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The three pillars of Labor's foreign policy and the war against terror

By Mark Latham - posted Monday, 19 July 2004

The hard struggle against terrorism continues for Australia and our friends with successes and sad losses. But through the three pillars of Labor's foreign policy – the American Alliance, support for the United Nations, and Asian engagement – we can give Australia a stronger role, a clearer purpose and a better outcome in the war against terror.

The primary objective of the fundamentalists is to control the Muslim heartlands. This is a battle for the minds of the Islamic world: a fact that must fashion our strategies and policies. Anything we do that needlessly advances hostility and strengthens the case of the extremists hands a victory to them.

Australia is in this struggle geographically because al Qa’ida's regional groupings, such as Jemaah Islamiyah, have placed us within their fields of jihad. We are in this struggle politically because, with friends and allies, we have been targetted. We are also in this struggle socially because the spirit of freedom and tolerance, the decent treatment of all men and women and the quest for social and economic security are values that we must always defend.


The war against terror must be above the partisan considerations of politics. Labor does not walk away from this struggle. An Australian Labor government will be an implacable enemy of the fundamentalist terrorists.

Labor joined this war when we offered bipartisan support for invoking the ANZUS Alliance (for the first time in its history) after September 11. We supported the deployment of Australia's military forces to the immediate conflict in Afghanistan and the wider war against terrorism.

A clear-cut attack had occurred on the United States and the source of that attack was clearly located. Should another attack produce an identifiable source, we would be prepared to support similar action. In the meantime, we support increased international cooperation between intelligence and law enforcement agencies in tracking down and destroying terrorist activities.

We opposed the Howard government's decision to join the so-called Coalition of the Willing because we believed Iraqi issues needed to be resolved within the United Nations.

While we held no brief for Saddam Hussein's survival and believed that weapons inspections and UN sanctions were necessary, we feared that acting outside the United Nations' mandate would undermine the international coalition against terror. It would divert the armed forces of our major ally from the main battle and possibly turn Islamic populations against us and against moderate Islamic governments. That our judgements have proven sound gives us no joy.

In the lead-up to war Mr Howard did not offer the advice the United States actually needed. Only belatedly did he join the argument for United Nations involvement and by then, the die was cast. In early 2003 he sent Australia to war for a purpose that was not true – in search of weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.


The maintenance of the United States Alliance is a central pillar in Labor's foreign policy.

Overwhelmingly, the international role of the United States is a force for good. Those of us who live in free lands and enjoy the benefits of a free society should always be thankful for America's role in the Cold War and the fight against communism. We must always value and encourage American engagement in the Asia-Pacific.

This is not to suggest, of course, that US foreign policy has always been ideal or that the Australian Labor Party would ever hesitate to argue against poor American policy. Labor governments have always tried to maintain a mature Alliance, with room for disagreement. Differing with the United States by no means makes you anti-American. Far from it.

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Article edited by Margaret-Ann Williams.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

This is an edited transcript of a speech To The Australian Institute Of International Affairs in Sydney on 12 July 2004.  The full text can be found here.

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About the Author

Mark Latham is the former Leader of the Opposition and former federal Labor Member for Werriwa (NSW).

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