A call for an Australian inquiry into the Iraq war
NEW – WATCH SHORT VIDEO - Lion hearts – 10 years since Australia’s biggest outpouring of protest ever – against the Iraq War
How did Australian armed forces come to be involved in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and why? What were the decision-making processes that led to that commitment? Were those processes adequate in terms of our system of government as we understand it and for the future?
Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser AC
What led to Australia invading Iraq in 2003? The newly established Iraq War Inquiry Group is calling for an independent inquiry into the reasons behind Australia’s participation in the invasion and a review of the war powers of the government, to draw out what lessons can be learned for the future.
The case for an inquiry is set out in detail in the new booklet, Why Did We Go to War in Iraq? A call for an Australian inquiry. The group consists of Australians from diverse backgrounds who are concerned that there has been little informed public discussion of the lessons to be learned from the decisions that took us to war in 2003.
UPDATE MARCH 2013
The 10th Anniversary of Australia’s commitment to the Iraq War in 2003 falls this month. The decision in that case was taken by the Prime Minister and a handful of Ministers alone. Parliament barely entered into their calculations, apart from the fact that they ‘controlled’ the House of Representatives. As for consulting Parliament or accounting to Parliament at any stage subsequently for their actions, barely a word.
The following is a brief listing of ‘wars’ in which Australia has participated since Federation, and how we came to be committed. In no case since WW2 was ‘war’ actually declared. Rather it was by and large a process into which the country drifted.
This is essentially a draft discussion paper to stimulate thought about how we go about being involved in armed combat abroad, whether in doing so we have been serving Australia’s interests or those of others, and the implications for the future (that is, for future generations)?
GOING TO WAR
In the past:
• WW1 – because Britain was at war and the Empire was one and indivisible.
• WW2 – because Britain had declared war so Australia was at war too (notwithstanding the passage of the Statute of Westminster, yet to be adopted).
* Korea – This was a UN operation – thanks to the Soviets’ fortuitous and momentary absence from the Security Council. Australia’s ‘forward defence’ doctrine had made a commitment with US effectively obligatory. It was a time of global tension and the ANZUS security treaty was in prospect (anticipating the end of the occupation of Japan). Being a UN action, our commitment to the Charter. the decision to respond might have seemed a formality. Nonetheless, was Cabinet consideration given to the commitment and to expectations as to outcome? Was the commitment essentially to the US in a ‘Cold War’ context and not to the Korea and the Syngman Rhye government per se, about which the government had reservations. It should be noted that a state of war has not been terminated in Korea, rather an Armistice or Ceasefire Agreement has been in force since the 1953 which the North Korean regime periodically threatens to denounce.
• The Malayan Emergency (1950s) – a security operation in support of a British colony. Communist insurgency was seen as a direct threat to regional stability. Another instance of ‘forward defence’ in action. Elements of the armed forces already based in the area. [Parliamentary authorisation implied ex post facto through financial appropriations]
Vietnam – decision taken by Cabinet over several months (late 1964 – April 1965), through Foreign Affairs & Defence Committee processes, but without Defence Committee advice. Final decision taken in Cabinet. Parliamentary authorisation implied ex post facto through financial appropriations. See also Garry Woodard’s paper @ http://aussieobserver.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/australias-virtual-vietnam-importance.html. This was a war marked, and marred, by the Draft (Conscription).
Because of on-going commitments in the Malay peninsular (and various elements of the armed forces being based there), the issues became: how far should we go in any emergency (when war was threatening); and whether our ‘forward defence’ commitments in Vietnam would become ‘over-reach’. A ‘Fortress Australia’ concept was gaining ground. Since then our force structure has been neither one thing nor the other when taken as a whole.
• Iraq War No 1 – a UN sanctioned operation. Parliamentary authorisation not sought but implied ex post facto through financial appropriations.. Responding to an act of international aggression and a ‘threat to the peace’. [ Initiative taken by Prime Minister, but not without contoversy in Cabinet.] A Gov-Gen-in-Council process eventually.
• Afghanistan – a UN sanctioned operation. It appears the Governor-General in Council was not directly engaged in the process. Parliamentary authorisation not sought but could be implied ex post facto through financial appropriations. While its purpose changed over time this was never formally debated or put to Parliament. The open-ended nature of the operation caused considerable public concern, given repeated deceptive and misleading government statements about its purpose and the manner of its final denouement.
• Iraq War No 2 – decision to support the United States with armed forces taken by the Prime Minister whilst overseas (in US), possibly following telephone consultation with Foreign Minister, in the face of substantial domestic political opposition and disquiet. The invasion began on 18th March before the ultimatum to Saddam Hussain expired. The Governor-General in Council process was not directly engaged. Parliamentary authorisation not sought but could be inferred ex post facto and indirectly through financial appropriations. Not UN sanctioned. Action illegal in the international context.
Indonsesia’s ‘Konfrontasi’ (1963-66): was a prelude to the 5 Power Arrangement for Malaysia and Singapore. Australian troops were engaged from time to time in irregular scouting operations over the Indonesian border to deal with guerrilla threats emanating from that region. [When was Parliament advised of this?] The government had been advised at this time that military operations by Indonesia against Australian interests were a real possibility. Indeed the Indonesians were being supplied by the Soviet Union with capital items – an aircraft carrier (which never left port) and jet fighters (which they couldn’t fly).
Cambodia was another UN sanctioned peacekeeping operation, largely led by Australia, with indifferent results.
The Solomon Islands police and security operation (RAMSI) was essentially peacekeeping in nature with regional (SPC?) sanction and support.
The East Timor operation (INTERFET) was peacekeeping and security in character, to facilitate the independence plebiscite and stability thereafter. Consented to by all concerned parties, including Indonesia, and with UN and other international sanction.
In the Future:
Given the above, what armed conflicts that could be in prospect might we become engaged in through informal processes (that is, by way of ‘mission creep’):
1. A conflict between the US and Iran over the latter’s nuclear weapons programs
2. Related to the above or separately, a situation where Iran closes the Gulf to shipping and the US and others seek to break the blockade, and this results in rocket/missile attacks on shipping, aircraft and land installations – and more widely possibly.
3. The Syrian situation becomes extreme and the international community demands action. Australia being on the UN Security Council would be under pressure to follow any decisions taken involving armed force.
4. Armed hostilities break out or threatened in the East and South China Seas involving Japan (a US ally) and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands; between China and Taiwan over Taiwan itself; between China and certain Southest Asian nations over the Paracel/Spratly islands.
5. A resumption of hostilities in Korea.
6. An insurrection or breakdown of law and order in PNG; border hostilities between Indonesia and PNG over West Irian.
7. Breakdown of law and order in the South West Pacific endangering foreign nationals (most particularly Australians).
Items 1 – 5 would involve a wider conflict in which an Australian response would turn largely on decisions taken by the US. But in that regard if US action depended on use of their Australian-based communication facilities in Central and Northwest Australia, to that extent we would already be involved.
Items 6 – 7. above, would largely involve an Australian initiative.
The question now is: how should an Australian decision to engage in armed conflict or to deploy Australian forces abroad in any of these or similar situations be taken, having regard to how such decisions have been taken previously? Are there critical aspects in the manner of previous decisions now in need of revision? If the latter, in what respects should/might decision-making over commitments to armed conflict abroad be modified and legitimated having regard to proper democratic processes – i.e. Parliament?