Howard's statement to Parliament - 18.03.2003
That this House:
1.) condemns Iraqs refusal, over more than 12 years, to abide by 17 resolutions of the United Nations Security Council regarding the threat it poses to international peace and security;
(a) that Iraqs continued possession and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, in defiance of its mandatory obligations under numerous resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, represents a real and unacceptable threat to international peace and security;
(b) that Iraqs behaviour weakens the global prohibitions on the spread of weapons of mass-destruction, with the potential to damage Australias security; and
(c) that, as more rogue states acquire them, the risk of weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists multiplies, thereby presenting a real and direct threat to the security of Australia and the entire international community;
(a) Iraqs continued support for international terrorism; and
(b) the institutionalised widespread and grave abuse of the human rights of the Iraqi people over many years;
4.) notes that United Nations Security Council resolutions adopted under Chapter VII of the United Nations charter, in particular resolutions 678, 687 and 1441, provide clear authority for the use of force against Iraq for the purposes of disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and restoring international peace and security to the region;
5.) endorses the governments decision to commit Australian Defence Force elements in the region
Yes, I will repeat it:
5.) endorses the governments decision to commit Australian Defence Force elements in the region to the international coalition of military forces prepared to enforce Iraqs compliance with its international obligations under successive resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, with a view to restoring international peace and security in the Middle East region;
6.) expresses its unequivocal support for the Australian service men and women, and other personnel serving with the international coalition, our full confidence in them and the hope that all will return safely to their homes;
7.) extends to the innocent people of Iraq its support and sympathy during the military action to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and the reconstruction period that will follow; and
8.) notes that the government is committed to helping the Iraqi people, including through humanitarian assistance, to build a new Iraq at peace with itself and its neighbours.
This morning I announced that Australia had joined a coalition, led by the United States, which intends to disarm Iraq of its prohibited weapons of mass destruction.
The government has now authorised our defence forces, which were predeployed to the gulf to acclimatise and contribute to the campaign to persuade Saddam Hussein into compliance, to take part in coalition operations. There is no more serious decision for any government than to commit its forces to military conflict abroad. Under our system, this decision lies with the executive of government, the cabinet. Nevertheless, it is appropriate that the parliament, at the first opportunity, have the chance to debate this motion. It is essential that the reason for that decision be made plain to the representatives of the people and that they have a full opportunity to debate them and to have their views recorded.
In 1991, the world judged that the Iraqi regime was a dangerous aggressor. In the interests of world peace and regional security, the community of nations required Iraq to surrender its offensive arsenal, its chemical and biological weapons, and abandon its nuclear weapons program. Iraq agreed to comply. We have waited 12 years for it to give action to that commitment. On 8 November 2002, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 1441the 17th Security Council resolution on Iraq regarding the threat it poses to international peace and security. This resolution, which was adopted unanimously, gave Iraq a final opportunity to demonstrate immediate compliance with its disarmament obligations.
Over the last four months, we have seen no evidence to suggest that Saddam Hussein is willing to comply with resolution 1441. He has offered up minor concessions but he has not demonstrated that he is willing to declare or destroy Iraqs prohibited weapons programs. The government believes very strongly that Iraqs continued defiance of the community of nations presents a challenge which must be addressed.
It is inherently dangerous to allow a country such as Iraq to retain weapons of mass destruction, particularly in the light of its past aggressive behaviour. If the world community fails to disarm Iraq, we fear that other rogue states will be encouraged to believe that they too can have these most deadly of weapons and 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 will multiply. 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. The governments principal objective is the disarmament of Iraq; however, should military action be required to achieve this, it is axiomatic that such action will result in the removal of Saddam Husseins regime.
Early this morning, President Bush telephoned me and formally requested Australias support and participation in a coalition of nations who are prepared to enforce the Security Councils resolutions by all necessary means. This request was subsequently considered and agreed to by cabinet.
Around midday today, Australian Eastern Standard Time, President Bush delivered an ultimatum to the Iraqi leadership: Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours or face military conflict. Nobody wants a military conflict. The world has tried other means for years but, so far, to no avail. We cannot walk away from the threat that Iraqs continued possession of weapons of mass destruction constitutes to its region and to the wider world.
In the final analysis, the absolute conviction of the government is that disarming Iraq is necessary for the long-term security of the world and is therefore manifestly in the national interest of Australia. The events of the last four months, Iraqs history, and its 12 years of defiance have convinced the government that the only way to deal with this challenge is by force. Sadly, the government is not surprised that it should have come to this. Force has been the only language that Saddam Husseins regime has ever understood.
For 12 years, Saddam Hussein has forced his nation to endure stringent economic sanctions and pariah status rather than give up his weapons of mass destruction. The presence of weapons inspectors has hindered and irritated him but has never stopped his weapons programs. Even during the first four years of weapons inspections, when the inspectors perceived they were making real progress, Iraq continued to develop and successfully conceal biological weapons. Luckily, a series of defectors blew the whistle on some of Iraqs prohibited weapons programs, forcing the Iraqi regime to reveal one of the most sophisticated and expansive offensive biological programs in the world; but we cannot expect always to be so lucky. Inspectors were ordered out of Iraq before they could finish dismantling it. The available intelligence indicates that, since the departure of inspectors in 1998, Saddam has continued to work on his chemical and biological capabilities and has maintained his nuclear aspirations.
Even under the threat of force he has only engaged reluctantly in token, piecemeal destruction of weapons and continues to deny the existence of weapons programs. Even with over 200,000 coalition troops massed at his borders he quibbles about how interviews are to be conducted with his scientists and how many of the reconnaissance aircraft supporting the inspectors can fly at any one time. After 12 years, he does not believe that the international community has the will to act. In that he has made a terrible error of judgement.
For 12 years the international community has been trying to get him to relinquish his prohibited weapons programs, as required by the cease-fire which ended the Gulf War, and Australia has been an active participant in this process. During these 12 years, there has rarely been a time when Australian defence personnel have not been deployed to the Gulfin 1990 to enforce sanctions; in 1991 for Operation Desert Storm; in 1998 to support Operation Desert Fox; and throughout an almost continuous presence with the multinational interdiction force. Now we join with the coalition in an attempt to bring this long-running conflict to an end once and for all.
This will be difficult. Saddam Hussein is married to his weapons of mass destruction. He will never give them up willingly. Militarism and aggression are the foundations of his regime. If you doubt this, consider his actions against Iraqi Kurds, against the Shiite majorityparticularly, the Marshland Arabs. Consider the estimated 400,000 combatants and civilians who lost their lives in the war that followed his invasion of Iran the 100,000 killed when he invaded Kuwait. Since Saddam Hussein came to power in 1979, more than one million people have died in the internal conflicts and wars which he has generatedmore than one million people, let me repeat, have died in the internal wars and conflicts which this man has generated.
Intelligence analysis tells us that Saddam Hussein considers these weapons programs to be essential both for internal repression and to fulfil his regional ambitions. No doubt he looks to a time when the world will be distracted by other events and he can use his arsenal to bully and coerce his neighbours and to dominate the Middle East. Iraqs continued defiance represents a threat to the delicate balance which supports nonproliferation. It is no idle speculation that other countries in the region, perceiving this threat, might decide that their own security requires that they develop a significant chemical, biological or even possibly nuclear arsenal to deter attack from Iraq. Moreover, other rogue states would be tempted to ignore the international conventions on arms control, which Australia and others have so painstakingly built up over the last 30 years, and would feel that they could get away with developing similar weapons programs. This is proliferation. We know the lessons of history: the more nations that have these weapons, the more likely they are to be used. That is why we fear proliferation, and we are very concerned about the potential for the proliferation of these weapons in our own region.
That these weapons may become commonplace in arsenals of sovereign states is frightening enough, but it would be a nightmare for the international community if they were to find their way into the hands of terroristsand we have every reason to be concerned about the expansion and increasing sophistication of international terrorist networks. We know as a matter of fact that terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda want to obtain weapons of mass destruction. They are actively seeking them and they desire them because of their potency. With such weapons at their disposal, terrorists could target entire cities or regions. Their victims would not number in the hundreds or the thousands but potentially even more.
Twelve years ago the community of nations determined that Iraq could not be permitted to develop and possess weapons of mass destruction. Todays security environment reinforces that judgment. Our alliance with the United States is unapologetically a factor in the decision that we have taken. The crucial, long-term value of the United States alliance should always be a factor in any major national security decision taken by Australia.
America has given strong leadership to the world on the issue of Iraq. The Security Council would not have been re-energised, the United Nations would not have been re-energised, had it not been for the action of the United States returning the issue to the United Nations in September of last year. We have supported the American position on this issue because we share their concerns and we share their worries about the future if Iraq is left unattended to. Alliances are two-way processes and, where we are in agreement, we should not leave it to the United States to do all of the heavy lifting just because they are the worlds superpower. To do so would undermine one of the most important relationships we have and, in an increasingly globalised and borderless world, the relationship between Australia and United States will become more rather than less important as the years go by.
Armed conflict, as we all know, is a terrible thing. Our ultimate responsibility is, of course, for the security of the Australian people, but I am very conscious of the dangers that military action will pose for Iraqs civilian population. But, when you put human suffering into the balance on this issue, there is a very powerful case that human suffering in Iraq will, in fact, be greater if Saddam Hussein remains in power in that country. Perhaps it is enough to note that, in 1991, the Security Council thought it necessary to pass resolution 688, which demands that the Iraqi regime cease its repression of its own people. In April last year, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution condemning:
... the systematic, widespread and extremely grave violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law by the Government of Iraq, resulting in an all-pervasive repression and oppression sustained by broad-based discrimination and widespread terror.
The regimes hallmarks are summary and arbitrary executions, the use of rape as a political tool, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention, widespread and systematic torture and maintaining of decrees prescribing cruel and inhuman punishment as the penalty for offences. These points demonstrate that the short-term future for many, if not most, Iraqi civilians is neither secure nor peaceful, regardless of whether Iraq is subject to military action or not.
The Australian government is deeply disappointed that the Security Council has been unable to maintain a unity of purpose on the issue of Iraq. The strong position taken last year, clearly articulated in resolution 1441, was that Iraq was being given one final chance to disarmone final chance to show its immediate willingness to meet the terms of the cease-fire agreed in April 1991. The goal of 1441 was immediate and complete disarmament, not simply the return of weapons inspectorsthat was merely an issue of process. A further resolution by the Security Council demonstrating that it was galvanised to take action might havejust might havepersuaded Saddam Hussein to take the steps necessary to achieve a peaceful solution to this conflict.
The position articulated by those opposed to action is fundamentally flawed. They recognise that the threat of military action has been the only way to elicit a positive response from Iraq. Does anybody imagine that the weapons inspectors would have returned to Iraq had it not been for the American military build-up? Kofi Annan does not believe so. Hans Blix does not believe so. Even Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister, acknowledges that reality, as does his President. So the position articulated by those who have been so critical of the Americans and others is fundamentally flawed. They recognise that the threat of military action has been the only way to elicit a positive response from Iraq; yet they squander the leveraging power of a military force by clearly demonstrating they are never prepared to actually use it.
This strategy not only is illogical but also ignores the practical reality: it is not possible to keep our forces in the gulf, on alert, indefinitely. And everyone knows that, if the forces were brought home, the weapons inspectors would quickly be expelled from Iraq.
The government does not accept that the only thing required to achieve complete and comprehensive disarmament is more time. If Iraq had cooperated actively and openly over the last four months, we would support a longer implementation timetable. This is not the case. The Iraqi regime have continued to lie and obfuscate, making only token gestures of cooperation.
They have not given the slightest indication that they intend to fully disarm and abandon their prohibited weapons programs. We wanted the inspectors to do their job. But we have never accepted that they should have had to play the role of detective. They had neither the skills nor the powers to fulfil this role effectively. Their presence inhibited Saddams weapons programs, but the presence of inspectors alone could never have delivered total and complete disarmament in the face of Iraqi defiance and duplicity. A peaceful path to disarmament could have been achieved only if the Iraqi regime had been truly committed to disarming and had worked in active cooperation with the inspection teams. Iraq had to demonstrate it wanted to disarm. It was always a question of attitude and not a question of time.
We reject totally the argument put by France and by some other countries that the presence of inspectors will lead, over the passage of time, to disarmament. We cannot and will not ignore the experience of the last 12 years. We believe that the time has come to disarm Iraq, by force if necessary. We are participating in the US led coalition to achieve this objective.
It is important to understand that the decision taken by the government is in accordance with the legal authority for military action found in previous resolutions of the Security Council. We supported, and would have preferred, a further Security Council resolution specifying the need for such action. We did so to maximise the diplomatic, moral and political pressure on Iraq, not because we considered a new resolution to be necessary for such action to be legitimate.
Our legal advice, provided by the head of the Office of International Law in the Attorney-Generals Department and the senior legal adviser to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is unequivocal. The existing United Nations Security Council resolutions already provide for the use of force to disarm Iraq and restore international peace and security to the area. This legal advice is consistent with that provided to the British government by its Attorney-General.
Security Council resolution 678, adopted in 1990, authorised the use of all necessary means not only to implement resolution 660, which demanded Iraq withdraw from Kuwait, but also to implement all subsequent relevant resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area. Resolution 687, which provided the cease-fire terms for Iraq in April 1991, affirmed resolution 678. Security Council resolution 1441 confirms that Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations, a point on which there is unanimous agreement, including by even the Leader of the Opposition.
Iraqs past and continuing breaches of the cease-fire obligations negate the basis for the formal cease-fire. Iraq has by its conduct demonstrated that it did not and does not accept the terms of the cease-fire. Consequently, we have received legal advice that the cease-fire is not effective and the authorisation for the use of force in Security Council resolution 678 is reactivated. It follows, so I am advised, that referring to the use of such force against Iraq as unilateral is wrong. Any informed analysis of the Security Council resolutions leads to this conclusion.
I note that the former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade under the Keating government, Mr Michael Costello, has reached the same conclusion. The use of military force, according to Mr Michael Costello, is already authorised by the United Nations. This advice is not new. Our deployment of forces to the gulf in 1998, strongly supported by the then Leader of the Opposition, in support of Operation Desert Fox was undertaken on the same basis. The Clinton administration clearly understood and argued, as the Bush administration does now, that existing Security Council resolutions clearly allow for the use of military force.
I table the legal advice provided by the Attorney-Generals Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; the summary legal advice provided to the British government by its Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith; and the transcript of an interview with Mr Michael Costello, former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade under the Keating government.
Australia and the other members of the coalition are therefore still acting under the authority of the United Nations Security Council resolutions. We continue to regard the United Nations as the most important framework the world has to achieve a secure and peaceful world and our commitment to the UN is perhaps personified by the 1,200 ADF personnel who are currently serving in the blue beret all around the world.
The government remains extremely disappointed that the Security Council has been unable to demonstrate the necessary resolve to confront Iraqs continued defiance of the United Nations. We consider that it is critical for the United Nations to remain fully engaged on the issue of Iraq and to take responsibility for coordinating the humanitarian and reconstruction support which will be required once the military conflict has been resolved. Just as we believe action against Saddam Husseins regime is in our nations best interest, so too we believe it is clearly in our interest to help rebuild a stable and prosperous Iraq. To that end the government will make a significant contribution to that reconstruction effort.
We hope that Iraq will be able to establish a government which has the support and reflects the will of its people. This is the only way to ensure that the wealth generated from the oil reserves, which belong to the people of Iraq, is directed to achieving their wellbeing and prosperity. Australia will do everything in its power to encourage the establishment of a representative government.
The government also wants to reassure Australias Islamic community that our actions in Iraq are not an attack on Islam, one of the worlds great faiths. This reassurance has been given to, and accepted by, President Megawati of Indonesia, the leader of the worlds largest Islamic country. I remind all Australians, regardless of their views on the conflict in Iraq, that our Islamic community, especially those people who have family or cultural ties to the Middle East, will especially need our compassion and our support over coming weeks and all Australians should ensure that this is offered.
As I have said before, and in particular in my address on 4 February, it is crucial for the stability of the region to address the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel has no stauncher ally than Australia in the pursuit of its right to exist and the right to secure internationally recognised borders. Australia also strongly supports the establishment of a secure and independent state for the people of Palestine. Australia again urges Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Arafat to embrace the road map to peace developed by the United States in close cooperation with Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. The Australian government is committed to do everything in its power to encourage and support the Israeli and Palestinian governments to negotiate a resolution to this bloody conflict, which has cost too many innocent lives and cast a shadow across the entire region.
The engagement of our defence forces will be limited to the period of the conflict and to those elements already deployedthat is, the transport ship HMAS Kanimbla, which departed from Sydney on 23 January with approximately 350 personnel embarked, including Army detachments providing air defence and amphibious cargo transport craft; the Special Forces Task Group, including a Special Air Services squadron from Perth and special forces combat support elements, including specialist troops to deal with the threat of weapons of mass destruction drawn from the newly established Incident Response Regiment; CH-47 troop lift helicopters and a quick reaction force drawn from the Sydney based 4RAR Commando Unit; a squadron of 14 FA18 Hornet fighter aircraft, three C130 Hercules transport aircraft, as well as an Air Forward Command element responsible for coordinating air operations with coalition partners, and two P3 patrol aircraft currently in the Gulf supporting the war on terror; a Navy clearance diving team capable of locating, rendering safe and disposing of mines; and the HMAS Anzac and HMAS Darwin, which were already in the Middle East policing UN sanctions on Iraq.
Although, as part of the coalition, Australian forces will be under the operational control of the Coalition Commander, they will remain under Australian national command at all times. Australian commanders are bound by Australian rules of engagement and separate Australian targeting directives. The government has been mindful to ensure that the ADF retains the capability to continue to service our current commitments, including our contribution to the UN force in East Timor, and to respond to any short notice contingencies that may arise.
The deployment, although modest in terms of the size of the total coalition force, is a sizeable commitment for Australia. The 2,000 ADF personnel and maritime, land and air assets currently deployed to the Middle East are not a token contribution. Every one of our service men and women is precious to their families, their loved ones and to their nation. I want to say to the men and the women of our defence forces who are deployed with the coalition forces that I have the greatest confidence in your abilities and your judgement. You may be part of the Australian deployment or deployed while on exchange duties with our friends and allies. Your nation admires your courage and salutes your commitment to duty. You belong to the most professional armed forces in the world, and all of us are proud of your reputation. Your government and your military commanders have spared no effort and no expense to try and prepare you for the terrible reality of active service.
I am under no illusionyour mission is a difficult one and inevitably involves great danger. All agree that the Iraqi regime is one of the most repressive and cruel in the world. It is in open defiance of the United Nations Security Council. No-one wants Saddam Hussein to keep and expand his arsenal of prohibited weapons. We believe passionately that your efforts are vital to ensure the long-term security of Australia and our world. The cause is just. The action is legitimate. We all pray that you and your coalition partners will make quick progress and that soon you will be home, safe and sound, reunited with those whom you love.
I know that our defence personnel could not function without the support and the understanding provided by their loved ones, their families and their friends, and it will be, inevitably, a difficult time for those at home. Sometimes it can be more stressful for those who wait than for those who are in the thick of action. I ask that all Australiansregardless of whether they support our participation in the coalitionshow their support for those who have been ordered to undertake this mission, give special thought to their loved ones and do your best to support and look after them. You have a right to protest, to dissent and to register your concern, but direct those protests to the government, to me, not to those who are overseas on our behalf.
This decision has been taken by the government in the belief that it is in the long-term interests of this country. It has been taken against a background of a world environment changed forever by the events of 11 September. The world now faces new and previously unknown menaces. Old notions of aggression and responses to aggression do not necessarily fit our new circumstances. Yet one thing remains constantthe responsibility of governments to protect its citizens against possible future attacks, wherever they may come from. It is in that spirit, against that background and in that context that the government has taken the decision it has, and I commend the motion to the House.