Latest AIIA NSW News
One of Europe’s most prominent and vocal foreign ministers has dismissed talk of gloom and doom in Europe, raised questions about some aspects of the so-called Asian century, and resolved to try andf make Europe more like Australia.
Radek Sikorsky, foreign minister of Poland, in his only major speech on an official visit to Australia and New Zealand this week, told a packed audience at the Australian Institute of International Affairs in Sydney that the idea that Europe was doomed was a “furphy”.
“Let’s move away from media headlines to real life”, he said. “ EU countries generate roughly a quarter of the world GDP. That’s more than the United States. It’s more than the combined GDP of China, Japan and the ten ASEAN countries.
“The EU is the largest aid donor in the world - more than half the money spent on helping poor countries comes from the the EU and its member countries. And the EU is the world’s biggest exporter, and the second biggest importer.....Europe is big and strong, and will be bigger and stronger when we set upour transatlantic trade and investment area with the United States”.
Mr Sikorski noted that the EU was Australia’s leading investor - with $637 billion at the end of 2011 - 31 per cent of total foreign investment.
Poland’s foreign minister, who has a reputation for frankness and recently and very publicly advised Britons to stay in the EU - said he believed the eurozone would come through its present crisis, and pledged that Poland, now the world’s 20th largest economy, would join when the time was right, probably by the end of this decade.
But he conceded that Europe’s share of global wealth will steadily decline. “So will Australia’s”, he said.”That is unavoidable. Demographic forces work their way down the generations.”, while pointing out Asia’s two leading economies, China and Japan both had an ageing problem similar to that in Europe.
Turning to the Far East, Mr Sikorski said it was hard to spot any one ‘Asian model’.”
“It’s obvious what ‘Asia’ doesn’t want. No hangover colonial instincts. Europeans and Americans thinking that nothing has changed, carrying on as if they and they alone set global rules.
“But just as Europe has to shoulder the responsibility for putting its house in order, Asia has to accept its fair share of responsibility. Helping manage problems that pose systemic risks to global order. Climate change. Piracy. Sensible taxes for multinationals. Corruption. Non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
“These are all tough shared problems. They require shared action. Europeans looks to the capitals of Asia, Beijing in particular, to articulate what Asia wants. “
A 15-strong group from AIIA NSW has flown to Jakarta for a high level study tour of Indonesia.
The group, led by AIIA NSW president Colin Chapman, is having four days of intensive meetings with Indonesian ministers and officials, international think tanks, Australia’s ambassador and others, before going on to Jogjakarta and other parts of Java.
The two-week tour will end with a two day visit to the remote region of Kalimantan, where some of the last remaining orangutans are living in the jungle protected by conservationists.
Colin said, “Australians need to know a lot more about Indonesia to get a better understanding of the issues and challenges facing this democratic country. In our early meetings we have been surprised at how extensive is our lack of knowledge, and yet all the people in our group are those who pay attention to international and regional issues.”
Colin paid tribute to ambassador Greg Moriarty. “He found time to see us in a week in which he had three government ministers in town, an important trade meeting, a visit by the secretary of DFAT, and a mining delegation from Western Australia.” He and his staff are flat out. It is now our busiest embassy, and has run out of room, so will soon move to larger premises. “With so much going on it must have more staff”.
Chapman said one of the points made by Indonesians in the early days of the tour was the lack of attention to Indonesia in the Australia in the Asian Century white paper.
Parliament, the Prime Minister and Future Wars
The decision to go to war should never be one that is made lightly. Taking a country to war can become a moral, humanitarian, financial, legal, political and strategic rabbit hole, and one that must be used only as a last resort. Unfortunately, Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War has left more questions than answers, and with our contribution to ‘The War on Terror’ costing upwards of $30 billion, questions that were left unanswered ten years ago have once again been brought into the public agenda.
The autopsy of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, on its tenth anniversary, has reignited the question of why Australia entered the conflict in the first place.The decision to invade Iraq in 2003 by the US and the subsequent post-invasion period failed on many strategic counts, undermining international law and resulting in the scattering and strengthening of terrorist groups in the region. Of course for Australia the number of negative outcomes of the war could not have been fully predicted upon making the initial decision, and John Howard himself stated in his autobiography that the costs of post-invasion military efforts were not considered at the time; but the interesting fact is that the Prime Minister and Cabinet did not seek consideration and full evaluation of the decision in the first place. Richard Woolcott wrote in 2004 “the in-principle decision to join the invasion of Iraq was taken by Howard late in 2001 or early in 2002. What followed was the attempted justification of a predetermined decision.” It was understood that Howard’s close allegiance with George W. Bush, and thus Australia’s with its ‘great and powerful friend’, as well as our history of supporting US-led coalitions in offshore conflict, would mean that questioning whether Australia would come to the aid of the US in this instance was seemingly non-negotiable. However, this lack of negotiation for Australia and the lack of Parliamentary process in making the decision were significant flaws, and continue to raise major doubts of the Australian government’s justification, accountability and integrity in sending our nation to war.
As a quick review, let’s explore Australia’s major motivations for going into what was effectively a unilateral US decision in the first place. Firstly, the US decision to invade Iraq was based on the doctrine of pre-emptive war (one that endangers the rule of law itself), bolstered by the theory that Saddam Hussein’s regime was maintaining a clandestine weapons of mass destruction (WMD) development programme. Australia accepted the US-presented evidence of this theory and the connected terrorist threat as the justification it needed to enter Iraq with the US. This evidence has since been proven false. Secondly, remaining in Bush’s favour was an apparent advantage for Australia for the concurrent talks over a bilateral free trade agreement, the outcome of which was an accelerated FTA. Thirdly, Australia’s involvement in ‘The War on Terror’ solidified the close relationship between Bush and Howard, and built upon the first invocation of the ANZUS Treaty between the two nations. The problem with citing ANZUS, however, is that the guidelines of Article 1 in the treaty require solutions to be met ''by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations''. While not supporting the US in Iraq would have endangered the alliance with Australia, making a military commitment where military action was not a ‘last resort’ damaged the terms of the treaty nonetheless. Despite this, ANZUS was a largely strategic consideration for Australia to demonstrate a “steadfast commitment to work with the United States in combating international terrorism.”
The 2003 invasion was lacking in crucial legitimacy, built upon a false pretext, and having failed to resolve the issue quickly, resulted in an expensive and time-consuming rebuilding process with a problematic establishment of leadership institutions. Worse still, terrorist activity and insurgency were not stamped out, but sustained in the aftermath of the decision. If the history of the Iraq War has taught us anything, it is that more than ever, when making a future decision on the military commitments of Australia, the public should expect diplomatic clarity, social reliability and political maturity – something that was lacking in 2003.
We know that the military invasion of Iraq was not the last resort, and according to the United Nations under international law it was an illegal act, which Security Council members such as France, fearing further terrorist or reprisal attacks would result if a more diplomatic approach were not taken, predicted from the outset. Howard’s decision to commit to war was based on false assumptions that were justified to the Australian public. This introduces the urgent question: how can we remedy a past problem by solving a future one?
The Iraq War Inquiry Group is one strong example of the push for a full public discussion and formal evaluation of the process of Australia choosing to enter the Iraq War, and the lessons and steps required for institutions to respond to future conflicts. The Group stresses that the lack of parliamentary approval in the lower house at the time of decision-making (it was secured retrospectively) is not comprehensive enough to ensure checks of evidence are sufficient when crucial decisions are made in future. The Group argues that the amount of power that the Prime Minister holds adds a dangerous element to future decision-making, and one that could again place Australia on the other side of the international law-abiding community. This is an admirable push for debate, however there is much difficulty in establishing a framework for such a discussion when for Australia, decisions to go to war don’t often focus on theatre-specific considerations, but mostly come down to strategic alliances and balancing – of which Iraq was a prime example. Australia must maintain this focus on alliances, but attempt to shift towards a strong harmony between such alliances and a commitment to international law and legitimacy in future decision-making, to prevent history repeating itself.
The distinction between strong and sustained action against global terrorism and the unjustified invasion of Iraq must be drawn as well. Further Australian support for the efforts against this threat should be continued, with measures in place to insure that Australia never again engages in wars upon the basis of red herrings and unilateral assumptions.
The ANZUS Treaty and adhering to international law are not mutually exclusive exercises, and in fact the terms of ANZUS call for Security Council involvement in international decisions of conflict to an extensive degree. But Howard’s problem was that he could not see a successful separation between the two priorities of Australia entering the War and of Australia preserving the US alliance. So perhaps what is needed is a review of the ANZUS Treaty itself. Besides the Australia-US alliance needing contemporary scrutiny, as it does not render Australia to an automatic support base for US wishes, an evaluation of Article 8 may also be useful. It requires treaty members “to maintain a consultative relationship with States, Regional Organisations, Associations of States or other authorities in the Pacific Area in a position to further the purposes of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of that Area.” Considering the involvement of Australia’s neighbours could be a useful strategic buffer for both Australia and the US in the coming China-oriented decade, where US and Chinese interests in the region will be highlighted; and certainly any review of our key alliances and security treaties are necessary in view of a shifting strategic environment. The importance of ANZUS, however, still remains. Australia retains its ‘great and powerful friend’, the US maintains their ally on the Asia-Pacific beat, and mutually beneficial intelligence between both states (with hopefully thorough checks of intelligence sources on Australia’s behalf in future) continue to be shared.
Would Australia support a US-led initiative in Asia or in Iran, for example, if the time came? And if we had foreseen the negative effects of the invasion of Iraq and of our participation, would Australians, who historically and contemporarily support the US alliance wholeheartedly, still have entered the conflict for the sake of the alliance?With Australia now looking forward to a temporary seat on the UN Security Council in 2013 to 2014, the risk of future conflict in Syria and Iran in which Australia could feel the need to contribute, and with territorial disputes in the North and South China Seas and with Taiwan, it is important that a full inquiry into Australia’s involvement in Iraq is conducted, to provide future historical understanding, to improve our track-record as a good global citizen and demonstrate our competence as an international law and war-maker, and to ensure future administrations consider every option before taking potentially disastrous military action.