The Bulletin for Australians for War Powers Reform.
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Welcome to the War Powers Reform Bulletin #41:
Keeping our mind on the important things
As we move closer to a Federal Election we are seeing an increase in the shrillness of what currently passes for political debate. We should not, however, allow ourselves to be distracted by this from issues of key importance to Australian society. Election campaigns are an opportunity to test our politicians on key issues and to demand answers. We are entitled to expect that campaigns be fought on key issues and should demand no less.
One of the key issues, and one of long standing, is how we decide to enter into military conflict, and the processes by which we give effect to that decision. There are two key elements to this. The first is that there should be careful consideration of the case for military action, including of all the available intelligence, of conformity of the proposed action with applicable international law, of the costs and benefits of intervention, including an analysis of the likely responses to our intervention on the part of all interested parties, of the likely impacts on civilian populations, of the prospects of success, as well as of what “success” might look like.
There is no sign that any of our major interventions in recent decades – Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq (twice), Syria – have been attended by that level of diligence. On the contrary, there is alarming evidence to indicate that these were casual decisions, taken more on the basis of Prime Ministerial ‘gut feel’ and a desire to please our American ally than a careful consideration either of where the Australian national interest lay or of the prospects for success. Furthermore, there is disturbing evidence that former Prime Minister Tony Abbott contemplated the unilateral insertion of Australian troops into Iraq on the one hand, and Ukraine on the other.
There must be no more ‘captain’s picks’. How important it is to bring the full weight of Parliamentary scrutiny to bear on our deployment decisions may be demonstrated by reference to the ups and downs of our relationship with our largest neighbour Indonesia. In the 1940s we were one of the key Western backers of Indonesian independence. By the 1960s, with Malaysian independence, we were engaged in military action against Indonesia in the context of konfrontasi, and had serious concerns about the security of the West Irian-PNG border. In the early 1970s one of the key criteria for selection of the next Australian strike aircraft was the range to bomb Jakarta from Darwin and return. By the time the F-111 was delivered it did not have that range, but it did not matter any more because we were no longer interested in bombing Jakarta.
Fast forward to 1999 and we have a very senior Indonesian delegation from the first civilian Government of Indonesia visiting Canberra for quiet discussions with our senior defence and civilian authorities about important issues to do with the establishment of civil society, such as the boundaries between matters the police are responsible for and those which would involve the ADF. This led to the so-called CDF-Pangab conference to pursue those issues, in Jakarta in July 1999. Yet later that year, with the consent of, but to the great concern, of the Indonesian authorities, we led a UN-authorised peacekeeping mission to East Timor to stabilise the situation as East Timor moved towards independence. This put great strains on the relationship, but by April 2016 we could enjoy the presence of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, himself a member of that 1999 Indonesian delegation, at an Australian Strategic Policy Institute conference to contribute a view from Indonesia about the Defence White Paper, in the course of which he said;

As Australia seeks to shape her strategic environment, the evolving partnership between Indonesia and Australia presents a good case of a transformed relationship that solidifies common security. To be honest, in the past, there was a lot of baggage between Jakarta and Canberra.

There was mutual distrust, and mutual discomfort in our relationship. The East Timor issue was a major source of friction. In the eyes of many Australians, Indonesia was seen as an authoritarian state with human rights problems, and a troubled country politically and economically after the fall of President Soeharto. In the eyes of many Indonesians, Australia was seen as intrusive, and harbouring negative intention on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Indonesia.

I would say that Jakarta-Canberra relations were similar to many conflictual relations that we see among states today. But, together, we reversed that situation. We not only normalised the relationship: we elevated and transformed it.

So there have been many ups and downs in the Australia-Indonesia relationship; on several occasions we were on the brink of armed responses to provocations but diplomacy and cool heads prevailed in each case. Accordingly, we seem to have negotiated our way through it – but what lasting damage might have been done by an impulsive Prime Minister who decided in one of the trickier moments that we needed to resort to armed force?
The bottom line is that the power to deploy the ADF abroad is vested under the Constitution in the Prerogative which lies with the Governor-General in Council following all procedural checks and balances, not simply a Prime Minister’s or "captain’s pick". It should be referred to Parliament for debate and approval, with full access to supporting information, at the earliest opportunity. It is essential that the deployment should comply with all Constitutional and legal processes. In the absence of that, our soldiers, sailors and airmen and women have no lawful authority to be in another country killing people, capturing them, and destroying their property, and could be subjected to accusations of war crimes or ordinary criminal procedures to which they could not plead the defence of obeying lawful orders. Unfortunately, recent deployments have not met this essential criterion.
Australians for War Powers Reform has made representations on both these matters – see our 1 March 2016 letter to the Prime Minister here. Similar letters were sent to the Foreign Minister, the Defence Minister, the Attorney-General and their Opposition counterparts, and we await their responses with interest. We have also spoken with individual politicians and groups of parliamentarians, and will continue to do so.
It is important as we head towards an election that all people who feel as we do make their feelings on these important matters known, We would urge you to write to your local member or Senators, or to the office holders mentioned above, and support our campaign.

- Paul Barratt
Deployment of Special Forces | Letter to PM Turnbull
29th April, 2016
AWPR has today written to the Prime Minister on the subject of war powers and the deployment of Australian special forces soldiers worldwide. Please read it here.
Legislating for War Powers Reform: Seminar Report now available

Last October, Australians for War Powers Reform hosted a full-day seminar on "legislating for war powers reform" at the Australian National University in Canberra. The seminar report is now available at our website.

Executive Summary

The need for Australia to improve transparency and accountability for war decision-making, and thereby avoid bad wars, is a dominant consideration. The means to achieve this is that the power to deploy the ADF abroad is vested under the Constitution in the Prerogative which lies with the Governor-General in Council following all procedural checks and balances, not simply a  Prime Minister’s or "captain’s pick". It should be referred to Parliament for debate and approval, with full access to supporting information, at the earliest opportunity. A Parliamentary debate could be initiated by a Government statement based on independent legal advice. It would provide:
  • a clear basis of legal authority, both domestic and international,
  • a strategic justification for an overseas deployment,
  • the level of commitment, goals and objectives and limitations of the mission; and
  • a date when Australian soldiers could be drawn down and withdrawn.
Parliament would vote upon it, having made a sober and informed evaluation of the rationale for deploying Australian troops, for which all MPs would then be responsible.  Other democracies do this successfully. Provision could be made for rapid deployment in an emergency, but generally, requirements for security and speed could accommodate the Parliamentary process. More openness would result in improved media coverage of the issues and democratisation of the responsibility for going to war.

Read the seminar report here.
What exactly is Australia's policy in Syria?
James O'Neill
Australia’s involvement in the war in Syria lacks both a legal and a rational policy basis.  It has been presented to the Australian public as part of a “coalition” effort to attack Islamic militants.  Its true basis is to be part of an American inspired combination of regime change and control over vital gas and oil pipelines that in turn fit within a broader struggle for economic and military hegemony. Read on.
European Parliament calls for Saudi arms embargo
While the European parliament votes for an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia for its alleged widespread and systematic targeting of civilians in Yemen, the Australian government and the Australian parliament remain silent on the matter.  This is despite our government’s readiness to call attention to other severe human rights violations in the Middle East. Read here.
Let's End America's Hopeless War for the Middle East
Andrew J. Bacevich
Today, the United States is stuck in an analogous stalemate in the Middle East and Islamic world in general.
Read on.
The views expressed in this Bulletin are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Australians for War Powers Reform or the Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry (Inc). Readers should note that both Australians for War Powers Reform and the Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry (Inc) seek a diversity of views and opinions in order to identify common ground.
Copyright © 2015 Campaign For An Iraq War Inquiry, All rights reserved.
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