ANDREW FARRAN. The Tactical Strike Force fighter to stalk terrorists – really!

Why does the Prime Minister extoll our expensive F-35s as instruments for killing terrorists in irrelevant conflicts when their purpose is to protect the nation against threats of strategic dimensions were they to arise, not now but in the decades to come?  

Is it just Prime Minister Turnbull or the government as a whole that is losing all sense of proportion when he says that the first two F-35 stealth bombers and those following will strengthen our hand in killing terrorists abroad?

An expensive piece of equipment for such a small disproportionate target.

Yet he went on to proclaim, as no Prime Minister has done before, that our military is now authorised, without the benefit of a declaration of war, or UN cover, to bomb and kill whoever we believe to be are terrorists without specification as to whereabouts or generally. This sounds like George W. all over again.

What was this universal authorization anyway? Was it was the same as sent troops to Iraq and Syria in the first place? If so that was done pursuant to Section 8 of the Defence Act which is not in itself an exercise of the prerogative power which is the power that authorizes acts of war. The Defence Act is concerned with the administration of the defence forces in a domestic context.

Nor does the Defence Act authorise breaches of international law such as aggression against a sovereign nation contrary to the U N Charter or without the cover of a Security Council authorising resolution. It is unwise for an essentially undefended nation like Australia to dismiss the UN System and international law as ‘old order’, at last until we have secured an acceptable ‘new order’ that is not derived from a Hobbesian-like international jungle.

To date the government has not shown that it has any understanding of the complexities of religions, ethnic issues, regional national interests, etc. in the Middle East to justify our continued activities there, including who we bomb and who we don’t.

Quite apart from the fact that those conflicts are not our conflicts, and do not directly engage our national interests, such actions are bound to import those conflicts further into our domestic life and generated a fresh cohort of disaffected local terrorists to endanger civilian lives here.

If these conflicts do engage our national interests that would suggest that they also endangered regional security and stability in Asia/Pacific. Yet why is it that none of our neighbours have sent war planes to the Middle East to wreak similar devastation in those conflicts? That is something our neighbours do understand.

So where is the proportion in all this? Where is the national interest? Why do we extoll our expensive F-35s as instruments for killing terrorists in irrelevant conflicts when their purpose is to protect the nation against threats of strategic dimensions were they to arise, not now but in the decades to come?

Once again it is necessary to exhort the government to terminate our involvement in these Middle East conflicts for reasons espoused by many credible strategic thinkers and concentrate our diplomatic and security energies on the region that does and will engage the national interest – and in doing so create a buffer between where we are now and an emerging risk from an unpredictable Trump government of dragging us yet again into another untenable conflict situation of the US’s making.

At a time when our diplomats and strategic thinkers in government are about to embark on the preparation of a new White Paper on foreign policy clarity of thought will be at a premium, which will not be assisted by the political fog surrounding our involvement in Middle East affairs.

The question for all will be whether the fresh thinking required in that exercise will be allowed to flourish or whether the existing mindset of both the government and the opposition in this area will suppress any potential there may be for sensible and realistic outcomes on future foreign and defence policy initiatives to emerge.

Andrew Farran is a former diplomat, trade adviser and senior academic in public and international law.  

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3 Responses to ANDREW FARRAN. The Tactical Strike Force fighter to stalk terrorists – really!

  1. James O'Neill says:

    Andrew, this article raises important issues. Some brief comments. The PM was talking nonsense. The government has amended Division 268 of the Criminal Code (Cmth) to enable the ADF to target non-combatants who are nonetheless associated with an organised armed group. If the attack was otherwise lawful, then collateral damage (i.e. civilians) who died as a result would not render the ADF person liable to a charge of murder.
    This is an extraordinarily fraught area. Targeting people who are not taking part in hostilities is unlawful under international humanitarian law. The difficulty arises in determining who is a “civilian” and who is a non-combatant but is otherwise helping the legitimate target.
    A useful paper on questions of interpretation was released by the ICRC in 2009 which one assumes the government’s legal advisers have read.
    The real issue is what constitutes an action that is “otherwise lawful”. In the current situation for example, attacks by the ADF against targets in Iraq might be protected, but in Syria most assuredly not. That is an issue that needs separate examination.

  2. Laurie Mills says:

    Imagine this: question time in the Commonwealth and several State Parliaments (they often occur at the same time).

    A volley of Land-Attack Cruise Missiles (LACMs) smash into each of the Houses and incinerates all inside, decapitating Governments.

    Other missiles do the same for key establishments like Defence Headquarters.

    These missiles can be launched from outside the Continental Shelf or from containers on tramp steamers. The missiles arrive in minutes, without warning. The perpetrators escape with impunity.

    All the LACM weapons systems are currently in place, in Australia’s region, to prosecute this attack.

    And the value of the F-35 JSF to intercept this type of attack is? Zero.

    The best developed and tested Land Attack Cruise Missile defence system is the Israeli Iron Dome. Now that the Israelis are Prime Minister Turnbull’s New Best Friends, perhaps Australia and Israel could collaborate on National Defence – there is a very competent radar technology company in Fyshwick, Canberra which could make an important capability and export-income earnings contribution.

    And how to pay for this strategic protection capability in the Nation’s Capital and key population centres? Dump the JSF – the so-called ‘Lightning II’ – which has to be grounded when real lightning is nearby.

    Spend the JSF $Billions of Capital Cost and $Billions of Operating Costs on something that actually protects Australia’s people and our infrastructure.

    If we deploy our valiant Army on real and effective anti-terrorist operations, they could take an Iron Dome with them to be safe 24/7 from attack from the air as is occurring in Syria right now.

  3. Mike Gilligan says:

    Thanks for a refreshing perspective piece. But could I suggest that we should not be despairing about our own defence capabiity ( “It is unwise for an essentially undefended nation like Australia ..). For four decades Government’s of both kinds have been putting serious money into ensuring we are not “undefended” , but self reliant. Australia’s defence has seen purposeful reshaping and large spending on that, until recent years
    https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/opinion/topic/2017/02/18/recalibrating-australias-defence-focus-and-budget/14873364004244

    The clarity you, and I, hope for in our foreign policy will forever elude us until we comprehend the extent of our own defence capability, unfashionable as it is.

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