‘What are we willing to fight for?‘, Independent Australia, 3 July 2016
Honest History Vice President, Alison Broinowski, reviews Firing Line: Australia’s Path to War Quarterly Essay 62 by James Brown (Anzac’s Long Shadow) and expands upon the issues raised in that volume. Other reviews of Brown are in The Australian and the The Saturday Paper. He talks to Richard Fidler of the ABC and John Blaxland of the ANU (podcast). Broinowski canvasses some of the same issues in a recent piece in Pearls and Irritations.
Broinowski notes that the reasons for our presence in Iraq and Syria have escaped scrutiny in the recent campaign and only the Greens have offered an alternative foreign policy which is sceptical of the value of the US alliance. Brown, she says, is rightly critical of the lack of evolution in Australian thinking on how and why we go to war though he avoids considering the key question of legality under international law. He also prefers more accountability through the bureaucracy rather than consideration in parliament as the appropriate safeguard against rash decisions to go to war.
Broinowski points out that other countries let parliament have a say on decisions about war. Why not Australia? ‘Australia [both sides of politics] doesn’t trust our parliament with a war’, says Broinowski. ‘Instead, we allow our allies to choose our enemies and our wars for us and the result, as Brown says, is “dangerous naivety” in our thinking about foreign policy and defence’.
Broinowski parts company with Brown on the key question of objectives. She says he is ambivalent on the question of what we are willing to fight for. He admits we might not want to follow the US into a war with China yet successive Defence White Papers reckon China is our enemy. His suggestions about the wars we should be willing to fight come up against international law.
Instead of spending eye-watering amounts on an arms race with our biggest trading partner, would Australia not protect our interests better by investing in peaceful coexistence? It would cost much less to fund and implement the initiatives in the Asian Century White Paper, which, ironically, seeks better, deeper relations with the very countries Defence identifies as our potential enemies. Brown’s question is the wrong one.
The question should be:
How can we avoid fighting at all?