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A Nation in Waiting

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Editorial By Alison Broinowski

We are still waiting in 2023, nearly 20 years after Australia’s invasion of Iraq, for an independent report on how John Howard decided to order that, in defiance of the UN Security Council and of international law. We know that Howard did as his predecessors have done and committed the ADF to war without democratic process. That was why Paul Barratt, Sue Wareham and others formed the Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry in 2012.

The UK commissioned such an inquiry in 2009 and Sir John Chilcot reported in 2016. But Australian ministers never established a similar investigation. One reason they didn’t, presumably, was to avoid a revelation that ‘intelligence and facts were being fixed around the [US] policy’, as MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove said 2002. Despite Chilcot, American relations with the UK survived unscathed. If the same was revealed in Australia, we would at least know the truth. It could help us to avoid repeating the experience of going to war on a lie, or several. An inquiry into how and why our government did so is still needed.

Instead of an Iraq War Inquiry, we are offered the latest official war history, covering Australian Operations in East Timor, Afghanistan, and Iraq in six volumes ($99.00 for the first). Professor Craig Stockings, ex-ADF, is its general editor. Born of Fire and Ash, published in 2022, covers East Timor, but we are still waiting for the more contentious successor volumes. A Dearlove-type remark in any of them would shine a revealing laser on how Australia went to war, particularly in Iraq.

A reviewer of the first East Timor volume writes: ‘In November 2019 it was reported that Stockings had threatened to resign as official historian due to his frustration over the large number of changes requested to the first volume on East Timor by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The dispute over the book’s content had delayed its publication’ (Thanks to AWPR member Peter Hayes and war historian Peter Edwards).

Whoever is commissioned to write the official war history of a future Australian war with China should be making notes now. How and why successive Australian governments so mismanaged relations with our largest trading partner and most influential neighbour as to make it an enemy, will need explaining. So will the ticking time-bomb of AUKUS, whose lack of meaning and purpose is made worse by the three governments’ refusal to reveal anything significant about it.

‘Deterrence’ is the feel-good buzzword offered by the PM, Defence Minister, ASPI, and the late Senator Jim Molan about what AUKUS is for. But if the intent is to deter China by threatening it, then why are Albanese and Penny Wong trying to rebuild relations with Beijing? Will China tolerate the AUKUS threat and wait patiently to be deterred until 2040, when our nuclear submarines arrive? And if Australia gets them, how does that support our US allies, when America can’t meet its own submarine needs, with or without billions of Australian dollars in subsidies?

China is apparently undeterred by anything the US can do even now, let alone by AUKUS in the future. Even Malcolm Davis of ASPI sees greater risks emerging in this decade, as China becomes able to challenge the US ‘at sea and in the air (also in space and in cyberspace)’. In war games recently conducted by the Pentagon involving conflict in the South and East China Seas, the US lost every time, as it has done in past scenarios. The Pentagon’s worst-case simulation was a full-scale war in 2030, and it’s admitted they lost that too.

Australia could benefit from more openness about what, how, and why our government is committing us to a future that promises further disasters.

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