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The cost to Australia's international standing of supporting the Iraq War

By Gary Brown - posted Wednesday, 2 April 2003


Contrary to what you will hear from supporters of the American pre-emptive war against Iraq, Australia's strategic environment has deteriorated disastrously over the last few days. We are now one of a three-member international cabal, which wages war unsanctioned by the United Nations.

True, the strongest member of this cabal is the strongest nation on earth but, as its weakest member by far, we invite attack.

Both the US and UK governments have at least recognised that their attack on Iraq will fuel the threat of terrorism directed at them, their interests and their people. Here in Australia John Howard remains in firm denial mode. It is ironic that about the only utterance of George W. Bush not echoed by John Howard has been Bush's warning of heightened terrorist threats as a result of the war.

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It is all very well to argue that destroying the Saddam regime will remove a source of state support for terrorism. As far as it goes this is true, though the US soldiers who wrote "9-11" on artillery shells destined for Iraqi targets are sadly misled if they seriously believe that Saddam's regime had anything to do with the 11 September 2001 atrocities.

But terrorism has never needed state support to flourish. Rather, it requires a population with a grievance, real or imagined, strong enough to justify terror tactics. The grievances of many Arabs and Muslims against the US and its shrunken band of close collaborators have been greatly exacerbated by the present war.

Because Australia is a member of this band, because it is remote from the other two and because it is by far the weakest of the aggressive cabal, it is especially vulnerable.

Moreover, Australia has isolated itself in its region. It will be years, at least, before any neighbour will accept that Australia has anything of its own to contribute to the region. Henceforth, though neighbours may diplomatically refrain from saying so publicly, we will be seen as an arm of the US with no credible independent foreign and security policy. We may differ from Washington on nuances, details, minor security issues but our servile support for Washington has destroyed any pretensions we may have had towards being taken seriously as an independent actor.

Some commentators have seized on the concept of Australia supplying so-called "niche" or specialised military capabilities to US-led operations. This is in fact an accurate description of our role in the Iraq war and is all too revealing as to the future function of our military. Any suggestion that our Defence Force exists to support our own security, to add weight to our diplomacy, is now obsolete. We are a small - not irreplaceable - cog in the military machine of American global hegemony.

We will be told - indeed, the Prime Minister said almost as much when he addressed the nation at the start of the war - that we are doing this to earn "brownie points" in Washington. For what these points can be redeemed is still unclear.

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Is it military security against aggressors? But both the Prime Minister and Defence Minister Senator Hill are on record as saying that traditional threats from conventional military aggressors are not an issue for us; that these threats are in recession.

Is it a better deal on trade? Some have suggested that the Prime Minister thinks he can get a good Free Trade Agreement with Washington by tapping its gratitude for our support. In fairness, Mr Howard himself has not said this; he would be mistaken in any case if he thought that Washington would ever sell out its farm lobby in order to satisfy ours. Trade talks have always revealed the limits of US gratitude for Australian help, and always will.

Since 1945 we have fought with the US in Korea, Indochina, the 1991 Gulf War, Afghanistan and now in Iraq. What have they done for us lately? We wanted US ground forces in East Timor. We could not get them and were forced to stretch our limited military resources to help the East Timorese.

It is bad enough that this war is unsanctioned and unnecessary, but its adverse effects on our long-term security and regional credibility will be far worse. We have made ourselves a member of a very small and select club; the dues are billions of dollars in fancy weaponry and a heightened profile as a target for all enemies of the United States. Henceforth their enemies are ours.

Welcome to Australia, a minor and expendable province of the American Empire. The local Imperial Governor is named John Howard.

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About the Author

Until June 2002 Gary Brown was a Defence Advisor with the Parliamentary Information and Research Service at Parliament House, Canberra, where he provided confidential advice and research at request to members and staffs of all parties and Parliamentary committees, and produced regular publications on a wide range of defence issues. Many are available at here.

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