We will be at ‘war’ in Syria if the Government assents to the US ‘request’ to bomb in that country. What of the legal and other justifications?

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By what process will the authority to bomb in Syria be granted? Will the Solicitor-General be asked to provide legal advice? Will the Governor-General in Council be required to sign off on the decision? Will Parliament have been informed beforehand? That is, will something from the vagaries of previous decision-making over the commitment of our armed forces in conflict abroad have been learned meanwhile?

As to substance, the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has cited a doctrine of collective self-defence as being the basis for Australian bombing of Syria. Under international law collective self-defence may be justified pursuant to mutual treaty arrangements in international combat but we have no treaty with Iraq, let alone Syria, in this regard.

Collective self-defence is a UN Charter concept anyway and the UN Charter is something that is honoured more in the breach than by observance. In any case there is no UN cover for these actions.
Foreign Minister Bishop adds that as the border between Iraq and Syria no longer exists de facto there is virtually no difference between the territory of one and the territory of the other. The same could have been said about the border between Vietnam and Laos during the Vietnam War. And later between Vietnam and Cambodia, but there was. US operations in Laos against North Vietnam were acknowledged as being illegal, and the US did its utmost to conceal what it was doing there at that time. International boundaries are by law sacrosanct and we disrespect that principle at our peril.

The Government says that as IS or ISIL is a brutal terrorist force its killing must to be stopped regardless. As much as one may dislike IS/ISIL it does hold territory and it is involved in a civil war. So is the Iranian supported militias in Iraq. So is the Syrian regime itself. So are the Syrian insurgents by definition (various groups). We however should not be involved as it is not our civil war.

And what of the Turks and what they are doing to the Kurds; no less harmless nor more justified? We hear little criticism of the latter even though the Kurds are attempting to protect their own acknowledged homelands as well as taking the fight to IS/ISIL. Yet the US and Australia proscribes the major Kurd force doing the fighting as a terrorist organisation.
So in all this mess what good will Australian bombing do in the circumstances? Whether it is in relation to boat people, refugees and asylum seekers or people in the Middle East generally we rightly deplore the loss of civilian life – which apparently can justify various actions or responses which in themselves may be, and often are, considered by many to be inhumane. Will our bombers spare civilian lives and if so, how come?

When the Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesperson suggested that the air force would do better dropping food parcels on Syria, rather than bombs, Ms Bishop responded saying that we could not be sure that they would not drop onto IS/ISIL strongholds. If we can’t be sure of food parcels dropping where intended, how can we be sure about our bombs?

If our bombing is unlikely to make any difference to the war on IS/ISIL, nor to the fate of the Iraqi government – which government the Australian government alleges, without evidence, invited us to be in Iraq, but without a Status of Forces Agreement to go with it – we still haven’t heard the ‘justification for being there in the first place, apart from responding to what we are told were/are US ‘requests’? As the US itself has not explained what its objectives are, and what would be success in its view justifying such loss of life and any subsequent withdrawal, is this not a situation like the run up to the First World War when the loss of direction, judgment and political skill by the powers led the world into that disaster?

How much longer can this madness continue, before it gets deeper and deeper. And given Russia’s stake in Syria, and in the Ukraine as well, lead us into to a much wider war?
Andrew Farran
24 August 2015

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