Bringing together the best longer Interpreter articles you were too busy to read this week.

A lot of Syria-related coverage this week. Rodger Shanahan made a number of contributions. The first, on Monday, argued that a missile attack of limited scope would be President Obama's 'least worse option':

For a president who has made the ending of two wars his signature foreign policy achievements, Obama has been disinclined to engage in another, even in the face of loud and partisan calls for action. A limited missile attack would fit well with President Obama's desire to avoid decisive military engagement in Syria while not ignoring the use of chemical weapons. It would be punitive without being decisive, it wouldn't materially assist the armed opposition, it wouldn't require the type of force buildup or supporting attacks against air defences needed for a sustained air campaign, it would give some substance to his 'red line' and it would allow a response to be graduated if more CW attacks were carried out.

Rod Barton, a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, gave us an excellent insight into the 'who, what and why' of the recent chemical weapon attack in the Damascus suburbs:

Some have compared the recent attack in Ghouta with Saddam Hussein's gassing of the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988, when hundreds of villagers died probably from the nerve gas Sarin. The purpose of that attack was, as part of a wider campaign against a difficult and stubborn opposition, to terrorise and demoralise. The comparison may be appropriate. If the Assad regime used chemicals against the rebel army and their supporters it is probably for a similar reason.

Chemicals also have an advantage in an urban environment in that under certain conditions they can be far more effective than high explosives, as bricks and mortar provide no real shelter against gas. It is with good reason that chemical weapons are classed as Weapons of Mass Destruction.

On Tuesday, Professor Tim Dunne of the Queensland looked at the role of international law in a possible intervention in Syria:

The case for military strikes must be predicated on conclusive proof that it was the Assad Government which launched the weapons that killed hundreds of civilians. Being sure of the case is the first rule of fighting a just war. It is a test the US and its allies miserably failed in the Iraq war. 

Reliable evidence is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a military response. Other conditions include having a humanitarian motive for the action; retribution alone will not do. Neither will it be justifiable to target the regime's military assets if this poses an unacceptable risk to civilians.

Even if these conditions are satisfied, the use of force will be unacceptable unless it is justifiable under international law. Again, the Iraq war casts a long shadow over current debates. Back in 2003, the US and its 'coalition of the willing' fought a war of regime change without UN Security Council backing and without an adequate legal justification. George W Bush believed he only need Congressional permission.

In a separate piece later in the week, Professor Dunne outlined the mechanics of any UN Security Council vote on taking action against Bashar al Assad.

Still on the Security Council-Syria connection, from New York Denis Fitzgerald wrote on both the limited prospects for Council agreement on Syria and the other challenges the Australian presidency will face in September:

The last time Australia presided over the Security Council was in November 1985. Then too, the Council was divided and a resolution calling for sanctions against South Africa over its occupation of Namibia was defeated by a double veto from Britain and the US, while France abstained.

After the vote, Ambassador Richard Woolcott told the Council that Australia had worked with others to produce a text that would have sent 'a clear unambiguous signal to South Africa' and regretted 'that it was not possible to achieve it this time.'

Ambassador Quinlan may well find himself echoing those words with regard to Syria should a vote take place under Australia's presidency this time around.

Finally on Syria, Institute for the Study of Diplomacy Fellow Christopher Johnston argued that instead of bombing targets in Syria, the US should be focusing on preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon:

Impoverished and isolated, Iran seems an unlikely adversary for the world's only superpower. Yet a nuclear-armed Iran would present a far greater threat to the US than an enfeebled Assad regime. Successive governments of the Islamic Republic have sponsored violence against Americans, from the 1983 Beirut bombings to the bizarre 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador and attack civilian targets in Washington, DC. Nuclear weapons would further embolden Iranian action, including in Syria.

Our coverage of the Australian election continued, with migration expert Khalid Koser offering three questions with which to judge Government and Opposition asylum-seeker policies:

First, is either realistic, either in their objectives or in their proposed methods? Second, is either based on any evidence? Third, could either be monitored and evaluated?

For both sets of policy, my answer to all three of these questions is 'no'. And in this way both the Government and the Opposition have made the fundamental mistake of underestimating the voting public.

We also had a number of responses to Prime Minister Rudd's speech to the Lowy Institute on Tuesday morning. James Brown analysed whether the PM's announcement that he intended to move RAN assets north from Sydney to Queensland is either necessary or affordable:

But the sheer scale of upheaval required to move Navy's bases, as well as the cost, would outweigh this benefit.

Sydney's Garden Island has the only dry dock in Australia capable of servicing all of Australia's new ships, sustains a defence industry of over 8000 technicians and experts, and adds $608 million to the NSW economy every year. The ADF Force Posture Review conservatively estimated the cost to defence of establishing new base facilities on the east coast at $6-9 billion. The true cost would be much higher. Large tracts of defence industry would need to be relocated to Brisbane, a city already in the midst of a boom. Defence would need to build new housing, garrison support facilities would need to be recast, IT infrastructure connected, and a range of other services rejigged. Strategic naval communications facilities at Garden Island Sydney would need to be replicated.

It's unlikely that this would cost less than $10 billion and take less than a decade.

 Next up, Canberra Times columnist Nicholas Stuart looked at the policy and politics in the Prime Minister's defence announcement:

The fact that Rudd made time to speak about foreign affairs and defence less than a fortnight out from a vote that polling shows will see him lose office demonstrates that Rudd still cares deeply about these issues. As well as that, the strategists would have realised that the images on television tonight (speaking at a respected intellectual forum) will do him no harm. They'll show Rudd talking about a concern that is both his passion and strong suit. But none of this will change a single vote in Sydney's west.

And retired Rear Admiral James Goldrick questioned whether the closure of Garden Island would be an economic benefit for Sydney, as the PM claimed.

The suggestion that Sydney and New South Wales will be the better off economically for the removal of not only the Navy but, by implication, the ship repair and maintenance facilities at Garden Island too will also need close examination. The crews of the major naval units currently based in Sydney bring with them something like $150 million in salaries and allowances alone. This figure includes neither the contractor nor sub-contractor workforces required to manage their upkeep, nor the food, fuel and stores consumed by each unit.

We also had:

Next week Foreign Minister Carr will make the ALP's case to Interpreter readers. Stay tuned.

Photo by Flickr user Corie Howell.