Fabian Hamilton MP has been Member of Parliament for Leeds North East since 1997. An experienced foreign affairs commentator, he served as a member of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee for almost ten years and is currently a member of the International Development Committee.

Do you think the war in Syria would have happened even if the west had intervened? How did you feel about the situation when the war kicked off?

I think the war would have happened regardless of what the west did. I felt tremendous sadness when it started. I visited the country ten years ago. I met the president and several government officials. I also met ordinary people in several provinces, but there is not much of a civil society there. It is a terrible tragedy that Syria turned out to be a dictatorship. It could have been a truly democratic equal society. I do not think that Bashar is an evil man, but killing your own people is terribly evil. Killing them because they happen to disagree with the president. In the modern era people know what is going on in the rest of the world. I can not imagine what the west could have done to stop the war.

Was Parliament cynical of voting on the Syrian intervention?

No. I think that most people who voted on the issue in the Parliament did not do so due to cynic reasons. Most were fundamentally opposed to making the situation worse. Some believed that military attacks would take out the poisoned gas and the supplies. But the supplies would have been moved by the time of the attack. The west takes time to discuss things. In Iraq the mass destruction weapons were also never found. Thousands or hundreds of thousands died and will die when a war breaks out. I opposed the Iraq war because I am opposed to war in general. I feel the same way about Syria. I did not vote for the Labour party amendment clause of military intervention. Many of the MPs were opposed to the war because they did not believe that any intervention would stop the killings.

Did the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have a lot of influence on this decision?

It had everything to do with it. The number of MPs who rebelled against their own parties were thinking of these conflicts. It has made parliamentarians far, far more cautious. You might think of military intervention if you are absolutely convinced that it will save lives and stop the destruction. There is no evidence that it would be the case in Syria, when looking back at the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Do you think the Arab Spring is being hijacked by religious groups?

Well, Egypt is a very divided society and an intellectual power house of the Arab world. Such as the Saudi-Arabia is the financial and the economic power of the Arab world. Saudi-Arabia is a very pious country. Egypt is a far more varied and a far more multicultural country. It has a large Christian minority, about ten million. I am worried about the Egyptian Jewish population who were expelled from the country. However a sizeable minority and a majority of those who actually voted, supported the Muslim Brotherhood during the elections. It can be regarded as a fundamentalist party. They wanted to stop the sale of alcohol, encourage more women to wear veils and supported the Sharia law. But one can not say that this is an unacceptable election result. The military stepped in because the people did not want the Islamic fundamentalists to take over. This decision is and should be up to the Egyptian people. What happens there matters more than what happens in Libya or in other similar countries. Egypt is the most populous state and the leader of intellectual changes.

Do you see a positive future in Syria at all- since neither side is backing down in the fight?

I see a long and terrible struggle continuing. Perhaps even a fragmentation of the state itself. There could be a Sharia state which is part of Syria (the rebels), and an area around Damaskus controlled by Bashar al-Assad and his troops (the government). As long as Russia supports Bashar he can carry on the fighting. From Bashar’s point of view and in the government’s distorted rational, there is a belief that if the government falls, Syria will become a fundamentalist Islamic state and a base for Al Qaeda. This fear is justified. However the citizens may just want to elect a new government and they should have that right. For that they are being murdered and that is not justified.

What is Russia’s perspective in the Syrian war?

Russia in interested in having good relations with the government because that is their only warm water port on the Mediterranean. That is the key of Russia’s support, without this port Russia is stuck. Also Russia is not a democratic regime in itself. If Syria falls, who will go next?

Do you think that the support of external forces allows the Syrian war to continue?

I suspect that without the outside support the government would have ran out of ammunition and the rebels would have not had much in the first place. Except what they could have smuggled. Without the armament and the petrol, a war could not continue. As long as Russia supplies the government, and the west and Saudi-Arabia supply the rebels, the conflict is prolonged. If Syria was isolated, the conflict would close down eventually.

Has Syria already become a training base and a free operation ground for terrorists?

Yes. Before the war government was keeping a strong check on the terrorist interference. It is always the innocent that suffer. I went to a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey, very close to the Turkish border. It was heart breaking to talk to the children there.

Both the rebels and the government have been accused of using chemical weapons. How can this be explained?

The delivery systems of chemical weapons are very complicated. It is very difficult to believe that the rebels had the technology to transport and fire these weapons. I saw the results after Saddam had gassed the Kurds in the 1990s. I counted the people who had survived. If a chemical weapon explodes on the ground, only a few people will die near by. For the bomb to scatter the gas, it has to burst at the right height from the ground. That technology is not available for the Free Syrian Army (the rebels) or to Al Qaeda.

Do you think the west should find out how the Syrian government got the chemical weapons?

I think we know that. The west supplied many of them over time. I am on the committee of the British arms export control. In July we found out that the UK sold 140 000£ worth of military hardware to Syria. We sold 7£ billion worth of equipment to Saudi-Arabia. It was all legitimate. The lists are available on the internet. It may not have been gas, but the encryption programs which are regarded as military hardware. I would shut the arms export industry down. Many thousand British jobs depend on these exports, but if that means that the children of Syria are killed by these weapons, I want no part in it. The British workers should not want any part in it. I am not saying that we should not produce weapons for our own national defense. But if weapons get exported to certain countries, it is impossible to know what they will be used for. If something was to happen in Saudi-Arabia, can you imagine what will happen to all of the weaponry we have sold to them.

Should the British government focus on building up other industries instead of military equipment export?

Swords into plowshares! Have you heard this expression? For the same technology we use to produce swords, we could produce plowshares. Swords kill people, plowshares grow food. It is not simple, but it is possible. The technology, the experience, the expertise that we have in the arms industry could be turned to peaceful use; rather than manufacturing products designed to kill other people. There is a view that we need arms for national defense anyway-and if a few foreigners get killed on the way, this is not our concern. As long as British jobs are safe. I do not buy that approach. The arms industry is about money- a huge invested interest!

Interviewed by: Matteo Bergamini

Written up by: Tuuli Riit

Mr Hamilton MP will be speak on Russia and the Middle East tomorrow.

To register for the event, click here.