October 20th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Issues for the forthcoming election

TESTIMONIAL: Digger James: Why I support 'News Weekly'

CANBERRA OBSERVED: The 'other' election on November 10

ECONOMICS: Who's looking after world trade

BIOETHICS: Cloning: a mixed bag

Straws in the Wind: Come in, Spinner

SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Parents call for increased penalties for drug trafficking

TERRORISM: Why the Muslim world hates America

AFGHANISTAN: Australia must protect the innocent victims of war

Letter: Refugee analysis wrong

Letter: Free trade challenge

Letter: Marriage costs

PACIFIC: After the civil war: Bougainville looks ahead

MEDIA: Mutual admiration / "Beazley-class" subs

COMMENT: Baddies are not always cowards

DOCUMENTATION: Latest data show mothers' preference for home

COMMENT: Don't hurt us, we're men

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Australia must protect the innocent victims of war

by Peter Lawrence

News Weekly, October 20, 2001

After the attacks on Washington and New York and the developments of the past few weeks there are things we should look out for, in case what is happening forms part of some larger scheme, not yet fully clear to us.

Napoleon tried to structure his battles and campaigns using elements from a basic toolkit: engage, dislocate, penetrate, pursue. That's not a straightforward cookbook recipe, just a metaphor for skilled practitioners to adapt.

Perhaps the initial attacks were merely "engage" and this US response "dislocate". From the beginning there were real concerns that Pakistan could end up destabilised by US counter-measures, and it is absolutely certain that even if Afghanistan wasn't the enemy of the USA it now is.


Could the terrorist plan be for some real and lasting defeat on the USA? Easily. "Dislocate" places the victim in a dilemma, e.g. needing to be in two places at once or simultaneously moving and staying still. This is what air power delivers; it cannot defeat an enemy, contrary to common belief. What it can do is make it impossible for him to move so other things can be done to him, maybe by the Poor Bloody Infantry.

What happened in Serbia the other year does not disprove this - on available evidence Serbia's will gave out when it became clear that ground attacks were about to start, perhaps from the Russians. But there is never a guarantee that the enemy's will will fail. Tamim Ansary (News Weekly, October 6, 2001) has commented on how well placed Afghans are to endure whatever can be thrown at them.

This highlights a common error in understanding military matters. It is not true that wars are just aimed at influencing others' behaviour - there are other possibilities. In Israel the ultimate objective is a secure Israel, and Palestinian acquiescence is not the goal - it would just make it cheaper. But the Israelis are determined to get their way whether the Palestinians cooperate or not.

So the strikes on Afghanistan can't be the whole of what has to be done. This is particularly true since they cannot possibly be "surgical", even if each and every one only hits real terrorists - the whole country will be disrupted, with some harvests not gathered in, other things not distributed, and so on.

The sequence "war, famine, plague and death" refers to this - war disrupts, then famine follows, and after a weakened population becomes prone to epidemics which are also more lethal, death comes as no respecter of the innocent.

Make no mistake, the USA is still vulnerable. If Byzantium had not been otherwise occupied, the Ottomans would not have got established. This is the significance of "penetrate". At its worst it could leave the USA with an open wound that will not heal, like the Ottomans - "pursue". Or the enemies of the USA may be aiming to use the dislocation to penetrate and pursue somewhere else in the world, somewhere they can reach with the USA otherwise occupied.

For us and for the USA, one main defence must be to brace ourselves and not get overbalanced, escaping the dislocation part of the Napoleonic pattern. The USA seems to be avoiding this trap at the moment. There is a further and particular risk for Australia. The right way to inflict terror, Schrecklichkeit, is to pick a suitable victim and annihilate him comprehensively. The victim has nothing to negotiate. What the aggressor wants, and gets, is for some of the observers to hang back or change sides - to split a coalition. It is their behaviour that matters, when they see that the ally of the main player gets no support. We could end up being the object lesson, to show that the USA can't even protect its friends.

We can take positive steps. We could establish refugee and relief staging areas, e.g. behind the port of Gwadar in Pakistani Baluchistan, with Australian consular assistance, but most definitely not disrupting Pakistani sovereignty.

To work, this plan must be genuinely and freely offered and accepted, and we should understand how it works too. This would help to head off our own refugee problems and any Indian encroachment in our area. Australia would soften the flow of migrants at source, maintaining a staging area where they could be checked without imposing risks for genuine refugees - this would have been valuable even a few months ago.

This prepares for two strategic benefits. It moves people out of the difficult terrain of Afghanistan into more manageable Baluchistan, and we can start offering genuine intelligence support on the ground. It has been correctly observed that Westerners can't be fully fluent in local languages, and we can't pass for locals either.

Contrary to recent reports, we are not on the same side as the USA, in a larger sense. Indeed, we could with profit repeat de Valera's 1945 speech about small countries caught up in larger struggles. Though we should not be US clients we should be on the side of justice. In Terry Pratchett's words, "We're just on two different sides that happen to be side by side."

  • Peter Lawrence

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