Since the Korean War in the early 1950s, the US has committed a series of political and strategic misjudgements in its war decisions. Does this give us confidence about its future decisions and for a policy of going along with those decisions even when they do not directly involve our national interests? Nationalism and irrationality are on the rise, increasing the chances of conflict today more than for decades.
Reflecting on the recent commemorations of the Armistice of the Great War of 1914-18, the huge loss of life and injuries in that conflict was a reminder of how easily or even casually a whole nation can be entrapped in warfare, ostensibly in the national interest – an imprecise term too readily asserted by national governments.
Since Korea, Australian governments have gone out of their way to engage in US wars of opportunity, mostly unsuccessfully.
It is thus imperative that decisions to engage in foreign conflicts should be thoroughly scrutinised before commitment.
Australians for War Powers Reform have been campaigning since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to ensure that a due process procedure is adopted and followed before Australian forces are committed in conflicts that barely engage our national interests and may result in unjustifiable casualties within the forces and unnecessary suffering among their families. The approach in this regard is not passivist in orientation. Rather we need to be sure that our defence forces are well prepared to protect and defend only what is rightfully and demonstrably our real national interests.
The following is extracted from the AWPR’s recent Bulletin, the theme of which is to point to the danger of Australia succumbing to US entreaties to engage in hostilities against counties such as Iran and China, which are not our enemies but which the US may seek essentially for its own purposes to bring into line.
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The AWPR editorial asks: Can anyone contemplate mass mobilisation on a similar scale to the Great War in the circumstances of today?
Unfortunately, in certain respects, one can. The difference now would be that troop levels would be far less, but the lethality of weaponry far greater, as would be the massive toll on civilians. While a future ‘Great War’ might last just a few days, the cleaning up and recovery (if there was one) could last a generation.
Some might argue that such a war now is unlikely pointing to the fact that since the last Great War (WW2) there have been in effect only smaller or more localised wars (Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria) and the home population was barely affected. Each of these wars was conducted (or still is being conducted) well away from the Australian homeland which raises the questions, why were we involved in them at all, and couldn’t we leave such future conflicts to the military professionals and government of the day? As it happened, this is exactly how our military commitments since Vietnam have come about: initiated by a sub-committee of the Cabinet, at the behest of the intelligence/security complex – without reference to and with little reporting to Parliament; nor with honest reporting to the Australian people.
But will this approach be good enough to secure our national interest in the future given the rapidly changing strategic environment now facing us? It seems unlikely that allowing the government of the day, in tandem with the military, to follow the lead of the US and its forces will suffice in future to satisfy our distinct national interests. Surely it is time we began making independent judgements in that regard.
Recall how closely the danger of a conflict of unprecedented proportions was threatening just this year over North Korea’s nuclear and missile program, when the US seemed all too ready to resort to nuclear weapons to resolve that issue regardless of the physical consequences to Japan and South Korea.
Just lately the US has reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran regardless of the fact that Iran has adhered fully to the UN Security Council endorsed multilateral agreement to restrain its nuclear program. Could this degree of hostility lead to military conflict in that region, in support of which the US might call upon its ‘allies,’ including Australia, as it did over Iraq in 2003?
The ongoing trade war, which the US is now deeming a Cold War, with China could have even more devastating consequences, possibly tearing the ANZUS alliance apart should Australia be forced to take sides which we could barely avoid given our involvement in the Pine Gap Joint Facility. (A matter dramatically illustrated in the ABC TV mini-series ‘Pine Gap.’)
Since the Korean War in the early 1950s, the US has committed a series of political and strategic misjudgements in its war decisions. Does this give us confidence about its future decisions and for a policy of going along with those decisions even when they do not directly involve our national interests? Nationalism and irrationality are on the rise, increasing the chances of conflict over silly issues.
These will raise difficult questions for future Australian governments. It is essential however that any decisions we make with potentially devastating consequences are thoroughly thought through and discussed by the wider public and the Parliament before another ill-considered military commitment is presented to the Australian people as a fait accompli.
Andrew Farran, member of the AWPR Committee. The AWPR website can be linked at: http://www.warpowersreform.org.au