May 17th 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Ethanol - behind the disinformation

EDITORIAL: New situations demand new policies

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Government sets itself a trap on Medicare

Will South Australia Upper House hold the line on life issues?

STRAWS IN THE WIND: We get the rights / Rap festival / Bogus leftists, fairy luddites

QUEENSLAND: Beattie challenges Nationals over sugar deregulation

Iraq fallout may end multilateral trade deals

HEALTH: Stopping feeding and hydration is true euthanasia

EDUCATION: Surviving the latest classroom fads

LIFESTYLE: SARS, AIDS and public policy

FAMILY: Bush and Howard diverge on life and family

BOOK REVIEW: The World We're In, by Will Hutton

BOOK REVIEW: Growth Fetish, by Clive Hamilton

ARTS: Melbourne Comedy Festival: A comedy of political errors?

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New situations demand new policies

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, May 17, 2003
Since 1949, the cornerstone of American foreign policy has been NATO, the treaty which bound together the United States and its West European allies. This provided the foundation for the Western Alliance throughout the Cold War period and into the 1990s.

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, this alliance was crucial not only in defeating the Soviet bid to control Europe, a stage in its bid for world domination, but was part of an effort to prevent further wars in Europe.

It is a matter of record that through new security arrangements, and a range of other instruments of co-operation, including the European Union, Western Europe has been transformed from a collection of warring states into a zone of peace and co-operation not seen for centuries. Less than a year ago, one European defence analyst described the process as "unstoppable".

Fractured unity

Yet quite suddenly, the facade of unity has been broken, perhaps irrevocably, by the Iraq crisis, in a way that has important implications for Australia.

The background to these developments arose from UN Resolution 1441 last November, when the United States obtained unanimous support from the UN Security Council for an ultimatum to Iraq to "ensure full and immediate compliance, without conditions or restrictions" with its obligations to the UN and the international community to destroy its chemical and biological weapons.

In the face of continued obstruction of UN weapons inspectors, the US resolved to enforce Iraqi compliance, but subsequent efforts to secure international agreement to enforce the many UN resolutions on Iraq were stonewalled by an alliance between some of America's traditional adversaries such as Russia and China, and some of its erstwhile European allies, particularly France and Germany.

All these countries had extensive financial contracts with Saddam's regime, and acted selfishly and opportunistically to protect those links by ensuring no UN-sanctioned action against Iraq.

US officials have made clear that as a consequence, the UN will not play a key political role in post-Saddam Iraq, although its humanitarian programs are welcome.

The refusal of a number of America's traditional allies - including France, Germany, Turkey and Saudi Arabia - to co-operate with President Bush over Iraq, coupled with the consequent paralysis in NATO on the issue, has brought about a fundamental shift in American sentiment, the effects of which may well be permanent.

The clear signs of this are seen in unprecedented public condemnation of France and Germany by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

The French Government exacerbated tensions when its President, Jacques Chirac, publicly mocked America's European allies, saying that countries that supported US policy on Iraq were "badly brought up" and "missed an opportunity to keep quiet."

The countries to which he referred included a number of former Soviet satellites, such as Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria.

Reports from Britain, Germany and Poland have confirmed that the US is about to substantially reduce its military presence in France and Germany, and shift military resources towards Eastern Europe.

A Christian Democratic MP from Germany was reported as saying that the Pentagon had ordered all non-essential expenditures in the large US bases in Germany frozen.

Polish newspapers have reported from Washington that the US is to shift bases from Germany to Poland, while other US allies such as Romania and Bulgaria are also courting America.

The first practical application of Washington's new policy is seen in the decision of the US to remove its forces from Saudi Arabia which inevitably will be accompanied by a downgrading of Washington's relations with the Saudi government. Relations with Turkey have also cooled.

The US will instead build a closer relationship with the Gulf States, including Kuwait, which strongly supported US intervention, and the new Iraqi government, including the Kurds who worked closely with the US in northern Iraq.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the United States continues to have a deep strategic interest in the security of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, all strong allies, and the stability of north Asia, which is threatened by the continued turmoil in North Korea.

Australia will continue to have an important role: as a reliable ally of the United States, as a stabilising force in the south-west Pacific, and at the interface between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The real problem is that Australia's defence forces, however superbly trained, are far too small to play anything more than a symbolic role in international conflicts, and are too small to ensure regional stability.

The challenge for the Federal Government in the forthcoming Budget is whether it will devote resources to increasing the size and effectiveness of the defence forces, rather than merely paying for the Iraq operation.

  • Peter Westmore is President of the National Civic Council

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