In a sequence of events that recall the Cuban missile crisis, the world has again come within a brain-snap of nuclear destruction. This is the moment Australia should have been ready to deal with properly and democratically, by having a parliamentary debate to decide whether and why we should or should not go to war. Instead, this most serious matter of national security is reduced to party rivalry and media sensationalism.
The Prime Minister has invoked the ANZUS alliance, implying that a North Korean attack on Guam would justify Australia’s immediate support of US retaliation, whether requested or not, and claiming that the Korean armistice revives Australia’s belligerency. But the alliance requires its parties only to ‘consult’ and to respond only in conformity with their ‘constitutional processes.’ Australia claims to abide by the UN Charter and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, both of which condemn the threat or use of force. Under whatever circumstances, before Australia goes to war, the Prime Minister should at least advise the Governor-General. The US should consult the Congress. And Australia, as Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has pointed out, was not a party to the Korean armistice, so its infringement is none of our business.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale has declared that this crisis is the clearest example of ‘why Australia needs to ditch the US alliance and develop an independent, non-aligned foreign policy’. Our alliance, he told ABC, reviving the words of Malcolm Fraser in 2014, is making us less safe not more, and he called on Turnbull to urge President Trump to de-escalate what could become a nuclear war. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-11/australia-would-enter-conflict-with-north-korea/8796586. Nick Xenophon has pushed for urgent debate on Australia’s involvement (Australian, 14 August 2017: 4). Former General Peter Leahy has accurately described Australia’s treaty obligations and warned against precipitate action. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-12/north-korea-war-would-be-bloody-ugly-former-army-chief-warns/8800438. If there was ever a moment when rational, multi-party debate of commitment to war was urgently needed, this is it.
Dr Alison Broinowski is a former Australian diplomat and now Vice President, Australians for War Power Reform.