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February 17, 2003

War vs Australia

The weather has been wet and that means the buses run late, the drivers are grumpy and there is more time to think on the bus. I stood near the bag rack, buried my head in a book and listened to a argument a few seats away. The topic was about the anti-war march on Sunday and the possibility of a plebiscite.

I guess this is a bit more serious than my usual post but if you are interested or have an opinion, read on and feel free to add comments.....


Some of you outside AU may not be aware of how this going to war business works in Australia. The decision to go to war is made by the cabinet (select members of the party currently in government). This is then usually debated in parliament. Normally the parliament will support the decision because the government (normally) has a majority in parliament and individual members do not normally cross the floor (to vote against their party). In some cases, it is an agreement with another country that would initiate the war. For example we belong to alliances with mutual protection clauses (e.g. the ANZUS alliance - which no longer includes NZ). There are probably also some mutual defence or protection arrangements with some of our neighbours (NZ, PNG).

Current Positions

The federal government (Liberal Party) has committed to war against Iraq (but not ee-rack or aye-rack) if the UN approves it. There is some suggestion (mainly from the opposition) that We may also be committed without UN support as a result of agreements struck between the Prime Minister and George Bush (Jnr). Such arrangements were probably made at a point in time where UN approval was taken for granted by most countries. Given that such approval is now unlikely, this makes the position of the Prime Minister very difficult.

The opposition (Labor Party) is trying to straddle the fence. The official position of the party as outlined by their leader provides support for a UN approved war but under no other conditions. Note that they are relying on the fact that Bush cannot say that the US has been attacked by Iraq (or ee-rack) because then the mutual protection clause could be invoked. The alternate party line as voiced by Dr Lawrence (and others) is that war is out of the question regardless of UN support.

The greens (a minor party) claim that the 200,000+ people marching in Sydney clearly demonstrates that a war is unpopular and therefore the government (at great expense) should hold a plebiscite. It was suggested that the cost of doing this would probably be less than the cost of the fridge magnets. Given the outline above of how AU would normally go to war, it is likely that plague of aerial members of the porcinus family would need to occur before such a referendum would occur.

Personal Opinion

I can see the justification for a war against a nation that attacks us. I can see an extension of that towards some group that does not form a nation (e.g. terrorists). I can conceive of a "just" war which involved someone else being attacked. I cannot see a real justification for a war against an independent country (even if they harbour terrorists) without some alternate means of negotiation being tried. The best argument for the this type of diplomacy, sanctions, exclusion and hot-air would have to be South Africa. The result was not immediate but it did happen.

The attacks on Afghanistan may have been directed at the terrorists (Al-Qaeda) but what happened was the toppling of a government. The government was not (officially) a terrorist organisation even it was a ruthless, cruel, oppressive regime. If having terrorists within your border is sufficient grounds for war, why haven't the missiles been falling on Syria, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. If we are referring to oppressive regimes, the list is even longer.

Alright, I know, someone is going to raise the matter of human rights in Afghanistan. Yes, conditions were terrible but human rights are equally abused in China and they have "most favoured nation" trading status. Women are treated equally badly in other dictatorships with similar religious persuasions which have not been attacked.

Enough already, what about ee-rack

Glad you asked. If you argue that Al-Qaeda attacked the US and you can show a link between Al-Qaeda and Iraq, you might be able to stretch a point and go to war BUT that hasn't happened yet and it isn't likely to happen. If you dig hard enough, you are more likely to find a link between Al-Qaeda and Saudi Arabia (both financial and religious) than to find a link with Iraq.

What about other possible reasons for a war?

  • Because of oppression and human rights violations? No, try China first.
  • Because of weapons of mass destruction? Weapons like those held by the US, USSR, UK etc? Lets not forget the anthrax scare in the US turned out to be anthrax manufactured in the US.
  • Because of defying weapons inspections? Imagine the roles reversed, can you see the US co-operating with Iraqi weapons inspectors? Not likely.
  • Because of closure? Lets face it, the "war against terrorism" has ground to a halt. War against Saddam should be quick and decisive - especially if the US uses allied troops heavily.
  • Because of oil? Get real, the oil is covered by the embargo and there are other sources.

  • What about because of history? When George Bush (Snr) won the first Gulf War, he figured that it was a victory - after all he had freed Kuwait and forced Saddam to comply with sanctions. Over time though, the way events are viewed changes and now you get commentators suggesting that it was unfinished business. The idea that "we should have got rid of him then". Almost the suggestion that Bush (Snr) lost (or failed to take advantage of a strategic position). Now Bush (Jnr) can clear the family name. He can make sure the bush name goes down in the history book as victorious. He also needs to move quickly before the task falls to future president Jed Bush.

    Yeah, yeah, get to the point

    The point is that war against Iraq without UN approval is out of the question. There is no possible way that the US treaty with Australia would require us to become involved in a personal vendetta between the Hussein and Bush families. Even with UN approval, we should be careful about getting involved. As peacekeepers, yes. As belligerents, NO. That extends to Afghanistan and North Korea. It is not a matter of ignoring the atrocities or risks of these countries, it is a matter of considering diplomacy first. In particular real diplomacy that looks at the root causes of the problem rather than the current US approach to diplomacy which seems to consist of "saying 'Nice Doggy' while you feel for a rock".

    So you disagree?
    Feel free. I am not imposing my opinion, just offering it. You are welcome to disagree. You may even want to submit a comment or send an email. Alternately you can just shake your head and walk away saying "what a nutter".

    Posted by Ozguru at February 17, 2003 12:00 PM

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    It is interesting how much my thinking changed after I posted this. I almost considered not porting this article across to the revised version of the website but I decided that was being intellectually dishonest.

    Posted by: Ozguru [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 3, 2005 02:17 PM