Australia: A ‘rogue state’?

Jan 18, 2024
Australian Coat of Arms

To initiate a war of aggression has been described as the supreme international crime. If a regional war breaks out in the Middle East, triggered by the illegal recent strikes by the USA and UK against the Houthis, Australia could well be complicit in the commission of the supreme international crime.

The United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2722 on 10 January 2024 with regards to the situation with the Houthis in the Red Sea.

The Resolution rightly condemned in the ‘strongest terms’ the attacks by the Houthis in the Red Sea and demanded that these attacks cease immediately. It also noted the right of Member States to defend their vessels from attacks, a crucial proviso being that any such actions should be in ‘accordance with international law.’

Importantly the Resolution emphasised, without specifically mentioning the crisis in Gaza, the need to address root causes. Finally, the Resolution also urged caution and restraint to avoid further escalation in the Red Sea and the broader region.

What is missing here?

Any authorisation for the use of military force against the Houthis in Yemen (as opposed to shooting down incoming missiles or drones as a defensive measure for vessels in the Red Sea).

Then on 11 January 2024, just one day after the Security Council passed the Resolution, we wake to hear that the militaries of the United States and the United Kingdom have struck targets in Yemen, supported by a small number of countries including Australia.

Whilst Australia has not deployed military hardware to the Red Sea, we have deployed Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel to support the forces which conducted these strikes. The role of these personnel is unclear, but it likely includes operations and intelligence staff who would have been deeply involved in the planning of the strikes.

Participating in military action without the authorisation of the United Nations Security Council is an act of aggression (almost 21 years since our last act of aggression in the Middle East) that can do nothing but increase the tensions up to and including a broader regional war. This is the exact opposite of what Resolution 2722 called for. When the Resolution is read in its entirety, it is abundantly clear that in no way did the Security Council authorise either explicitly or implicitly such actions.

Therefore Australia has knowingly involved itself in a flagrant violation of international law.

Thus there can be no other conclusion than in this instance the Australian Government has acted like that of a rogue state.

Despite this there has been next to no discussion in Australia on the legality or legitimacy of our actions. Rather we get the apologists attempting to legitimise the illegitimate such as Rodger Shanahan in the Australian claiming that President Biden was ‘left with no choice.’

This narrow-minded thinking ignores the unwillingness or inability of President Biden to implement a course of action that would help resolve both the Red Sea issue and the large scale death and destruction in Gaza; namely withholding support to the Israeli Government.

In addition to being a party to these illegal actions, Australia’s participation raises a range of other serious concerns.

The first, and one close to my heart as a retired Army officer, is the moral and legal position that the Government and the Chief of the Defence Force have placed the Australian service personnel deployed as part of this operation. These personnel are now in a position where if they follow orders, they are complicit in committing a breach of international law, a war crime that has resulted in the deaths of people within Yemen. The even more concerning issue is that if these personnel were to refuse these orders on the basis of them being illegal, it is likely as shown by the Governments prosecution of Major David McBride, that they themselves would be punished, rather than the Prime Minister, Defence Minister and the Chief of the Defence Force who either authorised Australia’s participation, or where complicit therein.

The second concern relates to strategy. What are we trying to achieve? Are those objectives achievable? What are the second order and third order effects of these strikes? What are the risks? And what does this do for Australia’s reputation internationally?

The polar opposite positions that Australian Governments have taken to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Israeli actions in Gaza, in addition to participating in a gross breach of international law can only lead to the conclusion by other nations that Australia’s concerns for the rule of law and human rights are only as deep as the geopolitical priorities of the day.

It is difficult to discern what the strategy is, other than maybe to fill the dream of many of the neo-cons in the United States and their long-held desire for a war with Iran. Both John Bolton and Lindsay Graham have made recent claims to that effect. In Australia we have the example of Major General Mick Ryan casually arguing that at some point ‘the West may have to address the Iran threat directly rather than attacking its proxies.’

Ignoring the human consequences of such a war, the economic impact on the global economy and Australia of a war against Iran would dwarf the comparatively minor disruptions of Red Sea maritime traffic. Worse this could offer up the very real prospect of Russia and/or China becoming involved, in effect triggering a world war. Is this what the Australian Government wants? Is this what the Australian Government is willing to risk? Are we prepared for such a scenario? How does this benefit the people of Australia?

The final, and fundamental, concern is the process by which Australia became involved in this breach of international law. To describe the decision-making process as opaque is a gross understatement. It is unclear who made the decision. It is unclear whether Australia was involved in the decision-making process to launch the strikes, or what Australia’s position on the strikes was. Was legal advice provided?

It is also incomprehensible that Australian’s were informed of the strikes by the leader of another country. Could there be any greater loss of sovereignty?

Further the Government’s actions make a mockery of the recent Inquiry into international armed conflict decision making and in particular recommendation three, a recommendation the Government accepted. Recommendation three includes a requirement that the Parliament be recalled as soon as possible if Australia is becoming involved in conflict overseas. It also includes a requirement, either prior to a deployment by elements of the ADF or within thirty days of deployment, that the Executive facilitate a debate in both Houses of Parliament at the earliest opportunity. There is no indication that this process has started.

The most important decision that any Government can take is the decision to involve itself in armed conflict. The complete absence of any involvement of the Parliament, or any legislative mechanism by which the Parliament can stop the Executive from committing Australia to war, directly undermines any claim that Australia has to being a democracy. It also enables the Executive to, without any consideration for the people of our country, take actions that a reasonable person would consider to be that of a rogue state as has occurred here.

Fixing Australia’s broken governance system in this regard is not optional. It could well be the difference between survival or otherwise of this nation given the current state of the world.

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