By Cameron Leckie
92 per cent. That is the amount of time that Australia has been involved in disastrous overseas conflicts this century. 20 years in Afghanistan. Six years in Iraq. And nearing two years as a party to the proxy war being fought in Ukraine, as I concluded in January of this year.
Being a party to, if not actually fighting, a disastrous armed conflict on the far side of the world where our security isn’t threatened is not, or at least should not be, a normal state of affairs for a democracy such as Australia.
Yet the empirical evidence indicates that this is indeed Australia’s normal state of affairs.
Australia’s involvement in the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian proxy war is a special case. Differing in that whilst our actions indicate we are a party to the war, we have no ‘boots’ on the ground and thus no troops coming home in body bags. Thus, our involvement slips even further below the public interest radar.
So much so that when the Government announced an expansion to Australia’s support to Ukraine, it barely rated a mention in the media, let alone amongst our elected representatives.
The announcement sees the size of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) training team being deployed to the United Kingdom increasing from 70 to 90 personnel, on a rotational basis, as part of an $186 million expansion and extension of ‘Operation Kudu.’ This takes the Australian Governments total support to Ukraine to $910 million.
Notable in its absence was any analysis from either the Defence Minister or the Foreign Minister on the effectiveness of Australia’s support to Ukraine, the progress of the war or most crucially of all the future prospects for Ukraine.
So, whilst we are told that the ADF has trained 1200 Ukrainian soldiers over 12 months, we are not told that this many Ukrainians are being killed every week or thereabouts.
And whilst we are told that Australia’s support “is empowering Ukraine to end the war on its own terms” the implications of the complete and catastrophic failure of the much-vaunted Ukrainian counter-offensive are ignored.
With Russia’s military strength continuing to grow whilst the level of external support being provided to Ukraine diminishes and the quality and number of recruits available to fill its Army’s depleted ranks declines – so too does Ukraine’s prospects for ending the war on its own terms. At this stage of the war, this proposition is laughable.
The best opportunity that Ukraine had to end the war on its own terms was in March 2022 when Russia and Ukraine came very close to a negotiated settlement to the conflict. A negotiated settlement which was, now beyond reasonable doubt, derailed by the United States and the United Kingdom. In my personal view these revelations are as big a scandal as that of the Iraq Weapons of Mass Destruction – yet have not been commented on by the Australian Parliament or media.
These and many other inconvenient facts make you question the opaque decision-making process occurring within Government to continue our involvement in a proxy war which has little chance of success but is leading to both an ever-increasing Ukrainian death toll and loss of territory. At this stage it is abundantly clear that Australia’s support is all but inconsequential in the big picture whilst also helping to prolong Ukraine’s agony.
This indicates that there must be other motivations in play. Is it because of a request from the United States or NATO? Or is it because having supported Ukraine so strongly from the start, that it would be politically embarrassing for the Government to end its support now? Or is the Government merely waiting for the United States to pull the plug on its Ukrainian project (as it did with South Vietnam and more recently Afghanistan) before it too follows suit?
The Government’s response to the recent Inquiry into International Armed Conflict Decision Making highlighted the importance of the Parliament ‘in debating matters of national importance and holding the Executive to account for the decisions it has taken.’
When it comes to the Russo-Ukraine proxy war, the Parliament has played no effective role in ‘holding the Executive to account.’ And it is unclear in this instance what it would take for the Parliament to become engaged.
On the odd chance that our elected representatives do at some point decide that it would be appropriate to hold the Executive to account, below are two of many issues that could form the basis of an inquiry into Australia’s involvement in the Russo-Ukraine proxy war.
- The then Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, stated prior to the Russian invasion that the:
“Australian Government is coordinating closely with the United States, United Kingdom, European Union and other governments around the world to ensure there are severe costs for Russia’s aggression.”
It is now clear that NATO, led by the United States and the United Kingdom, derailed peace talks which could have lead to a negotiated peace settlement as early as March or April 2022.
Given Australia’s ‘close coordination’ with these governments, what did the Australian Government, or members thereof, know about and when, of NATOs actions and intentions to prolong the war and attempt to weaken Russia?
- The Australian Government’s stated objective with regards to the Russo-Ukraine proxy war is to “empower Ukraine to end this war on its own terms.”
This outcome is highly improbable and continuing towards this objective will lead to even greater loss of Ukrainian life and territory.
The question then becomes how did the Government form such an unrealistic objective? And why does the Government maintain this objective even when it is causing so much harm to Ukraine?
When it comes to involvement in overseas conflict, whether directly (Iraq, Afghanistan) or indirectly (Ukraine), the Australian political system appears to have developed an institutionally ingrained inability to reflect upon past disastrous errors.
With further war clouds on the horizon, both in the Middle East (and noting requests for Australian involvement in the Red Sea against the Houthis) and towards China, Australia desperately need a political system which avoids us being drawn into potentially catastrophic conflicts based on flawed analysis and the duplicitous actions of our allies. The need for war powers reform has never been so urgent!