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Prepared Text Of John Howard's Address On Iraq To The National Press Club

March 13, 2003

This is the prepared text of the Prime Minister's address to the National Press Club. Click here to read and listen to the actual speech.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen

The Australian government strongly believes that it is in the national interest of this country that Iraq has its chemical and biological weapons taken from it and that Iraq be denied the capacity to ever develop nuclear weapons.

Not only is it inherently dangerous to allow a country such as Iraq to retain such weapons, particularly in the light of its past aggressive behaviour, but the failure of the world community to disarm Iraq will encourage other rogue States to do likewise, safe in the knowledge that the world will do nothing to stop them.

As the possession of weapons of mass destruction spreads so the danger of such weapons coming into the hands of terrorist groups multiplies.

That is the ultimate nightmare which the world must take decisive and effective steps to prevent.

Possession of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by terrorists would constitute a direct, undeniable and lethal threat to Australia and its people.

That more than any other reason is why we must be intensely concerned about Iraq.

Australia's alliance with the United States is also a factor - unapologetically so.

America has given strong leadership to the world on Iraq. Let us be honest and recognise that the United Nations would never have been re-energised to again pursue the disarmament of Iraq had it not been for the United States.

An alliance such as ours with the United States is a two way process. Australians should never forget that no nation is more important to our long-term security than the United States. Terrorist groups want weapons of mass destruction. Of that there can be little doubt. Australian intelligence agencies, including the Office of National Assessments, judge that Al Qaida has demonstrated the intention to acquire or develop chemical and biological weapons, and an interest in radiological and nuclear weapons. This judgement reflects the intelligence community's professional assessment, and is based on an analysis of the full range of available intelligence. But it is not just secret intelligence that points to this conclusion. Information in the public domain indicates that Al Qaida has made repeated attempts to acquire chemical, biological, and nuclear materials and capabilities over almost a decade, and continues to do so.

Osama bin Laden has on numerous occasions made statements about the desirability of acquiring these types of weapons.

In a January 1999 interview, he described the acquisition of chemical and nuclear weapons as a 'religious duty'.

In an interview of November 2001, he claimed to have chemical and nuclear weapons Part of Al Qaida's multi-volume 'Encyclopedia of Jihad' is devoted to the construction of chemical and biological weapons. After the US-led intervention in Afghanistan, a variety of evidence was discovered there showing Al Qaida's interest in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons. Some of this has been reported publicly. Tapes acquired at Al Qaida training camps showed lethal poison gas or nerve agent tests conducted on animals. Documents found showed strong interest in botulinum toxin. British officials have presented evidence to the media that Al Qaida may have developed a small radiological 'dirty' bomb. Laptop computers found in Kabul belonging to Al Qaida contained files on plans to develop a chemical and biological and weapons capability, and files by bin Laden's deputy discussing chemical toxin tests. In November 2001, a British journalist discovered designs for a primitive nuclear weapon in an Al Qaida house in Kabul, probably downloaded from the Internet. Diagrams of US nuclear power plants were found in an abandoned Al Qaida house suggesting they could be targets for attack. A number of crude chemical and biological facilities have been found by coalition forces in Afghanistan, one of which was designed to produce anthrax.

If the world fails to deal once and for all with Iraq, it will effectively have given a green light to the further spread of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and have further undermined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Conventions on chemical and biological weapons which the world - and not least Australia - has worked so hard to build over the last thirty years or more.

The world, particularly our own region, is rightly concerned at the behaviour of North Korea. That country has blatantly violated its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

So far from the challenge of North Korea overshadowing the need to address the problem of Iraq it adds to its urgency and importance.

If the world is incapable of dealing strongly and effectively with Iraq it will not effectively discipline North Korea. If the Security Council fails the Iraqi test it will surely fail the test of North Korea.

These reasons for our direct and urgent commitment to the cause of disarming Iraq must be seen against the background of the far different world in which we now all live.

The Gulf War of 1991 came about in conventional circumstances. It was one we all clearly understood.

The army of one country - Iraq - had rolled across the borders of another - Kuwait. The invader had to be evicted. He had no right to be there. It was as clear and as simple as that.

That war pre-dated the rise of international terrorism as a potent force. Terrorism existed long before 1991, but not the random mass casualty kind borne of radical Islam and exemplified by the acts of the 11 September 2001 and the 12 October 2002.

The decade of the 1990s was meant to have been one in which the new international order, free of the tensions of a bi-polar world, was to have been established. Rather it became a period which saw the emergence of international terrorism as a major threat to international security - terrorism with not just an anti-western bias, but also directed at destabilising moderate or vulnerable governments in the developing world.

Instead of the fall of the Berlin wall heralding a world in which greater co-operation between nations replaced the bi-polar rivalry of the Cold War, it gave way to a world in which ethnic fragmentation of states and envy of western prosperity and hostility towards its values, especially those of the United States, became the dominant causes of international tension.

1993 saw the first attack on the World Trade Centre. Through subsequent years it was followed by the attacks on the United States Embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam which claimed 268 (mainly African) lives. Other indiscriminate acts of terror occurred. They culminated in the horrific attacks in New York and Washington on 11 September 2001.

Those attacks transformed our world. They have, forever, changed the way in which Americans see the world and in particular their own security in the world.

No longer could America's security - or indeed that of other liberal democracies - be seen just in terms of responding to or deterring the aggression of nation states. A different enemy carrying a new menace had attacked.

International terrorism is borderless. A key motivation is detestation of western values. Its prime, but by no means only, target is that of the United States, its interests and its citizens anywhere in the world.

It has obscenely hidden behind Islam - one of the great religions of the world. It will falsely depict retaliation against terrorism as some kind of generic attack on Islam. Australia's own approach to Iraq is not anti-Islam, a fact accepted by the President of Indonesia, the world's most populous Islamic nation.

Israel is also a special target of terrorism. Israel's legitimacy has been denied for more than fifty years by nearly all it neighbours. Even steadfast United States' support for the Jewish State has not been enough to resolve Israel's isolation.

In that setting, many extremist Middle Eastern groups have mounted terrorist attacks on Israeli interests over decades. In the 1990s, these murderous methods have spread to other Middle Eastern and Islamic extremist circles, and become more generally targeted and much more lethal in their scope.

All this emphasises the need for a just settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis - a subject to which I will return.

Australia is a western nation. Nothing can, will or should, change that. As such we are a terrorist target.

Those who assert that, through calibration of our foreign policy responses, we can buy immunity from terrorist attacks advance a proposition which is both morally flawed and factually wrong.

It is morally flawed because this nation should never fashion its foreign policy under threat. Australians expect the foreign policy of their country to reflect our nation's values.

Osama bin Laden identified Australia as a terrorist target because of our support for the independence of East Timor.

If such a threat had been issued on the eve of the Interfet intervention in East Timor in 1999 should the Australian government have pulled back? I think not.

Would the Australian people have wanted us to have pulled back? I likewise think not.

It is factually flawed because the victims of terrorists have come from nations with a wide range of foreign policy and security stances.

Those who doubt the case for the urgent disarmament of Iraq should be reminded of Saddam's appalling track record.

Saddam Hussein has without provocation invaded Iran and Kuwait. He has fired missiles at Saudi Arabia, Israel, Bahrain and Qatar. He has bullied and threatened Syria, Jordan and the Gulf States.

He has used his weapons against his own people. Without the no fly zones enforced by Britain and the United States over the past twelve years other horrors would have been inflicted on the Kurds and the Shi'ite Muslims.

Iraq has a long history of training and supporting regional terrorist groups. It financially rewards the families of Palestinian suicide bombers who have caused such death and destruction in Israel.

Iraq's history of relationships with and support for terrorist organisations magnifies our concerns.

Many will accept this line of argument but say that this is why the French and Germans are right and that the weapons' inspectors must be given more time.

Those advocates must face two important questions.

Do they really argue that the weapons inspectors would even be in Iraq, let alone squeezing a few morsels of compliance out of Saddam Hussein had it not been for the American (and by extension British and Australian) military build-up in the Gulf region.

Hans Blix and Kofi Annan have both said that it has been the pressure applied by the United States military build-up that has forced Iraq to begin, however inadequately, to respond.

This view has been expressly supported by the French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. Significantly both President Chirac and the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder supported the communique from the EU Summit of 17 November which stated "the military build-up (has) been essential in obtaining the return of the inspectors. (It) will remain essential if we are to achieve the full co-operation we seek."

There is an even more fundamental question to be answered by the critics of the United States.

Let us assume that the joint British, Spanish and United States resolution fails and nothing comparable is supported in its place by the Security Council.

Presumably the majority would in that event say that no military action should be taken to enforce disarmament on Iraq.

If they were to say that then would those same nations expect the American, British and Australian forces to be withdrawn from the Gulf region?

Of course they would expect no such thing to occur. They would be perfectly happy for those forces to remain where they are as the only certain way to maintain pressure on Iraq.

They know - as we all do - that a withdrawal of those forces would immediately destroy any prospect of any further co-operation by Iraq.

Crucially, also, the failure of the Security Council to adopt a further effective resolution, even if the forces were to remain, would create a completely new dynamic.

Saddam Hussein would know that he had won, at the very least, a major reprieve. His incentive to co-operate in full with the demands of the world community for complete disarmament would disappear.

The pressure exerted by an unutilised military presence inevitably diminishes over time, especially when a possible trigger point for the application of force has come and gone.

The unspoken implication of say the French position is that American, British and Australian forces should remain in the Gulf region indefinitely. That is plainly unrealistic.

These questions have not been adequately answered or even addressed by those who have been so ready to mount the moral parapets in this debate and pour scorn on the determination of the Americans, the British, and we Australians to deal resolutely and comprehensively with this vexed issue.

This opportunistic approach of America's critics lacks merit. In the process it is squandering the last faint chance that the world community has to achieve the peaceful, but total disarmament of Iraq.

This could still be achieved through a unanimous vote of the Security Council telling Saddam Hussein, without qualification, that he would face armed assault if he did not genuinely and without delay comply in full with the demands of Resolution 1441.

Such a united international declaration coupled with the combined efforts of neighbouring Arab States to deliver a similar message might, just, produce the possibility that Iraq would finally listen and act.

While ever other nations use this crisis to seek international political advantage against the United States the prospect for a unanimous resolution that would secure peace remains bleak.

Those who have constantly attacked the United States' handling of this issue have sought to give their case intellectual respectability by describing it as the continuing containment of Iraq.

It's barely surprising that the description containment should have been used. It's had an illustrious diplomatic history. It described the West's successful response to the old Soviet Union's expansionism after World War II and stretching into the 1950s.

In the end the Soviet Union imploded, the liberal democratic values of the West won the ideological contest and the US emerged as the one super power.

It is, however, a false historical comparison. Worse still it completely misstates the character of the threat which the world now faces.

That misstatement starkly illustrates the fundamentally different world in which we now live in the wake of the events of the 11th September 2001.

Containment of the old Soviet Union worked because of the possession of nuclear weapons by both the West and the Soviet Union.

The doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) guaranteed the maintenance of the status quo delivered by containment, until the implosion of the Soviet empire.

The view, validly held, was that because both sides had weapons of mass destruction, the potential human cost of military action by the West and the Soviet Union at the time of say Hungary in 1956, or Czechoslovakia in 1968, would have been infinitely greater than the human cost (bad though it was) in leaving dictatorial Soviet backed regimes in power in those two countries. That was a sober but accurate judgment.

Then the potential cost of doing something was greater than the cost of doing nothing.

Now in the case of Iraq the potential cost of doing nothing is clearly much greater than the cost of doing something.

If Iraq is not effectively disarmed not only could she use her chemical and biological weapons against her own people again and also other countries but other rogue states will be encouraged to believe that they too can join the weapons of mass destruction league.

In other words doing nothing about Iraq, potentially, is much more costly than using force, if necessary, to ensure the disarmament of Iraq.

True containment of Iraq can only be achieved if the world recognises that the challenges of today are quite different from those not only of fifty years ago but as recently as ten years ago.

The nuclear balance, which through the Cold War alternately traumatised and reassured the world, has been replaced by the spectre of weapons of mass destruction in the hands not only of more States but also terrorists operating without constraint in a borderless world.

That is what is at stake in the true containment of Iraq. The cost of doing nothing is infinitely greater than the cost of acting.

Those who argue that more weapons inspectors should be given more months to do their work in Iraq do not acknowledge the history of Saddam's failure to co-operate, or that there is nothing in that history that has changed.

For 12 years the community of nations has tried to cajole and encourage Iraq to honour its UN disarmament obligations, and it has failed. For 8 years the Iraqi President obstructed the weapons inspection teams, and for the last 4 years, until last November, he refused them entry into Iraq.

Iraq has not taken up the one last chance the UN Security Council gave it four months ago in Resolution 1441. It has not complied with its disarmament obligations, and no-one, including UN weapons inspectors, have been able to describe Iraq's cooperation as immediate, unconditional and active as Resolution 1441 required.

It is not a question of time for inspections, and it is not a question of resources for the inspectors.

It is - and has always been - a question of Iraq's attitude. Without full cooperation, the inspectors will never be able to do their job. True to the last 12 years, and 17 UN resolutions, Iraq is still refusing to change its attitude. It is still refusing to disarm.

Any action taken against Iraq by the world community or a group of nations must be justified on its own merits. It cannot be predicated on whether or not other challenges to world security have been addressed.

The disarmament of Iraq would bring enormous benefits to the Middle East, although many challenges would remain.

Clearly the international community must redouble its efforts to resolve the seemingly intractable Israeli, Palestinian conflict.

It remains the earnest hope of the Australian government that both sides will act to bring an end to the violence affecting Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel has no stauncher ally than Australia in its pursuit of its right to exist within secure and internationally recognised borders. Australia also strongly supports the creation of a viable independent Palestinian State.

It remains a great tragedy that the courageous efforts of Ehud Barak, the former Prime Minister of Israel, who offered the Palestinians the great bulk of their demands, were ultimately repudiated by the Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat.

I do however welcome the decision of Yasser Arafat to appoint a Prime Minister whom I hope will have considerable authority.

As a genuine friend of Israel's I again urge Ariel Sharon to use the authority of his re-election to take whatever opportunity which might reasonably arise to engage the Palestinian authority in peaceful discussion.

He should facilitate all bona fide international attempts to bring the parties together.

Can I however again say this to the members of the Palestinian Authority.

How can the Prime Minister of Israel be expected to do these things while ever the murderous pattern of suicide bombing continues to be inflicted on the Israelis?

Mr President,

Our interests, and the interests of a stable peaceful world, require that Iraq disarm.

Disarmament rather than regime change is Australia's primary policy goal, but we certainly recognise that the end of Saddam Hussein's rule would provide an opportunity to lessen the suffering of the Iraqi people and create a more stable and secure environment for Iraq's neighbours.

Armed conflict is a terrible thing, and we must always be concerned about its potential impact on civilian populations.

But the day to day lives of the Iraqi people under Saddam Hussein's rule are hardly peaceful, as we understand that word.

The Government's responsibility is the security of the Australian people but the current and potential humanitarian situation in Iraq is very much on my mind.

One key facet of the humanitarian issue seems to be largely ignored in the current debate. Commentators are quick to analyse and enumerate the effects of any conflict on the Iraqi populace, but precious little on what the continuation of Saddam's regime would mean for them.

Even if you believe that a failing policy of containment will continue to protect the world from Saddam Hussein's excesses, it will afford no protection to the people of Iraq - it will not provide them with the opportunity for a peaceful or happy life.

Perhaps it is unpalatable or unfashionable to be reminded that the Iraqi people are oppressed by the current regime. There is no chance for normal life in a country where torture, killing, rape and genocide are standard practice.

Former United Nations rapporteur for humanitarian rights in Iraq, Max Van der Stoel, has spoken of the brutality of the Iraqi regime. And I quote:- "the evidence I have in my possession shows that human rights violations in Iraq have been so consistent, have been on such a massive scale, and have been so serious, that there are very few examples of similar repression since the Second World War."

The language is clear but perhaps too diplomatic, too clinical. Perhaps it sanitises what we are talking about.

This is a regime that will gouge out the eyes of a child to force a confession from the parent This is a regime that will burn a person's limbs off to force compliance or confession This is a regime that in 2000 decreed that the crime of criticising it would be punished by cutting out the offender's tongue.

Since Saddam Hussein came to power in 1979 he has attacked his neighbours and ruthlessly oppressed ethnic and religious groups in Iraq - more than one million people have died in internal conflicts and wars. Some four million Iraqis have chosen exile.

Two hundred thousand have disappeared from his jails, never to be seen again.

He has cruelly and cynically manipulated the United Nations oil-for-food programme, rorting it to buy weapons at the expense of the wellbeing of his own people. Since the Gulf War the people of Iraq have not only endured a cruel and despotic regime but have had to suffer economic deprivation, hunger, sickness and despair.

We should never forget that economic sanctions have their own humanitarian impact. These could have been removed years ago if Saddam had fully disarmed.

It is too easy to limit consideration of the humanitarian issues to the effects of military conflict. But there are no comfortable positions when it comes to the issue of Iraq.

Surely it is undeniable that, if all the humanitarian considerations are put into the balance, there is a very powerful case to the effect that the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime will mean less suffering for the Iraqi people than if the regime were to continue.

This is a difficult and challenging issue for our nation. The easy way would have been to have done little diplomatically or militarily. We could have been spectators on the side lines as many have urged.

We have chosen to take a strong position because the government believes that vital Australian interests are at stake.

I respect the fact that many of my fellow Australians disagree with my position. I understand that.

In return I ask them to respect and understand that I and my government have arrived at our position after much thought and with a deep belief that what we are doing is the right thing for Australia.

In the sadly different world in which we all now live it is vital that Australia takes a stand against the threat posed to us of the twin evils of the spread of dangerous weapons to rogue States and international terrorism.

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