Banging on about war. What for?

May 23, 2021

War used to be regarded as a failure of diplomacy. Now in Australia, we are being told to prepare for it. Why?

A changing of the bureaucratic guard is coming in Canberra, with the head of DFAT taking on Vice-Regal duties in Adelaide. Frances Adamson is unlikely to be replaced by an equivalent China specialist, or by such a professional diplomat. Foreign Affairs is no longer one of the top jobs. Those go to people who can be relied on to bang the war drums the loudest. Diplomatic empathy with China will probably not be in their skill sets.

Why is the Australian government intent on provoking a war with China? We would lose it, even if all our expensive weapons for land, sea and air were delivered and operational. China could readily outclass Australia, even if the US responded to an attack by China on its ANZUS ally and came to Australia’s defence. The same outcome would just take longer and be more
damaging.

China is determined to reclaim its past greatness and it is not going away. Already the pre-eminent power in our region, it is peacefully becoming influential across Central and South Asia, and the Middle East. Knowing this, the United States is unlikely to get into a land war in East Asia. America cannot be relied on even to come to the defence of Taiwan, South Korea, or
Japan. All three understand that co-existence with China, preferably peaceful, is the only way forward. So do the ASEAN states.

These are simple statements of fact. Why do today’s foreign and defence policy creatives in Canberra not add them up and conclude that quietly getting on with China as well as we can is Australia’s only option?

The answers have been conclusively set out by Max Suich in his three-part series (AFR, 16, 17, 18 and 19 May). He traces the process from Push Back in 2016,  to Call Out, Out in Front, and Prepare for War, which is where we are now. It would be ludicrous if it were not so dangerous.

It is about political, and therefore short-term, objectives. These are: ingratiating Australia to the United States, setting up China as a threat to Australia, frightening the voters, and assuring them that Australia will not be intimidated and is defending our ‘values’ and the ‘rules-based international order’. And, of course, wedging the ALP.

The fundamental objective, as it was for Howard with “children overboard” and the “war on terror”, is to be re-elected.

It seems quaint to remind Australians that the UN Charter makes wars of aggression illegal and that Australia is a signatory to treaties that reject the threat or use of force. Australia’s security and intelligence people who decide their next moves at the Five Eyes gatherings, seem to overlook how many invasions, overthrows, and assassinations the US is responsible for, and never compare them to China’s record. They don’t compare the hundreds of US military installations worldwide and compare them with China’s. They don’t add up Australia’s illegal wars, fought with the United States, and their consequences.

A modern ‘clever’ country ought to rise above all this before it’s too late.

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