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The Bulletin for Australians for War Powers Reform.
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Launch of our new book “How Does Australia Go To War?”

AWPR’s new book “How Does Australia Go To War?”, edited by our Vice-President Dr Alison Broinowski, was launched to a full room of supporters at Parliament House on Wednesday June 24, by the Hon Melissa Parke MP (ALP), Senator Scott Ludlam (Australian Greens) and Andrew Wilkie MP (Independent), with AWPR President Paul Barratt, and Alison speaking also. Other ALP parliamentarians who contributed included Senator the Hon Lisa Singh and the Ms McTiernan MP.

Discussion focused on several aspects of the need for accountability and change in the way Australia goes to war, including the need for a PM to define the scope of any proposal for ADF deployment, for parliamentarians to take responsibility for this decision, and the considerable soul-searching in the UK after 2003, leading to a change of practice there (whereby, for example, the House of Commons was able to reject the proposal for bombing Syria in 2013). 
 
Significant progress was apparent when the Ms McTiernan stated that the ALP intends to examine this issue through its committee process.  AWPR will be encouraging and closely watching this progress, and providing expertise wherever possible. Importantly, Senator Ludlam emphasised that change will need to be urged from outside parliament, in other words from civil society.  That’s the role for all of us.
 
A copy of the book has been sent to every federal MP and Senator. Please let us know if you would like one, and if you can help get it into libraries and into the hands of others who should read it; contact us at info@iraqwarinquiry.org.au.



New website

On Wednesday, AWPR also launched our new website, www.warpowersreform.org.au, beautifully designed by Carmen King.  Please have a look!
Parliamentary Approval and Mission Creep
Paul Barratt
 
One of the hazards of the current system under which the deployment of the ADF into international armed conflict is a matter for the Executive rather than the Parliament is the fact that the mission is never clearly defined, at least in public, and being undefined can “creep” into new types of operations and even new territory with as little public rationale or justification as the initial deployment.
 
We have certainly seen mission creep throughout the current military operations in Iraq: in the air, from humanitarian operations to participation in bombing raids on IS forces in Iraq, to support for other Air Forces’ raids on Syria, and on the ground, from Special Forces advising the Iraqis how to resist IS attacks, to the commitment of Army personnel to training the Iraq security forces. 
 
The way the situation has unfolded would give a reasonable person cause to suspect that the free hand the current system gives to the Prime Minister of the day is being used to roll out incrementally actions that are already in mind, but only revealed when it suits the Government to do so.
 
What was announced on 9 August 2014 as an humanitarian mission to drop relief supplies to fleeing Yezidi on Mount Sinjar using RAAF assets already in the Middle East turned out at a Prime Ministerial media conference on 15 August to have been supported using “a [large] support team … that … was assembled from many parts of Australia and deployed to the Middle East within about 72 hours”. If you are sceptical that the Prime Minister would rush a large support team assembled   from all over Australia to the Middle East for the purposes of a single humanitarian mission, you would be entitled to conclude that the next stage was already in mind – he just wasn’t telling us.
 
Also, a standard part of the modus operandi is to give enough of a “heads up” about possible next steps for the Government, when the time comes, to be able to refer back to an earlier statement, which usually has the Prime Minister declining to rule something out. A good example is Tony Abbott won't rule out increasing troops in Iraq, published in The Guardian on 6 January 2015. Sure enough, the commitment of 200 Special Forces to advise the Iraqis on how to resist IS attacks became a different kind of commitment: a 300-strong Australian Army Training Team to train the Iraqi forces.
 
Most recently, some of the Government’s defence and military insiders have gone public with the view that the current “advise and assist” role of the ADF cannot work and should be extended to “advise, assist and accompany” (on missions) – does this portend a further extension of the Army’s role?
 
A more disturbing type of mission creep is the extension of geographical boundaries. At least the ADF operations in Iraq operate under the fig-leaf of an invitation from the Iraqi Government – even if that Government is insufficiently enthusiastic about the idea to give us a Status of Forces Agreement to define the legal status of ADF personnel potentially involved in lethal operations in Iraq – so the legality of the deployment under international law is defensible.
 
Not so in the case of Syria. We have not been invited by the Assad regime, which occupies the seat in the United Nations, to conduct military operations within its sovereign territory, but in March the Prime Minister casually revealed that RAAF aircraft are supporting, ie, participating in, air raids in Syria – see RAAF aids attacks in Syria (published in news.com.au and other media on 25 March). The Prime Minister “said the government had no plans to extend its Operation OKRA beyond Iraq”, but “have no plans” is a time honoured way of not ruling out the action in question.
 
A requirement for Parliamentary approval of any deployment into hostilities offers substantial protection from mission creep by way of extensions to scope or extensions to geographical area.
 
For starters, it would require the Government of the day to come clean to a much greater extent than the present system on the aim and scope of the mission, what it is intended to achieve, what success would look like, and the prospects of success. On the evidence available neither in relation to Afghanistan nor Iraq has anyone seriously addressed these questions.  Nor, having regard to Douglas MacArthur’s famous dictum, “It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it”, has anyone asked the real threshold question – “What would it take to win?” (whatever “win” might mean in the messy environment of the Middle East).
 
So it is reasonable to assume that the Government of the day would be required to turn its mind to the rationale for, the shape of, and the risks involved in, the proposed deployment much more coherently than appears to be the case under the current system, simply for the purpose of making the necessary Ministerial statement with sufficient cogency to persuade the Parliament to agree.
 
Second, a case having been put to Parliament, one would expect Parliament to shape any authorisation to be a response to the case that has been put, rather than an open-ended one. Under a robust system of Parliamentary authorisation one would expect to have authoritative non-political legal advice (eg tabled written advice from the Solicitor-General) on the legality of what is proposed, in which case Parliament might in current circumstances authorise ADF participation in military operations in Iraq, but rule out any participation in or support for military operations in Syria.
 
Similarly, a Parliament in which the collective wisdom of all Parliamentarians is being brought to bear on this gravest of matters, might be careful enough to authorise an “advise and assist” role for the Army Training Team, but specifically rule out authorisation of the trainers accompanying the Iraqis on operations. Whether they did so or not would of course be a matter for the Parliament itself.
 
When I was collaborating with the late Malcolm Fraser in the writing of Going to war is a matter for parliament we had a conversation in which he observed that we cannot run the war from the Parliament: Parliament would simply be the body that authorises our entry into any particular overseas operation requiring or likely to require the use of armed force, such authorisation to last for the duration of the circumstances to which it applies. We agreed that this would go to the geographical scope of the operation as well as its duration.
 
It is for this reason that an essential feature of the Parliamentary authorisation process would be to put the boundaries around the operation: to limit it to what is lawful, proportionate to the threat we face, within the relevant geographical area(s), and of a nature to offer good prospects of success as defined. Within those boundaries the Government of the day can operate in response to the emerging circumstances and in accordance with the recommendations of its military advisers. If the circumstances evolve in such a way the mission must be extended, the Government can always seek additional authorisation from Parliament.
“Dangerous Allies?”
Independent and Peaceful Australia Network, conference and public forum, July 8-9, Brisbane
 
These events, to help build a national movement for an independent and peaceful Australia, will be addressed by:
  • Professor Kozue Akibayashi, WILPF International
  • Senator Scott Ludlam, Australian Greens, and
  • Professor Richard Tanter, Nautilus Institute and AWPR member
Information and booking details are available here or from Annette on 0431 597 256.
 
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.
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