From Bali to Iraq: time to act

The Bali tragedy has led some to urge Australia to forget about Iraq and concentrate on the terrorist threat closer to home. This is bad advice.

Herald Sun 17 October 2002.

First, it supposes Iraq and terrorism pose quite different threats. But they don’t.

True, we have no evidence that Saddam is deeply involved in international terrorism. But he is encouraging their activities — including by paying large awards to families of suicide homicides in Israel.

Iraq is most important for three reasons. First, because the Middle East is the centre of international terrorism. Second, because until the region is radically changed terrorism will continue. And finally because the place to begin that change is Iraq — a move that would also have a positive effect on other Middle East countries and problems, not least the Israel- Palestine question. This change almost certainly cannot be made without using outside force to unseat Saddam.

Middle East governments, stuck in their ways, also need an outside push - and that would best be provided in the first instance by forced regime change in Iraq.

Furthermore, the advice to forget Iraq supposes we can’t deal with two large matters simultaneously. But our means of dealing with the two are not the same.

Ridding Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and its regime will almost certainly require military force. But military force is not appropriate for dealing with terrorism except in Afghanistan-type circumstances where the terrorists effectively took over the government.

That is certainly not the case in Indonesia. Bali requires us not to draw on our military means but to beef up our non-military means such as domestic resolve, laws, intelligence, police, better coordination at home, and more cooperation abroad.

Should Australia join in any use of force?

Some argue against this on claimed principle grounds, saying that force should not be used in any circumstance, or only with UN Security Council authorization — as act without that would return us to the law of the jungle.

But the UN has not made that law disappear — indeed UN member states take decisions in their self-defined national interests all the time. In any case, sufficient authority already exists in previous Council resolutions and the UN charter recognizes the pre-existing right of self-defence, to be exercised at the decision of the defender.

But if Australia joined a military coalition of force against Iraq would that be in our own interests? Yes, because those interests, including that of self-defence, extend much further than beating back an invading force on our beaches and in the immediate air-sea gap. Australia will be a safer and better place without Saddam and his WMD, and with the beneficial effects of that on international terrorism.

True, our contribution to a coalition force would be small. But the skill and efficacy of our forces is valued, as demonstrated by our performance in the field in Afghanistan. It would also be immoral to dodge involvement — indeed, if we were to do nothing to aid a cause that advantaged us, we would simply be bludgers, free loaders.

And the argument against joining a coalition lest we draw down on our heads a terrorist reprisal attack simply lacks courage — a quality which, fortunately for us, our forefathers were not famous. Moreover, to accept such an argument would show the terrorists that they have won by intimidating us; and it would not reduce the likelihood of terrorist attack since the terrorists want to bring us down for what we are and represent at least as much for what we do.