rogue local area commander who has done that or it's the Syrian government just expressing their lack of willingness to listen to any Western or UN concerns about the actions inside Syria.

On the other hand we have the Russians, the Russian foreign ministry spokesperson has said that if this occurred it's the actions of the Syrian opposition who have fired rockets from Syrian opposition positions in order to discredit the Assad government and that was tied in with the arrival of the UN weapons inspections team.

So it depends which side of the coin you are as to who’s caused it.

SCOTT BEVAN: Well, the Syrian government has denied having anything to do with it and said it's an attempt by the opposition, an attempt to prevent the UN inspectors in the country from carrying out their mission. How founded do you think such an assertion would be?

RODGER SHANAHAN: We're relying at the moment totally on vision and information from the opposition side and the opposition in the past have shown themselves to lack credibility on a number of occasions, probably to the same degree as the Syrian government and this is one of the frustrating things about trying to apportion blame or even to verify the degree or nature of an incident like this.

Who do you trust for the information because both sides are providing disinformation throughout this two year civil war.

SCOTT BEVAN: Well, the UN Security Council has called for clarity, clarification on what's gone on here. There are UN weapons inspectors in Syria presently as we've discussed. What can they do, what should they do in investigating this and to provide some answers as to what has gone on and by whom?

RODGER SHANAHAN: Well, the difference is going to be what should they do, they should be allowed to immediately investigate these claims. The quicker you get to the sites of chemical weapons attacks, the more likely it is that you're able to verify what occurred, what agents were used and possibly from what direction they were fired.

What will they be allowed to do? Probably not much. The Syrian government is saying that the area is unsafe because it's been the scene of recent fighting, which is why the weapons were used, and they can't guarantee the safety of these weapons inspectors.

Now naturally you would think if both sides thought it was in their best interests they would have some kind of local area ceasefire that could be negotiated to allow these weapons inspectors in, but I don't see any chance of that because if the reports are true, one of these sides is responsible for it.

SCOTT BEVAN: In the past president Obama has talked about the use of chemical weapons in Syria being a red line, so how likely is it then that this is the red line that's been crossed for perhaps even foreign military intervention to become a reality in a conflict where so many lines have been drawn and crossed and little has been done to date?

RODGER SHANAHAN: Well, I think you hit the nail on the head there. I think one of Obama's political mistakes was to say the word 'red line' because now that they have, the US says it has strong evidence that a year ago some chemical weapons were used on a smaller scale and the US has not reacted militarily then the argument goes that the Syrian government doesn't believe in that red line so they're more likely to use chemical weapons in the future.

If there is strong evidence that this has occurred, I don't think that we are going to see any more overt military action from the United States. The US military is very ill-disposed to using it and we saw in an open letter to the senate earlier this year from General Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about the risks and costs associated with any of the overt military options from the US.

So the US military is not a fan of overt military action. Politically it's very difficult to see what only a little bit more military action is going to achieve other than kill more people but not resolve the situation.

So yes, I think I'm afraid that while that red line term is out there, I don't think we're going to see any decisive action over this issue.

SCOTT BEVAN: What will it take to bring about international community intervention, to bring about resolution?

RODGER SHANAHAN: Well, listen, I think the Syrian civil war at the moment, it is just so fraught with danger in terms of intervening on either side that most people, most people in the international community are trying to stop the spill over effects and just hoping that there is some kind of resolution, military resolution or some kind of decisive military advantage on one side or the other that might lead to the basis for some negotiation.

But there seems to be a pauper in the international community about what to do of this situation and while people are still standing on the sidelines, we are going to see more examples rather than less of these kind of horrible incidents.

SCOTT BEVAN: That’s Middle East commentator Rodger Shanahan.