Don’t expect military intervention in Syria any time soon: Canadian foreign affairs experts

Andy Radia
·Politics Reporter

What is 'the West' going to do about Syria?

Last week, the White House disclosed intelligence that the Assad regime might have used chemical weapons against rebels in the civil war that has plagued the country for almost two years.

On Sunday, according to Reuters, Republican senators pressed Barack Obama to act , advising the American president to launch an air attack.

Despite the growing tensions, three international affairs experts caution not to expect any military intervention from America and its western allies (including Canada) anytime soon.

Christian Leprecht, associate professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University, says that while the West might be close to their tipping point, there's a malaise about military intervention based on recent history in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.

"The challenge since the Iraq invasion is that the international community has become a lot more reserved about the quality and the amount of evidence and intelligence it needs before it ascertains that — in the words of the Americans — that a red line has indeed been crossed," he told Yahoo! Canada News.

"[They] will need ascertain proof positive that the [chemical] weapons were indeed used not just on hearsay but actual physical evidence."

[ Related: Lawmakers press Obama to take action on Syria ]

International affairs expert Dr. Lasha Tchantouridzé, suggests a Syrian intervention might not be wise because rebel groups affiliated with al Qaeda and other radical elements currently "dominate the civil war theater."

"Syria is experiencing a full blown civil war and a large scale involvement in it would be very foolish," Tchantouridzé, formerly of the University of Manitoba's Centre for Defence and Security Studies, told Yahoo! in an email exchange.

"In fact...it would be very easy to destroy the Assad regime and help the rebels win, but the aftermath could be worse due to a large radical contingent among the anti-Assad forces."

[ Related: Syria access essential for credible chemical weapons inquiry: U.N. ]

And Dr. Bessma Momani, a senior fellow at The Centre for International Governance Innovation and Brookings Institution, suggests that there might even be financial considerations at play here.

"We know that from previous reports..that to secure the chemical weapons specifically would take 70,000 U.S. troops," she told Yahoo! Canada News adding that even enforcing a no-fly zone would require substantial resources.

"I don't expect a response soon because all the fiscal constraints on the Obama administration.

"Not to mention sequestering — the motion currently in the United States Congress — means it would be really hard-pressed to find the funding to do this. We're talking about budgets right now being cut for traffic controllers...that's priority over liberating the Syrian people."

[ Related: Syria's neighbors cautious about U.S.-led intervention ]

So they all agree that — for a variety of reasons — the West isn't keen on intervention.

But what happens when they have no choice? Would Canada's military be involved in a Syrian mission?

All three experts suggest Canada would be involved to some extent as part of a NATO mission.

Lephrect however, believes the Harper government will take a much more guarded approach than they did in Libya.

"I think Canada took a bold stand when it came to Libya. I think Canada was disappointed by how few countries, when push came to shove, stepped up to help," he said.

"I think we're going to take the American approach and lead from behind. We're going to be trying to get concerted action among allies."

Since the Syrian conflict began, over 70,000 people have been killed, more than a million Syrian refugees have escaped to neighbouring countries and more than two million are displaced within their own borders.

(Photo courtesy of Reuters)

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