The Bulletin for Australians for War Powers Reform.
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Welcome to the War Powers Reform Bulletin #42

A key issue facing Australia, of long standing, is how we decide to expose the nation to the perils and risks of military conflict.

There are two elements to this. The first is that there should be careful consideration of the case for military action, including how the proposed action fits with international law, the costs and benefits of intervention, and an analysis of the likely responses to our intervention on the part of all interested parties, as well as the likely impacts on civilian populations. There is need to consider the prospect of success, and 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.

The second issue is that, the decision to deploy having been made, it is essential that we are scrupulous in adhering to the Constitutional processes for authorising the deployment. 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. They could be subjected to accusations of war crimes or ordinary criminal procedures to which they could not plead the defence of obeying lawful orders...

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This is an excerpt of Paul Barratt's contribution to Australia 21's series: "Elephants in the Polling Booth: Short Election Essays 2016."
Setbacks for democractic reform of war powers

Having taken one step forward, Australia’s major allies have now taken two steps back from reform of their war powers.

In the UK, the Defence Minister has set aside years of bipartisan promises of legislation that would require British governments to consult the Parliament before committing forces to war, and has rejected what he now calls this ‘artificial’ constraint.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown sought legislation to cease allowing a prime minister to exercise the war powers under executive privilege. He hoped to transfer the decision for war to the Parliament, but abandoned the attempt in 2007. A bipartisan committee secured support of both houses in 2011 to enshrine in legislation the convention of executive consultation with MPs before committing armed force. David Cameron’s government allowed the initiative to drift, but its plan to send RAF planes to Syria was defeated in the Commons in 2013. Cameron then secured a majority in favour of a similar deployment this year. Having asserted, in Opposition in 2006, that public trust depended upon MPs having the final say in troop deployments, Cameron has now reversed himself and rejected the prospect of legislation to ensure it, even though the convention that governments should consult Parliament apparently remains in place.

In the US, following several attempts to revise the 1973 War Powers Act, President Obama requested Congress in February 2015 to authorise him to dispatch forces against Islamic State, and to repeal the 2002 authorisation for President G.W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. He offered to limit the new deployment to three years, and to restrict ground combat to Special Forces. The measure was opposed by some Democrats and rejected. Obama subsequently sent US planes and troops to Iraq and Syria regardless, relying upon the authority granted by Congress in 2001 to his predecessor to fight Al Qaeda, which remains law. Then, in January 2016, in Obama’s final year as president, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican majority leader, introduced a Bill for the ‘Authorisation for Use of Military Force’, for which Obama had signed an executive order in September 2015. If it passes, the Act will take effect in August 2016. What the Bill appears to seek is virtually unlimited power for the President to deploy US ground forces anywhere in the world and for any length of time, including in the United States, without having to provide legal or strategic justifications to Congress.

Image: President Obama and Mitch McConnell

These US and UK developments set a dangerous example for Australia, where politicians have in recent years begun to see the risks of allowing ‘captain’s picks’ to decide the dispatch of Australian forces to war. When democratic processes are bypassed, the restraints of international and domestic legality are overridden. When accountability for war and its outcomes is not shared with the people’s representatives, the executive can do as it pleases, can withhold from the public the details of what is being done in their name, and can repeat its past errors with impunity.

‘Australian governments’, historian Henry Reynolds has recently written, ‘find it easy to go to war’ (Unnecessary Wars, 2016: 238). Reynolds calls Iraq an episode of military adventurism for which Australian leaders suffered no opprobrium nor inquiry; made no public expression of regret; and showed no sense of culpability or responsibility. ‘Calls for a formal investigation into the circumstances of Australia’s entry into the Iraq war,’ he adds, ‘have met with official silence’. We and many others live with the consequences of the Iraq disaster, and the prospect that our governments may repeat it.

- Dr Alison Broinowski, former Australian diplomat, is Vice President of AWPR, Vice-President of Honest History, and author of Howard's War and Allied and Addicted.

Melissa Parke's retirement from Parliament

Australians for War Powers Reform (AWPR) is very sorry to hear the news that the Member for Fremantle, the Hon. Melissa Parke MP, will not be re-contesting her seat at the 2016 Federal Election.

Not only has she been a strong supporter of our campaign for war powers reform and for the establishment of an independent inquiry into the decision-making process that led to Australia’s participation in the 2003 invasion of Iraq; we believe her first hand experience of UN peacekeeping operations and her work in the UN Headquarters and in Beirut, plus her experience as Minister for International Development have made her an asset to the Parliament.

She raised the campaign for war powers reform in her Valedictory speech; 

"The Australians for War Powers Reform, of which Malcom Fraser was one of the founders, have persuasively advocated for the parliament to be required to give consent before Australian forces are sent to war. This was an issue I raised in my first speech and I hope it will be revisited by the parliament in light of the outcome of previous and current deployments and the practice of most comparable countries."

Parke’s advocacy within the ALP has been invaluable, as that party, like the Coalition, still refuses to endorse the need for parliamentary debate and vote as a prerequisite for Australia going to war; and Labor, like the Coalition, still refuses to support the need for an inquiry into the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq which Labor opposed at the time.

We wish her all the best in her future career. 

Reality dictates redrawing Middle East borders after end to old order

A hundred years ago, an otherwise forgettable English politician named Mark Sykes made a deal with a French diplomat, Francois Georges-Picot, to carve up the Middle East. Read on.
Become a member of Australians for War Powers Reform

Members of AWPR will continue to receive news from our campaign and will be encouraged to use it in their own particular area of work. Members will become part of our information network and will be invited to take part in an email discussion group.  It will not be an onerous involvement, and the goal is simply to raise the profile of the war powers issue in Australia and encourage debate on it.
We look forward to working with you to bring the full weight of the Parliament, and the accountability that goes with that, to the way in which Australians can be sent to war.

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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