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Syrian bombing campaign will not solve migrant crisis: Fmr ambassador to Syria -

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DAVID MARK: So what impact would Australian air strikes have on the campaign against IS in Syria?

Professor Bob Bowker is a specialist on Middle East and Islamic issues from the Australian National University.

He was the Australian ambassador to Syria from 2005 to 2008 and also served as ambassador in Egypt and Jordan.

I spoke with him earlier.

Professor Bob Bowker, what would the Australian Government achieve by bombing IS targets in Syria?

BOB BOWKER: I think it's likely to increase the impact overall on IS and its capacity to operate in Iraq. But I doubt that there is a clear political objective in mind in the Syrian context as a result of such activity.

Now that's understandable because quite frankly the Syrian context is so much more complex than Iraq and the consequences of bombing in Syria are quite unpredictable, but I do believe that there is a case for using our military assets in support of the overall objective of degrading IS so far as we can.

DAVID MARK: What is that case?

BOB BOWKER: There is, so far as there is an extension of what we are trying to achieve in Iraq. There is not a case for trying to remake Syria on the basis of external intervention in that conflict.

DAVID MARK: You mentioned earlier that the situation in Syria is highly complicated. We've got the situation with so-called Islamic State, but there's also a civil war. What is a bombing campaign against IS going to do in terms of the civil war in Syria?

BOB BOWKER: Well to the extent that IS is degraded in Syria, we are likely to see that space occupied by Al-Qaeda linked jihadist elements, Ahrar ash-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra.

And, the ultimate impact of that will in fact to intensify the conflict between those elements and Islamic State, on the one hand. And, of course it will also require a response from the Syrian regime which at the moment is probably under greater pressure from Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar ash-Shram than it is from Islamic State.

It's a conflict which is operating at many levels with many uncertain consequences for any external party that wants to intervene.

DAVID MARK: And at the moment of course the worlds eyes are all turned towards the humanitarian crisis in Europe. You've spoken about the complexity of the situation in Syria; is a bombing campaign against IS specifically going to have any effect on the refugee exodus out of Syria and into Europe.

BOB BOWKER: There is no way that a bombing campaign is going to help solve the refugee problem. In the first instance most of the refugees at this moment are being driven by the activities of the Syrian regime itself.

The numbers of casualties that we are seeing in this conflict caused by the activities of the Assad regime probably outnumber civilian casualties by the jihadist elements by about 10 to one.

Secondly, if the Assad regime were to be weakened then we would see a major additional outflow of refugees from those areas currently protected by the regime and so any military conflict is simply going to add to that refugee outflow now and in the future.

There has to be a political solution in which military force will have to be a part, but it has to be based around a political solution between the contending parties which frankly is not in prospect at this time.

DAVID MARK: Well we heard Julie Bishop earlier say that the process is to bomb first and then look to the political solution that you speak of. What is that political solution?

BOB BOWKER: There is no political solution in prospect. All the contending parties are still of the view that concessions to the others will simply add to the risk of an existential conflict for them.

There is a determination on all sides to continue the conflict and not to cede ground to the others. Although we are seeing some effort on the part of regional players, the Saudi's, the Iranians and the Americans and the Russians to start to establish the parameters of a deal, I don't believe there is any buy in on the part of the local players to those ideas at this stage; I think that's still a long way off.

DAVID MARK: If there's no political solution is there any sense in a bombing campaign in of itself?

BOB BOWKER: In the Syrian conflict quite frankly I don't think that is a process that can be justified.

Until you can identify what is your political objective in Syria, what exactly is the end state you are trying to achieve then you cannot come up with a military plan to support that objective. And that, and so that is one of the reasons I would be very cautious about any suggestion that application of air power to achieve an outcome in Syria is justifiable.

It is justifiable in the case of Iraq, but it is not at this stage justifiable in the case of Syria.

DAVID MARK: Professor Bowker, if you were still an Australian ambassador in the Middle East particularly in Syria, what advice would you be giving the Government regarding the refugee crisis in Europe and the governments possible role and responsibilities in helping?

BOB BOWKER: My first advice would be to substantially increase the amount of resources available to organisations like the World Food Programme to deal with the immediate humanitarian crisis that refugees are facing in those countries immediately around Syria and where they can be accessed, within Syria itself.

We need to at least ensure that people do not have the need to flee in order to protect their families, and that is I'm afraid the situation at the moment.

Secondly I would encourage government to turn again to the United Nations and agencies within the UN to try to develop an appreciation among those regional countries that are backing the jihadist elements of the need to respect humanitarian law in conflict, the need to avoid a situation in which Alawites and other minorities in Syria believe that they will be murdered if the regime should fall.

There needs to be an appreciation that the future of Syria still depends upon having a sense of security among ordinary Syrians whatever the political outcome is.

DAVID MARK: That's the former ambassador to Syria, Professor Bob Bowker, now at the ANU.