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Australia rightly shares US peace aims

By Des Moore - posted Friday, 11 April 2003

United States war aims, which we share, are to disarm Saddam of his weapons of mass destruction and to remove him lest he rearm and resume his unacceptable policies, domestic and foreign. But what are US peace aims? Should they also be ours?

The first US peace aim is not just to rehabilitate Iraq from the destruction of war and the ravages of Saddam but to transform it - its constitution by making it a federation, its political system by making it some sort of participatory democracy, and its economy by freeing it from central command. These wholesale changes to Iraq's governance will be difficult in the extreme, will probably take as many years as the war takes weeks, and will disappoint.

Take democracy as an example. Balfour, Britain's Prime Minister 100 years ago, said truly "our party political system requires a people so fundamentally at one that they can safely afford to bicker". Hard to see in a contrived country deeply riven in so many ways.


Even more ambitious is the second peace aim: to transform the whole Middle East, by getting Syria in particular and the PLO to accept - as Egypt and Jordan have done, and as Iraq will - that Israel cannot be undone and must be lived with; by getting Israel to exchange land for acceptance; by all the countries in the region becoming democracies; by Iran's giving up its quest for weapons of mass destruction and its support for international terrorism; and (less difficult than the others) by building up Iraq to become a swing oil producer, so reducing Saudi Arabia's excessive international influence.

The third peace aim is more ambitious yet: to get the world to understand that the old stand-bys of containment and deterrence are now of limited utility, and to accept the concept of preventive defence - the need and the right to be proactive not supinely reactive, to take preemptive action against looming dangers.

This is not a new concept, or practice, but has come to the fore with the urgent need to deal with two kinds of states: those harbouring international terrorists, who present a continuing if unpredictable clear and present danger; and those rogue states developing weapons of mass destruction, to proof themselves against regime change while adding to their capability to intimidate others into changing their policies.

Not that the USA will be engaging itself in a new battle every other month. For one thing, being in effect an island state it needs - and will not always get - other states to give it purchase on the ground - as many Middle East states are now doing - to mount and to conduct military operations in the far abroad. For another, it needs to weigh the consequences of war for nearby allies. And some threatening states, if already armed with weapons of mass destruction, will be too much to take on. Thus of the two remaining rogue states identified by President Bush, North Korea for all those reasons is unassailable, while Iran could be subjected at most to a surgical strike on its nuclear facilities.

The fourth peace aim is the most ambitious of all: to bring home to others that the USA means it when its president says "the US has the sovereign authority to use force in assuring its own national security"; that it will not give to the United Nations the right to decide for the USA its interests and actions; that it will not allow itself to be subjected to "international discipline", to be tied down in its purposes by countless Lilliputian strings of "international law" (which anyway changes with state practice - as the recent largely European invention of the "right of humanitarian intervention" shows) and "multilateralism" (the resort of the weak); that from now on the place of the UN, with its many resolutions but no resolution, will be not as a source of legitimation, and not to initiate or to prevent action, but to become a service organisation engaged in humanitarian tasks and in other rescue operations.

Should those four US peace aims be Australia's too? Yes, for all are in Australia's direct interest.

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This article was first published in The Canberra Times on 3 April 2003.

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About the Author

Des Moore is Director, Institute for Private Enterprise and a former Deputy Secretary, Treasury. He authored Schooling Victorians, 1992, Institute of Public Affairs as part of the Project Victoria series which contributed to the educational and other reforms instituted by the Kennett Government. The views are his own.

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