13 January 2020
Dear Mr Albanese
No War with Iran: No War without Parliament
I write on behalf of Australians for War Powers Reform, an organisation dedicated to achieving Parliamentary involvement in any decision Australia might make to deploy members of the Australian Defence Force into international armed conflict. The purpose of this letter is to convey our concern about the renewed prospect of military action against Iran, and request that you, as Leader of the Australian Labor Party in the Federal Parliament, take a public position that no commitment should be made to support military action against Iran unless and until there is a full and open debate in Parliament, and a resolution in support of such action is passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Our organisation believes as a matter of principle that deployment of the Australian Defence Force into international armed combat should require the authorisation of Parliament, but we believe that there are particular reasons why any deployment directed against Iran should be debated and voted on by the Parliament.
Regarding the cause of action, we would note that the proximate reason for the dramatically increased tensions between the United States and Iran was the assassination of a very senior military leader in the armed forces of the Islamic Republic – on the territory of a third country. This is a clear violation of international law and Australia should make clear that it does not support it.
This assassination takes place against the background of tensions already heightened by President Trump abandoning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), full compliance with which by the Government of Iran has been verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In return for this compliance Iran was entitled to relief from the international sanctions it had endured for many years. In walking away from that treaty, President Trump unilaterally imposed “crippling” economic sanctions on Iran, placing (by design) great stress upon its economy and its people. These sanctions have no legal foundation and are in fact an act of war. In times gone by they were called “sieges” and since time immemorial people have been in no doubt that they were an act of war.
In April 2019 President Trump took the most unusual step of designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (a formal component of its armed forces) a foreign terrorist organisation.
We believe that Parliament should be given an opportunity not only to debate whether recent events form a sound basis for military action against Iran, a country with which it is longstanding Australian policy to engage constructively, but to debate the prospects of success, and indeed what success might look like.
Given the lack of positive results from 17 years of military engagement in Iraq, it is difficult indeed to be optimistic that military conflict with a country the size of Queensland and a population of 83 million people would produce any benefit to anyone, and difficult to envisage what the point of such conflict would be – what would be the desired end-state?
Finally, against the possibility of retaliatory action from Iran, Parliament should be given the opportunity to resolve new strategic Rules of Engagement (ROE) for Australia’s defensive response to Iranian hostile actions, and withdrawal from the US-led coalition against Iran.
In the absence of a credible threat to Australia and without an authorising Resolution of the UN Security Council, any Australian involvement in attacks on Iran would be an act of aggression and therefore illegal. We urge you to counsel Prime Minister Morrison against taking military action against Iran, and remind him that our alliance with the United States does not oblige Australia to join a war against that Iran – indeed the fundamental obligation, enshrined in Article 1, is for all parties to “settle any international disputes in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations”.
Accordingly, we urge you to call for a debate in our Parliament on the growing tensions between the US and Iran, and steps which Australia could take to reduce them. Such a debate and a vote by all our elected representatives, and authorisation by the Governor-General, as the only person with the Constitutional power to authorise the deployment of the ADF into international armed conflict, must be absolute prerequisites before any military action is undertaken.
And if it should regrettably come to military action, the young men and women of the ADF who will be put in harm’s way deserve no less than to know, via our elected representatives, that they have the majority of the Australian people behind them.
Paul Barratt AO
President, Australians for War Powers Reform