The Prime Minister, John Howard, has given a speech in which he sets out the so-called “intellectual argument” in favour of Australia’s involvement in the United States-led attacks on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Speaking in Melbourne tonight, at the mid-way point in the election campaign, Howard said: “The cause with which we are allied is just. It is no simple act of revenge. It is no knee-jerk response to combat terror with terror in return. It fits completely within the measured guidelines advocated by the UN, that all nations should do their utmost to banish terrorism from the face of the earth, and that ‘the force we use to fight it should always be proportional and focused’.”
In making the speech, Howard has again injected a defence and security component into the election campaign. The speech comes at a time when opinion polls show the government’s campaign on “leadership” faltering in the face of the ALP’s emphasis on domestic issues such as health, education and the GST.
The speech reiterates points Howard has already made in recent weeks. He lays the blame for the terrorist attacks on Bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan: “No one now doubts that the Al Qaida network, led by Usama bin Laden, was responsible for the attacks and that the Taliban has allowed Afghanistan to become a safe haven for international terrorism. Bin Laden’s hatred for the United States, and for a world system built on individual freedom, religious tolerance, democracy, and the international free flow of commerce, is non-negotiable.”
There have been unconfirmed reports today that the Americans have asked Australia to supply additional forces to those already announced. Howard says: “Australia’s response to any future requests will be assessed against the extent of our operational capabilities. I am satisfied, on the advice of the Chief of the Defence Force Admiral Barrie, that the deployments are within the capability of the ADF. They will not jeopardise other operations such as our commitment to East Timor and ongoing responsibilities including border protection, counter-terrorism readiness and search and rescue.”
Full text of speech by the Prime Minister, John Howard, to the Australian Defence Association:
Only six weeks ago, the world was awakened to an event so shocking in its own right and so far-reaching in its implications that it will define world affairs for years to come.
On that day, we witnessed the deliberate and cold blooded destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York, an attack on the Pentagon in Washington, and the premeditated murder of over 250 innocent passengers on board four commercial airliners.
In New York, up to 5000 people died as they were just going about their daily lives, doing the things that free men and women should be able to do anywhere in the world. And the dead were not just Americans. They were people of many countries and many religions. There were 22 Australians, and people from around 80 other nations – 14 of which have Islam as their predominant faith.
No one now doubts that the Al Qaida network, led by Usama bin Laden, was responsible for the attacks and that the Taliban has allowed Afghanistan to become a safe haven for international terrorism.
Bin Laden’s hatred for the United States, and for a world system built on individual freedom, religious tolerance, democracy, and the international free flow of commerce, is non-negotiable. These virtues of the modern world are an affront to bin Laden, and an obstacle to his objectives.
He wants to promulgate an extreme form of the religion he blasphemously claims to represent. He wants a wholesale confrontation between the Islamic and non-Islamic worlds. He wants to spread fear, create uncertainty and promote instability, hoping that this will cause communities and countries to turn against each other. He and his supporters will use any vehicle – or any cause – to achieve these ends.
There have been claims, including by bin Laden himself, that the September 11 acts of terror are a product of, or can be justified by, the failure of the Middle East policy of the United States. This notion must be rejected categorically. First let us be clear about bin Laden’s motives. He has no interest in a negotiated resolution of the Palestinian problem. He has an apocalyptic vision of the Middle East in which Israel is simply swept away from the region. He cynically uses the tragedy of the Arab-Israeli conflict to define his crimes in pan-Islamic terms. For him, the worse the conflict gets, the better.
It is true all want a settlement in the Middle East. There has been too much misery and suffering inflicted on the peoples of the region.
The fact remains however that the United States has invested enormous capital in trying to resolve that conflict. It has proven to be one of the few international players that has the weight and influence to help chart a path toward peace. And the region has been brought to the brink of peace. From the Madrid Conference, through the Oslo Agreements to the attempts at Camp David last year when Ehud Barak offered so much and brought his government and the Palestinian Authority so close to a resolution, the US has been in the thick of the negotiations. It is therefore a monstrous falsehood to blame a conflict so complex and heart wrenching, and one that occupied the world for a good part of the last century, on the United States.
The Australian government agrees with the United States that the parties must return urgently to the negotiating table. A solution must be found which guarantees Israel’s right to exist behind secure and recognised borders. At the same time, the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to self determination need to be realised.
September 11 was a defining event. It demonstrated the appalling means that terrorists now have at their disposal to inflict unimaginable casualties with evil precision. The attack was designed not only to shatter our faith in the ability to live our lives in a free and open manner, it was designed to shake the world’s economic foundations. It had the twin goals of crippling fear and economic chaos.
The sheer scale of the carnage inflicted has taken terrorism to a new level unprecedented in the history of mankind. The world, including Australia, must respond.
Even a cursory reflection on history must lead you to the irrefutable conclusion that passive indifference in the face of evil achieves nothing. The threat will remain, growing more ambitious and more powerful and feeding on the unwillingness of decent nations to decisively confront and defeat it. There is a saying that for evil to triumph, it requires only good men to do nothing. The lesson of history tells us that it is equally true for nations.
We would be foolish indeed, in the very first years of the twenty-first century, to forget the most hard learned lesson of the twentieth century – that evil cannot be appeased.
On the day before the attack, I issued a joint statement with President Bush of the United States celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of ANZUS. We reaffirmed the strength and vitality of the bilateral relationship that has been the keystone of Australia’s national security for half the life of our nation.
We expressed the conviction that the alliance has been a pillar of stability in the Asia-Pacific region, and I welcomed the President’s commitment to continued active US engagement in our region.
Within only a few hours of that meeting, the United States was attacked in an act that was more cruel and more lethal than the attack on Pearl Harbour some sixty years earlier.
Accordingly, on 14 September, the Australian Government, in consultation with the United States, decided that the relevant provisions of the ANZUS Treaty would be invoked. Under ANZUS, we each agreed that an attack on the other partner would be dangerous to our own peace and safety and that we would act to meet the common danger in accordance with our constitutional processes.
This was not simply an attack on America. We were all the targets. Remember that Australians were among those who died so tragically. In a very direct way, September 11 was an attack on the rights of Australians, especially young Australians, to go about their daily lives and to move around the world with ease and freedom and without fear.
If we left this contest only to America, we would be leaving it to them to defend our rights and those of all the other people of the world who have a commitment to freedom and liberty. We will not do it. We admire their strength and greatness, but Australians have always been a people prepared to fight our own fights.
To do anything less on this occasion would be both strategically inept and morally indefensible, especially given the strength of our mutual commitment with the United States under the ANZUS Pact.
Other civilised countries of the world have also recognised the global nature of the threat and the need to meet it.
The UN Security Council unequivocally condemned the attacks in New York and Washington, and affirmed the need for all nations to combat by all means the threats to international peace and security caused by such terrorist acts.
The European Union gave its support and called on all “member states to stand ready to act, each according to their means”.
NATO declared that the attack on the United States could be considered an attack on the entire 19-nation alliance, thus for the first time in NATO’s 52-year history invoking the North Atlantic Treaty’s mutual defence clause.
The cause with which we are allied is just. It is no simple act of revenge. It is no knee-jerk response to combat terror with terror in return. It fits completely within the measured guidelines advocated by the UN, that all nations should do their utmost to banish terrorism from the face of the earth, and that “the force we use to fight it should always be proportional and focused”.
The response under the coalition of nations involved in this campaign has been proportional, focused and above all patient.
We waited until the evidence showed beyond doubt where the guilt was hidden. When convinced by the evidence, we gave more time than was necessary for the Taliban regime to give up bin Laden and the other leaders of the Al Qaida and to dismantle terrorist training camps. Nearly a month passed before those supporting and sheltering the terrorists were brought under attack.
The quality of the leadership that has been demonstrated at both the political and military levels among the coalition of nations, and notably by the United States, since September 11 should be reassuring to all.
At the highest political levels, we have been in constant consultation with the US. At the military level, our defence leaders agreed on the deployment that would be recommended to their respective governments.
In the fight against terrorism, the United States welcomed Australian military participation for two reasons. First, they know – as we know – that an important message is sent to our enemies by the concentration of an international force against them. A coalition of national forces acting towards a single military aim is a tangible and utterly compelling demonstration of the solidarity of world opinion and world resolve. The threat of international terrorism hangs over each of our countries – it is only right that the risk and the cost for its eradication should be shared.
But Australians will also take their place within that coalition as highly respected and highly prized comrades in arms. Through decades of close military co-operation, in peacetime and in war, America has grown to respect the quality of our soldiers, our sailors and our airmen. In training, equipment and, most of all, in personal courage and commitment, the men and women of the Australian Defence Forces are the equal of any in the world.
We should be clear about our aims in this operation.
The immediate goal is to seek out and destroy Al Qaida and ensure that Afghanistan can never again serve as a base from which terrorists can operate.
The task they face is particularly suited to the temperament of Australian service personnel. In Afghanistan itself, the mission is likely to be pursued through precision, ground operations conducted by small teams of special forces. The hallmark of Australian soldiers has always been one of personal initiative and independent action. It remains so to this day and the decision to include Australian SAS soldiers was recognition both of the highly targeted nature of the coming campaign and the important role our soldiers could play within it.
So too, the participation of Australian frigates, long range maritime aircraft, tanker aircraft and FA18A fighters to protect and support the coalition’s military efforts recognises both the technical compatibility of our forces and the traditional capacity of Australians to work efficiently and effectively with their allied counterparts.
Our contribution is both significant and important and should be seen as such by the Australian people.
We have made it clear that this is a deployment without restrictions except those inherent within Australian rules of engagement. In contrast to past operations, the special forces detachment will not be limited to search and rescue roles. Our deployed forces will be given all of the tools, the resources, the support and the freedom to do the job asked of them.
The safety and welfare of our serving personnel will be given the highest priority by the Government as will the support of families and loved ones left behind here in Australia.
Our forces will be placed under the operational control of the appropriate coalition commander for agreed tasks. However, Australian personnel will act only under the direction of the Australian Force Commander and ultimately the Australian Government.
The Government considers that our current level of commitment is appropriate for this specific mission. However, I do stress that should the nature or scale of this conflict change substantially, requests for further contributions may be made and they would be carefully considered. Our resolve to join other nations to rid the world of this insidious scourge should not be doubted.
Two points are certain though. First, this is a war that will be fought by highly trained, highly professional combat forces using the most modern intelligence and weapons systems. For that reason, I can definitely rule out the introduction of conscription. Although National Servicemen have served our country with great distinction in the past, the Government believes that in the present strategic circumstances, national service is neither necessary nor appropriate.
Secondly, Australia’s response to any future requests will be assessed against the extent of our operational capabilities. I am satisfied, on the advice of the Chief of the Defence Force Admiral Barrie, that the deployments are within the capability of the ADF. They will not jeopardise other operations such as our commitment to East Timor and ongoing responsibilities including border protection, counter-terrorism readiness and search and rescue.
Whilst the destruction of the Al Qaida network must be our first priority, the long-term aim of this war is to demonstrate that organised, international, state-sanctioned terrorism will not be tolerated by the world community.
We know that our mission will not be easy. It will be prolonged and against an enemy hiding in the dark corners of the world. An enemy who will falsely portray our objective to destroy terrorism as an assault upon Islam.
The war will be a new kind of war. There will be few, if any, set-piece battles to bring it to an end. Rather it will be a sustained effort, requiring sturdy patience, and the careful marshalling and coordination of resources.
There can be no valid comparison with Vietnam, for example, or other wars of the past. Vietnam was a Cold War conflict with two states, each backed by super powers, competing for territory and where large conscripted forces were necessary for major land battles and frequent armed confrontations.
In contrast, today all the major powers of the world are as one in their opposition to international terrorism. In the present situation, we are not at war with any other nation. We are certainly not at war against any faith or against the people of Afghanistan, who are the victims of the very terrorism that we are opposing. What is more, there is bipartisan agreement in Australia, just as there is a consensus among the civilised nations of the world, that this terrorism must be stopped.
It will not only be fought through military action but through concerted international action on the intelligence, law enforcement and financial fronts.
And it will also need to feature effective diplomacy and international aid to address the serious inequalities that the terrorists seek to exploit for their own ends.
We will participate in all these efforts. Already, Australia has committed over $23 million to assist refugees and other victims since the crisis began. The great bulk of current humanitarian activity is, of course, centred on Pakistan. It’s very important that parallel with our taking of military action, we are ready to join with others in providing humanitarian relief.
There is no doubt that the coalition forces will win, but it would be irresponsible to predict when we will win. To ask the question of when it will end is to betray a misunderstanding of the nature of the enemy. The challenge to our civilised way of life will not be resolved quickly, but it will be resolved.
In the meantime, we must all get on with our lives and maintain the momentum of our economies to ensure we do not bow to the terrorist challenge. This was the importance of the attendance of world leaders at APEC last week but it can also be shown by each of us moving on – building our homes, taking our holidays and investing in our businesses.
Finally, we must acknowledge that the risks are not insignificant. War has its costs and as always, the main burden of risk will fall on our young people. Thus, whatever the cost, they and their loved ones will have all the support the nation can give them.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I began this address with my view that September 11 was a rare moment when evil emerged to challenge the human decency upon which our democratic societies are built. It was not a local challenge – it was global – and it called for a global response.
I am proud to be an Australian citizen for many reasons, but none seems more relevant in today’s troubled world than our extraordinary achievement of building a single nation drawn from so many cultures and religious traditions. The success of terrorists depends not only on the fear generated by their actions, but also on ignorance and suspicion within the communities they seek to manipulate. Australia’s political and military commitments to the Coalition against Terrorism are important, but history will also show that our wider contribution lies in the continuing openness and tolerance of our whole society – qualities that are lethal for today’s international terrorist.
With this in mind it is a time for every one of us to reach out within our communities, across those different cultures and traditions, and reassure our neighbours that the hatreds embodied by September 11 can only destroy what we humans value most.
I would say again to Australians of Islamic faith that you are just as much a part of our society as anyone else and deserve the respect and the tolerance owed to all Australians.
The certainty that Australia had to be part of the global response to terrorism does not make the decision to send young Australians into peril any easier. I know that each one of them will be foremost in the minds and prayers of Australians until they come home safely – they will certainly be in mine.
I know the men and women of our armed forces will carry out the task they have been given with distinction. They will be working within a Coalition of like-minded nations, united in a shared abhorrence of this terrible crime and the perverted values it represents. The stakes are very high, even determining the security of the world we hand to our children.
In both our contribution to the international coalition, and in the example shown by our whole society, Australia will be seen to have played its part.