Thursday, March 26, 2015

ANZUS minus NZ, again?

by Alison Broinowski

Tony Abbott’s visit to New Zealand on 26 February was carefully coordinated with John Key’s announcement of a Kiwi military deployment to Iraq. At 143 ‘combat-trainers’ it wasn’t as large as the 3500 troops the Australian Prime Minister had proposed on 21 February. But for a while it seemed the New Zealanders had upstaged us by having the agreement of the Baghdad government to their presence on the ground.

Now we discover that the NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully has gone to Iraq, just as Julie Bishop did in October 2014, to try to secure a Status of Forces Agreement which would immunise his country’s troops against prosecution for any of their actions which may break the law of Iraq. 

The US hasn’t got one, nor have the Canadians (who are operating without it), nor have the Australian Special Forces (whose operations are, as far as we can make out, restricted). Apparently, the Australians are there on diplomatic passports, which is the only way our government could get around Baghdad’s objections to their presence. What status our promised regular troops will have has not been revealed.

Other countries’ ways of getting around the SOFA problem remain mysterious, but Iranians are obviously welcome, because in this fundamentally Shia/Sunni civil conflict, they are co-religionists of the government. It is a sectarian war in which Australia has no interest and can have no useful role.

It will be the ultimate irony if, having virtually declared Iraq War III, the Anglo-allies have to withdraw, admitting that their troops are unwelcome to the Baghdad government. Another country’s Parliament will have done for us what Australia’s Parliament is not required to do, deliberate and decide for or against Australia going to war.

opinion from: Dr Alison Broinowski, 26 March 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

research paper: Britain, Australia, the United States and Agent Orange in the Indochina Wars: Re-defining Chemical-Biological Warfare

A new research paper from Willy Bach, a post-graduate research student at the School of History at the University of Queensland, re-examines "the sanitised history of Agent Orange and other defoliants used in the Indochina War between 1961 and 1974. It begins by reviewing the incomplete and misleading narratives regarding the use of these chemicals, which have occupied and confused the public imagination and the official record."

The paper, linked recently through Honest History in Australia, notes:
Defoliants were an instrument of imperial power, sophisticated chemical technology applied to peasant societies without risk of retaliation. Given global censure of chemical warfare from World War I forward, they necessitated a distancing of decision-makers from responsibility for “others” who were the weapon’s anticipated target. They were both defoliants for jungle clearing and herbicides, an instrument of food denial; but they could also be used as a toxic chemical weapon …
Governments and contracting manufacturers claimed that they did not know the chemicals were toxic. It was falsely claimed that the use of defoliants was legal under international law. Several government inquiries concluded that Australians were only incidentally involved with Agent Orange use. This included the unsustainable claim that Phước Tuy Province, Việt Nam had not been sprayed, in spite of official records, maps and veterans’ accounts showing that the province was the first to be used in a trial, then repeatedly sprayed. (from the introduction to the paper)
The paper concludes as follows:
In this paper fresh challenges have been issued against some of the disinformation and omissions surrounding the use of Agent Orange, that has beset Australian society to varying degrees since the Indochina War; has clouded public perception, government transparency, infected the official history and inflicted hurtful insults to the injured memories of Australian veterans, imposing conformity and silence on the nation’s narrative …
Yet evidence was available regarding the purpose of defoliant warfare and its devastating consequences. Its early development and its use in the very earliest stages of the Indochina conflict have been fully documented. To date, in Australia a sanitised history has displaced a more accurate appreciation of the great harm that Agent Orange and its siblings inflicted on the peoples of Indochina, especially in the southern regions of Việt Nam, and secondarily on many of the Australian, New Zealand and American soldiers who used the weapon. This is indeed a toxic recipe overdue for scholarly revision.
This lengthy paper is based on wide research in secondary and some primary sources, including archival material. The paper has been edited slightly in its punctuation and retains some unconventional formatting. It is published by Honest History because of the importance of the information it contains and the references it draws upon. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

STATEMENT on the death of Rt. Hon. Malcolm Fraser AC CH

20 March 2015

Death of Rt. Hon. Malcolm Fraser AC CH

On this 12th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry/Australians for War Powers Reform expresses its deep sorrow at the news of the passing of Australia’s 22nd Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Malcolm Fraser AC CH.

Mr Fraser was a foundation member of our movement, having attended in early 2012 a meeting in Melbourne which convened to consider how we might best campaign for the establishment of an independent inquiry into the decision-making process that led to Australia’s participation in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the relocation of the so-called “war powers” from the Executive to the Parliament.

From that time forward he was effectively the movement’s Patron. Later in 2012, in Parliament House, Canberra, he launched our publication “Why Did We Go To War In Iraq?: A call for an Australian Inquiry”. He was a strong supporter of our movement and a ready source of guidance and wise counsel.

“His support for this cause was of a piece with his staunch opposition to apartheid as Prime Minister, his humane approach to Indo-Chinese asylum seekers during his time in office, his calls for a more humane approach to asylum seekers in the contemporary era and his respect for international institutions and international law”, said Paul Barratt, President of CIWI/AWPR.

At this time of faltering foreign policy and a too-ready willingness to commit the Australian Defence Force to overseas conflicts his wisdom and ideas will be missed more than ever. His stature will undoubtedly grow in coming decades.

Many of our members and longstanding supporters have known Mr Fraser both professionally and personally over a long period of time. We shall miss him both as a friend and as a colleague, and extend our condolences to Mrs Fraser and the family.

Monday, March 16, 2015

AWPR media briefings released ahead of 12th anniversary of invasion of Iraq

Released in the lead up to the 12th anniversary of the war on Iraq in May 2015, the new media briefing kit from Australians for War Powers Reform offers seven papers on issues of importance when considering the question of reforming Australia’s war powers.

  1. WAR POWERS REFORM: why it’s needed and why now
This paper argues that under present arrangements, committing the Australian Defence Force to international armed conflict (currently the prerogative of the Executive) is far too easy for such a grave and far-reaching matter.
This paper examines some of the important sources of advice that Parliament could use in a democratised process of deciding for or against ADF deployments.
A brief examination of how a range of other democracies make the decision to commit troops to overseas conflict.
  1. GOING TO WAR IN 1914
In this Centenary year, much is made of the marking of the First World War, but this paper also examines how Australia was drawn into the war back in 1914 and what the consequences for Australia were.
  1. A CENTURY OF GOING TO WAR: decision-making in Australia
This paper examines a century of political decision-making in Australia that has led us into wars from the First and Second World Wars through to the current conflicts in the Middle East.
  1. FOREIGN AND DEFENCE POLICY: is our parliament not to be trusted?
This paper examines the historical development of the notion that Parliament cannot be trusted with matters of foreign and defence policy.
A brief summary of some of the human and economic costs of recent wars in which Australia has taken part - including deaths, physical and psychological injuries, displacement and economic impacts.
For further comment, please contact us here or via details on each information sheet.
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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Describing ISIL as a “Death Cult” is a ploy to dumb us down.

by Andrew Farran

Prime Minister Abbott’s constant reference to ISIL as a “Death Cult” is a gross over-simplification of a complex conflict in the Arab world. It is intended to exploit the gullibility of a great many Australians who take little interest in and have little understanding of that part of the world as they do not see it as affecting their personal interests, let alone that of the nation.

By deepening Australia’s military involvement in Iraq - which demonstrates that this government has learnt nothing from recent history - Australia is  aligning with one dubious side over others in what is clearly an intense civil war. A war that essentially involves tribes; a war we have no business in engaging. 

Surprisingly the same criticism can be leveled at the Federal Opposition which one might have thought had learnt something from its recent period of government.

One wonders indeed what advice the government has been receiving from its diplomats at the Department of Foreign Affairs - or are they being cowed as some were for years at the time of Vietnam?

In the next edition of the War Powers Reform Bulletin we link to an incisive article by Tom Switzer which exposes the fantasies (recall Abbott’s recent repetitive use of the term ‘fantasy’) underlying his justification for increasing Australian military involvement in Arab and Muslim affairs far from our shores. One uses the word ‘increasingly’ in this context as Abbott has foreshadowed further deployments which, despite his denials of “mission creep, is about as good a forward announcement of his intentions as one might get.

So why o’why, after all the tragedies, disappointments, indeed pointlessness of previous entanglements with Arab nationalism and overseas Muslim  conflicts do we persist in endangering the lives of our military, and citizens at home, who unwittingly are being led into this quagmire. And this without a Status of Forces Agreement to protect the military from arbitrary prosecutions  under Iraqi  law.

Even worse is that Abbott has no idea of what would be ‘success’ in this mission, whether creeping or not, which most analysts see as lasting for many more years, just as the Afghan campaign led to the longest war in America’s history. - and that was without any measure of ‘success’.

From Australia's perspective the conflict in Syria/Iraq is destined not to have a 'good' outcome. Historically it will be seen as yet another rebalancing of their disparate elements with far too many victims - military and civilian - whose plight we will do little to alleviate. The old colonial state structures in this region are destined to be realigned in this century.

Ill-considered foreign interventions with bombs and bullets only compound the problems; they are not a solution. Their solution at this time lies with the countries and peoples most immediately involved, to resolve themselves with force or otherwise.

opinion from: Andrew Farran - 4 March 2015

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Creepy Mission

by Alison Broinowski

So to no-one’s surprise, the Prime Minister says we are now in the ‘next phase’ of the fight against whatever it’s called. ISIS, ISIL, IS, Daesh, you name it, has recently become a ‘death cult which is reaching out to us here in this country’. So the Martin Place siege proves the death cult is here among us, and hence that we are defending Australia.

In fact, it is an opportunistic minority Sunni assault on the Shia government of Iraq, a country divided in three by ancient religious differences and modern power politics.

What interest has Australia (or New Zealand) in fighting Iraq War III? It was, you’ll recall, Tony Abbott himself who correctly, if inelegantly, said in September 2013 that it was a war of ‘baddies against baddies’. He told the ABC 7.30, ‘We’ve got to be very careful dealing in a powder keg like the Middle East that we don’t take action, well-intentioned action, which could end up making a bad situation worse’. (Guardian, Switzer). Then it was Abbott who, in government, contributed humanitarian aid to fleeing Kurds in mid-2014; followed this with RAAF aircraft on bombing runs; and then sent SAS troops, saying they weren’t in combat roles. Now we are to add 300 more ADF people, who are apparently regulars, and who will be there for at least two years. But not to worry, they won’t venture outside their Anbar base. And there will only be 700 in all.

If you believe that, you have not learnt the lessons of history. 

Abbott learned from John Howard, who learned from Menzies how to wink and nudge and deceive the Australian people into accepting an expanding war against people who were not our enemies, for the sole purpose of gratifying our American ally. They increased the commitments and won khaki elections, just as Abbott hopes to do, appealing to our support of troops in the field. The Opposition does not even seem to remember Whitlam’s principled rejection of the Vietnam war and Crean’s eloquent argument in parliament against Iraq War II. Bill Shorten offered Clayton’s support for Iraq War III, as long as it didn’t go into Syria and had an ‘exit strategy’. Now even the Syrian limitation seems to have evaporated. Apart from Labor’s courageous Melissa Parke and Kelvin Thomson, it is left to a few Greens and Independents – Scott Ludlam, Sarah Hanson-Young, Christine Milne, Andrew Wilkie - to demand that the government come clean with the people.

This time, we should be smarter, because the pattern of mission creep is observably the same, and the technique is so predictable. We should insist on Abbott telling us why we are supporting a Shia government (like Iran’s) against IS, when IS opposes the Assad Alawite government against which he was keen to go to war only a year or so ago. We should demand clarity about what Abbott means when he says his latest decision is ‘in line with requests from the US and Iraqi governments’. (Guardian) Why did he not say ‘in response to’ their requests? If he has received a formal invitation from Baghdad, why does he not table it in parliament for all to see? Why are the SAS in Iraq on diplomatic visas, unless it’s because Iraq refused to sign a Status of Forces Agreement? If that’s so, what visas will the regular ADF have, and what Agreement will cover them? What have the Canadians and New Zealanders got? Why, after Iraq War II, does Abbott think he can dupe us again?

John Howard could have done himself some good in the eyes of history by admitting the truth: that Australia goes to war at the will of the prime minister, who responds to the will of the United States. Tony Abbott could and should do the same. The ANZAC hype is a hundred years old and has no relevance to this war. ANZUS is the problem, as applied by Howard and Abbott, together with the Constitution that passes to the prime minister the ancient monarchical prerogative of sending troops to war if he wishes, even on a lie, just to oblige an ally. In no other democratic countries apart from Canada and New Zealand are the war powers so free of parliamentary scrutiny. In several of them, parliaments not only debate and vote on military deployments, but review the progress of an ongoing war, and may demand withdrawal from it.

Neither major party in Australia has expressed interest in reform of the war powers. Only public pressure, and supportive voices in parliament, will bring to an end the repetitive sequence of needless wars that waste money and lives and leave behind devastation and bitterness.  

opinion from: Dr Alison Broinowski - 4 March 2015

Media release: No Clear Mission - No SOFA?


No clear mission - no SOFA?

Following Prime Minister Abbott’s announcement of additional troops for Iraq, Australians for War Powers Reform (AWPR) have expressed serious concern at the lack of clearly articulated goals that will be met by the deployments.   While the PM has denied any ‘mission creep’, this is exactly what is happening, with our role in Iraq having evolved significantly since August-September last year.
AWPR President and former Defence Department head Paul Barratt said,
"Step by step Australia is being drawn into a vicious sectarian war of enormous complexity, with no apparent strategy, no likelihood of influencing the strategy (if any) of our major ally, and no indication of what success might look like.”
In addition, AWPR calls for parliamentary debate on the matter and a resolution in the House of Representatives.  This could easily occur, as parliament is currently sitting.  The lack of parliamentary engagement with matters concerning ADF deployments continues to be a blight on our democracy.
Important issues that appear to be unresolved include a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).  AWPR calls upon the Government to inform the public:
·       Whether or not the presence in Iraq of armed Australian service people is covered by a Treaty-level Status of Forces Agreement, as would normally be the case for any deployment into the territory of another country.

·        If so, when can we expect this Agreement to be presented to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties?

·       If not, why not? What arrangements are in place to protect our military from arbitrary prosecutions under Iraqi law and to define the circumstances under which they may or may not use armed force while in Iraqi territory?
Australians for War Powers Reform is a project of the Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry, which believes there are fundamentally important lessons to be learnt from the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  AWPR advocates mandatory debate in Parliament, and the need for Parliamentary authorisation, before any deployment of the ADF into overseas armed conflict can occur.  It is time to reform and democratise Australia’s war powers.
For further information or interview please contact:
·       Paul Barratt, AWPR President, phone 0411 276 996 (after midday on March 4)

·       Sue Wareham, AWPR Secretary, phone 02 6253 1117