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Cook, Sen Peter
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Thursday, 20 March 2003
Senator COOK (11:50 AM) —I rise to speak against the government's motion for war on Iraq and for the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Faulkner, for support for a United Nations process and, if possible, a diplomatic and peaceful settlement in the effort to disarm the tyrant Saddam Hussein. It is not normal for me to reflect on speeches from the other side but Senator Johnston has just made an interesting speech which in many respects typifies the responses from the government side. I do not want to waste my time talking about what they say, but the interesting characteristic of that speech, which is a theme developed by government speakers, is to attack the United Nations and undermine its efficacy and to attack the ALP—in particular the ALP leadership—but to avoid speaking for their proposition to make war on Iraq. In these particular circumstances I think that is a bankrupt approach. The fact that they adopt it suggests their arguments are threadbare and equally bankrupt.
Colleagues on the ALP side who have spoken before me have made a case for not supporting unilateral military action against Iraq—action that does not have the explicit approval of the United Nations. They have made a solid case for disarming Saddam Hussein, for condemning his regime, for standing up for the rights of individuals in that country and for the introduction, hopefully, of some democratic forms in that nation. My colleagues have said, and I support them in their presentation, that, while they do not support the war, Labor support those Australian fighting men and women who have been sent by this government to wage it. Indeed, the Prime Minister was right: our beef is not with them. It is with the Prime Minister and it is with him that we disagree. My colleagues have said, and I support them, that although the war does not have UN sanction our troops are not acting illegally. The recriminations should be against their political masters, not against the soldiers, sailors and airmen who are involved.
My colleagues have made what I regard as a fundamental point: there is no demonstrated link between al-Qaeda and the Hussein regime in Baghdad. This is a vital point. War on Iraq has been made to appear as an extension of the war on terror, and it is not. There needs to be clear definition on this point. No matter how tenuous the case for war against Saddam Hussein, it is not an extension of the war against terror. The vicious irony here, the terrible irony here, is that, while Saddam Hussein is a secular tyrant in a secular state and while the terrorists are Islamic fundamentalists driven by a religious fanaticism, war in Iraq could drive together two groups that are at each other's throats now, to the net disbenefit of the rest of the world. That is one of the collateral impacts of this war that has been overlooked in the way the argument about terror has been fudged to make it appear as a justification for the war. Of course, we are all shocked and disgusted by, and committed to fighting, terrorism in the world. But, by precipitating a conflict of civilisations, you spread the possibility of terrorism rather than defeat it. You defeat it by isolating it, by dealing with its problems, by dealing with the poverty from which recruits to terrorism can be gathered and by fighting a war to put out of commission some of those religious fundamentalist motivators who are involved in the war.
My colleagues have also made the point, and I support them in it, that the war does not have UN approval. The Security Council's work is incomplete. Mr Blix and the inspectors have not finished their job; they still have a way to go. A whole wad of materiel— rockets and other war materiel—has been destroyed so far, and there is no reason to believe that more would not be if the inspectors were able to continue doing their job. Earlier resolutions and resolution 1441 do not explicitly sanction the conduct of a war. The fact that the US and Britain have declined to seek explicit approval does suggest that they, too, recognise and know that.
In this debate, we have also seen two issues introduced, particularly by the government. These are two issues that in themselves are vitally important issues and deserve proper treatment in an honest and straightforward way, but they have been introduced in this debate more to cloud than to illuminate the argument. Those issues are quite weighty. They are the issue of democracy in Iraq and the issue of human rights in Iraq. The Prime Minister has spoken on this issue; he referred to the torture of children to obtain confessions from their parents. Senator Vanstone, who is in the chamber, has spoken on the role of women in Iraq and the actions taken against them that dehumanise them. Senator Hill has spoken on this as well.
I have to say this is a late argument in this debate. That is not to say it is an argument that should not be introduced, because the lack of human rights in Iraq is a serious problem. But Iraq is not alone, and to be selective about human rights is to open yourself to the argument that maybe it is a convenient ploy rather than a deep conviction to do something about human rights. The role of torture in the world would involve us in taking a similar action against Mugabe in Zimbabwe, against the SLORC regime in Burma and against any number of other regimes elsewhere in the world where, unfortunately, torture and dehumanisation are on the rise, not on the decline. In almost every Arab country where sharia law holds sway, the rights of women have been removed and, to be consistent, we should take action against them. I do not mean military action, but action to restore the rights and dignity of ordinary people. The arguments are put and the examples are given, but no action or consistency are introduced in this debate about how we deal with the problem at large. This selectiveness on Iraq suggests no real conviction but a sense of convenient argument to emotionalise this debate and to justify what is a slim and fragile argument in support of making war in these circumstances.
In the case of democracy in Iraq, the truth is that there is a despotic regime in Baghdad that recognises no democratic norms, but there is no democratic government in exile waiting to come to power, and there are no democratic structures in place—separation of powers, freedom of the press or things that reinforce democratic norms. So we are not looking at doing things that might suddenly cause a free flowering of democratic spirit. We are doing what this government has said: we are about disarming Saddam Hussein. That is what this war is supposed to be about. I want to speak about the best way of succeeding at that goal in a moment but, in this example, what delivers insincerity on the part of the government has been their late and sudden conversion to the issue of human rights and the issue of democratic norms in Iraq.
This government has said—and the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Hill, has repeated it in question time—we are not involved in Iraq for the purposes of regime change. If we are not involved for the purposes of regime change, we are not going to do anything about the torture, we are not going to do anything about the deprivation of human rights and we are not going to do anything about the restoration or the introduction of democratic forms and democratic liberties. According to the Prime Minister and according to the Minister for Defence, the Leader of the Government in this chamber, we are involved in this in order to disarm Saddam. I do not believe that that is what the Australian government really believes, but I do believe that is what the Australian government has said.
Once again, we are in this situation of disingenuous wordsmithing by the government, which is trying to be careful about what it commits to while giving an impression that it is on about something entirely different. I believe the human rights argument is being abused by the government as a prop rather than as a commitment to a genuine fulfilment of decency and human standards. The flaw in the government's own argument is that it is not about regime change. If it believed what it said, it would be.
Before I come to the main point of what I want to say today, my colleagues have made the point that the UN processes do still offer a route to achieve the purpose of disarming Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction, and, it might be said, even the prospect of regime change in Baghdad. If you look at the articulated positions of the parties on the Security Council, they are generally not that far apart. More patience, more diplomacy and more determination can bring them together. The weapons inspectors have to do their job. All of the participants on the Security Council condemn the Saddam Hussein regime; all of them want him disarmed. The issue is not about that; it is about the best way of achieving it. The alternatives are to act through the United Nations to preserve an international system of United Nations authority in the world or to take unilateral action, unsanctioned by the UN, which jeopardises the continuance of the United Nations system.
Australia has a vested interest in preserving a rule of law internationally in which the United Nations has an authoritative role. We are a middling power. We are not a major power. We are not a minor power. For our voice to be heard, we require an international rules based organisation, like the United Nations. This enables us to participate in global issues properly and our voice to be heard authoritatively. If you destroy or undermine such a system, you destroy or undermine the ability of this nation to have an authoritative say in world affairs and you lock us into a situation where we are obliged to be part of and a follower in any particular sort of coalition.
I am committed to the Australia-US alliance, but I am committed to having an independent role within that alliance, and for Australia to be able to speak for itself and not necessarily having to obey orders from a superpower in that relationship. That is the only dignified way for a nation like Australia to behave. That is what should be provided for here, and that means maintenance of the UN system and an improvement of what is admittedly an imperfect structure. Nothing is delivered fully-fledged and perfect in its origin, but we must continue with that structure and work to improve it, make it effective and ensure that it does deliver on its goals. They are not empty words. They are serious commitments; they are serious and important commitments for this nation. If we do not do that, we are cut adrift and we are part of an alliance which, in a world ungoverned or unable to express itself through an international peak body like the United Nations, is left to confrontation and argument between the superpowers with Australia having a minor and `little Sir Echo' role.
This point is the key issue in this debate and it now needs to be focused on. The whole purpose of this exercise is to disarm Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction—that is the key purpose of it. The problem that has now led us to the international stand-off and lack of support for what the US, Australia and Britain are doing is the policy of pre-emption. The policy of pre-emption as enunciated by the United States is part of the reason why there is now a breakdown in global support to bring the pressure on Saddam Hussein to disarm in the way in which we all want him to do.
The `axis of evil' speech—I say these words in a considered way—accelerated the acquisition of nuclear weapons by rogue states. It did not deter them. If you want evidence of that proposition, look at North Korea. North Korea now is closer to a nuclear capability than it ever was. It has bailed out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It has activated its research reactor. It is closer to acquiring nuclear weapons. The threat of pre-emption spurs rogue states to acquire nuclear weapons so that they can acquire the status of mutually assured destruction. Once they acquire that status, they can negate pre-emption. That point has to be thought about and focused on. If you threaten a rogue state with nuclear devastation by pre-emptive military strike, you accelerate their program to get to a MAD status so that they can countermand the threat that you make against them. That is an important question here. This is what has happened in each of the states identified as axis of evil states. The doctrine of pre-emption accelerates the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; it does not curb them. The doctrine of pre-emption makes nuclear war more likely, not less likely. It does it because the rogues will hasten their acquisition of WMDs, particularly nuclear capability, to get to MAD status as quickly as possible to negate the threat.
The axis of evil speech accelerated North Korea's nuclear weapons program. It got them out of the NPT and it reopened their research reactor. Pre-emption targets the rogues leading them to scramble for nuclear parity. However, it also has another damaging effect. It causes neighbouring countries of rogue states or designated enemies of rogue states to reluctantly face the prospect of themselves acquiring nuclear weapons. For example, North Korea's nuclear capability forces South Korea and Japan to think whether they should now acquire a defensive nuclear capability to defend themselves from what looks increasingly likely to be a nuclear capable rogue state in North Korea.
You do not have to think very widely about this because the living example is the India-Pakistan issue. India acquired nuclear weapons and Pakistan acquired them to make parity. We have had examples in the past when it was believed that Brazil was pursuing a nuclear capability which forced Argentina to also pursue a nuclear capability. Fortunately both those countries have now renounced the nuclear capability route.
The existence of rogue states accelerating their capability programs for nuclear weapons forces peaceful and friendly states, but states that are designated enemies of rogue states, to face that option too. The result is a proliferation in the world of weapons of mass destruction, not a curbing and reduction of them. That is an important issue here that the doctrine of pre-emption pushes. That doctrine is therefore counterproductive to the goal of global nuclear disarmament and it does not create the context in which an alliance approach to Iraq can be identified in terms of at least some moral certainty.
The issue here is that nuclear weapons states that intend to hold on to their nuclear weapons are saying to rogue states, `You renounce your nuclear weapons capability, we will not renounce ours.' We know that that doctrine does not work. We know that because the Canberra commission, which reported in 1996 and which was led by eminent experts from around the world, said— and this is fundamentally important—that, if we are going to curb nuclear proliferation or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the superpowers have to have a program of reducing their reliance on nuclear capability to create the global context to stop the spread of nuclear weapons elsewhere. Don't ramp it up; reduce it—that was the key finding of that commission.
It is a disgrace on the part of this government that it has done nothing about it. It is also a disgrace on the part of this government that it has done nothing about a Labor initiative in 1985, the Australia Group, which still exists and is still there to be picked up and run with. That was a group of 33 countries with the aim of cutting out biological and chemical warfare. That robust and strong group made real progress, but this government has done nothing about it and now it comes to us on this particular issue. The point is that, unless you create the context, diplomacy cannot succeed. (Time expired)
Debate (on motion by Senator Ian Campbell) adjourned.