July 05, AU Edition

Iraq, the United Nations, and the threat of terrorism in our region: What is Howard doing wrong? How would Labor do things differently? Investigate editor JAMES MORROW recently sat down with Shadow Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd to find out
INVESTIGATE: Do you think Iraq is better off now that Saddam Hussein is gone?
KEVIN RUDD: Well, the fact of the matter is Saddam’s gone, but to state the bleeding obvious we didn’t support the war. The fact of the matter is that that advice was not accepted by the Australian government, the Australian government fought in the coalition to remove Saddam Hussein, and in fact succeeded in removing him. Therefore we are, as people interested in and committed to universal human rights, happy that he’s gone.
But what one is concerned about is the stability of the country, and the regime which replaces him. What we’re uncertain about is how all this will shake down in the years ahead, particularly once there is an eventual withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
INVESTIGATE: On the subject of the US’s eventual withdrawal, where do you stand on the question of keeping Australian troops in Iraq? After all, Mark Latham promised to have the troops home by Christmas, but Howard has committed another 450 troops.
RUDD: We think that [increasing the deployment] was an inappropriate decision for a number of reasons, one of which is the prime minister’s election commitment, to the Australian people in black and white, which was that there would be no substantial increases. Prior to the election from memory we had in country something in the vicinity of 300 troops if you add another 500, it’s basically a breach of undertaking.
INVESTIGATE: So what’s Labor’s plan?
RUDD: When I visited Iraq and spoke with Ambassador Bremmer, one of the things he impressed upon me was the problem of the porousness of Iraq’s borders, and of insurgents and jihadists coming across from Syria and Saudi Arabia and Iran and [the need] to do what was necessary to enhance the systems, procedures and personnel tasked with providing Iraq’s border security. We can provide a very effective training package for that as well as effective packages to assist Iraqis on the humanitarian front.
INVESTIGATE: In that vein, did you see Syria recently nabbed 113 people trying to make it into Iraq from Syria?
RUDD: I have not seen that particular report, but those figures would not surprise me. I stood in Bremer’s office in Saddam’s palace and examined a very large map of Iraq and its contiguous land borders with Iran, Syria and Saudi. These are borders that probably in the best of times were never properly policed. Now that we’re in the worst of times, in terms of Iraq, to paraphrase [CIA Director] Porter Goss, it has become something of a magnet for training jihadists from around the world.
It strikes us that the best thing to do is help the Iraqis build better border control and better border security systems. That’s something we’re not bad at.
INVESTIGATE: To bring the United Nations into the conversation for a moment, you opposed going into Iraq; does Australia always need the UN’s mandate to use force, or is there a danger that that limits our options?
RUDD: We take the UN charter seriously, and the reason we take the UN charter seriously is that, prima facie, it is better to have an international rules-based order than to have no international rules-based order. And to state the bleeding obvious, of course it’s inefficient. The bottom line is it was put together by a committee of nations in 1945. But critics of the UN don’t argue what sort of rules-based order, if any, should replace it. Are they arguing for the pre-‘45 world order, the pre-1919 world order, what sort of world order are they arguing for creating? Back to Westphalia, back to pre-Westphalia?
If you’re going to take the classic neo-conservative critique of the UN multilateral order, then think in the great tradition of Burkean conservatism, you should argue for something to replace that which you would tear apart. I don’t hear a coherent program along those lines other than occasional bursts of unilateralism when you judge it absolutely necessary. A lot of capabilities are divided within the strength of the UN charter: Article 42, which provides for collective action through the Security Council (that’s how we managed to achieve our outcomes in East Timor). You’ve also got Article 51, which provides for an opportunity to defend yourself against attacks, and Kofi Annan has argued for a further examination of that given the advances in weaponry in recent times. Then you’ve got doctrines of humanitarian intervention, which are much more controversial provisions.

INVESTIGATE: How does that all fit in, then, with the crisis in Darfur?
RUDD: The challenge at stake with Darfur is the question of whether it is a failure of the UN or the member states of the UN.
INVESTIGATE: Then isn’t the problem with the UN that it is only as good as it’s member states?
RUDD: Most cooperative endeavours are.
INVESTIGATE: Sure, if you’ve got an organisation with lots of different states that are not democracies and a few that are, don’t you wind up getting pulled down to the lowest common denominator, because those dictatorships keep one from being able to act?
RUDD: If you look back to the Commission on Human Rights, which is the subject of such comprehensive reform proposals by Kofi Annan’s reform panel, that is the inherent problem of having a democracy of states, states which irrespective of their internal political composition all having equal say in the general assembly.
But again, the critics of the UN system fail to argue the alternative. I don’t hear that. I don’t even hear that from the neo-conservative critics. Would it be the death of Westphalia? Would the sovereignty of individual states go out the door? If so, what replaces it? I just think that reforming the current system is the most practical way to go. I put in these stark terms and your readers will be familiar with Churchill’s great critique of democracy, and I think the same is true with the United Nations.
So it’s not about some belief in chanting the UN mantra for the sake of chanting the UN mantra. No, it’s not ideological, it’s practical. And contrast that with the various international systems of the pre-1945 period. And in this country which tends to be pro-American, and I have a career record of being pro-American myself, support for the UN tends to poll over 60 percent.
INVESTIGATE: On the issue of pro- and anti-Americanism, what did you make of that report from the Lowy institute which said that more Australians were more afraid of the United States than Osama bin Laden?
RUDD: I was actually in China when that poll came out so, so I haven’t gotten into it, but in terms of the responses in the poll that supported the US alliance, I think the figure was 38 per cent, and for America itself it was 58 per cent. That I think is an interesting insight into the way Australians think. Australians, since 1941 when [Labor] ran the country, we had an alliance with the United States for the first time, which was under an Australian Labor government, and we took a lot of criticism from those who accused us of departing from the mother country. We have been consistent supporters of a military alliance with America, and that has not changed and that will not change.
However, support of the US military alliance does not mean that you have to subsume every tenet of Australian foreign policy to American foreign policy. There are going to be areas of difference. There have been in the past, and you know what? There will be in the future. This is not the sort of thing where you just go and tick every box.
INVESTIGATE: Back to the whole concept of multilateral alliances and structures, what do you say to the criticism that if we were in the ASEAN treaty a few years back, we wouldn’t have ben able to liberate East Timor because we would have had to respect the sovereignty of Indonesia?
RUDD: I think it’s an intellectually incoherent argument, the reason being that in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation refers to Article 42 of the UN charter, which in turn provides for collective action by states. It was only when the UN mandated action in East Timor that the Indonesians withdrew and we entered uncontested under the terms of the relevant UN resolultions. To use the ancient Latin phrase, that argument is complete bullshit.
INVESTIGATE: Where do you see China fitting in to geopolitics these days, especially with the Taiwan issue?
RUDD: I think the central foreign policy challenge for Australia in the next quarter-century is China. I don’t think the Howard government necessarily grasps that. If you look at the Prime Minister’s speech to the Lowy Institute recently, he described us Asia as constituting the stadium of international affairs for the century ahead. Well, that’s terrific that the Prime Minister has discovered a pre-existing reality which is staring the nation in the face for the previous quarter-century. Anyway, leaving that to one side, the core component of that is China. Why? China is the dynamic, and it is an unfolding story of rapid economic growth. Back in 1984 it has an economy slightly smaller than Canada and slightly larger than that of Australia. Now, depending on the measure, you’re talking about an economy that’s the fourth-largest in the world and getting larger.
INVESTIGATE: There’s a lot of economic growth there, but not much political freedom…
RUDD: The open question is, is China going in the direction of a democracy? Anyone making bold predictions on that I think has an excess of courage and a possible deficit of wisdom. It is a very difficult question to predict. To answer to the question how China will evolve politically, well, frankly it is impossible to predict.
On the question of China’s foreign policy behaviour, China now in terms of diplomatic and foreign policy activity in the region is much more activist than it has been in the past. China in the 1980s did not have much of a view of what was going on in the region. Now it has an acute view.
On the question of Taiwan, it is one of continuing core sensitivities, not just in terms of peace and prosperity across the Taiwan straits, but peace between China and the United States, peace between China and Japan, peace within the wider region. This is the core question within the core question.
INVESTIGATE: So if China makes a play for Taiwan, and the US ends up on the side of China, where does that leave Australia?
RUDD: The answer I will give is that it is not productive for the government or the alternative government of this country to speculate on how our alliance relationship with the United States will apply given future strategic circumstances.
INVESTIGATE: But how do you feel about Taiwanese independence in the meantime?
RUDD: We’re long term supporters since 1972. Remember, Labor Party history isn’t bad on China is not a bad one. The conservatives pretended China didn’t exist for 23 years, and you know, we thought that was kind of stupid. Our treaty with China remains unchanged, and we don’t budge from that. Now what is involved domestically within Taiwan, in terms of a liberal democratic principle of management, that we of course support, and I have long been on the record supporting that. I studied in Taiwan as a student, and I’ve seen Taiwan change over the years, but that doesn’t alter our view of the One China policy.
INVESTIGATE: Moving elsewhere in the region, regarding the insurgency in the Philippines, we’ve got a story on the al Qaida-linked Islamic problem. Should Australia be doing more?
RUDD: The connections with the wider al Qaida networks in the southern Philippines has been the subject of some study, and I’m of the view that there are connections. Based on advice I’ve seen it’s quite clear to me that there are connections. That leads to Labor’s fundamental premise in its policy on counterterrorism in the region, that is, beyond rhetorical flourish by a government with an eye on opinion polls in this country, as opposed to doing the hard yards of actually tackling terrorism on the ground, we argue that to be effective in the war against terrorism, what you need is a comprehensive, regional counterterrorism strategy which covers each dimension of the problem. That means, for example, effective intelligence coordination across all south-east Asian states, police cooperation across all south-east Asian states, and on top of that it means dealing with some of the underlying social and economic factors which make it easier for terrorist organisations to recruit. That is the sort of strategy we need. At present what we’ve got is a bit of money here, a bit of money there; fund that capability-building unit in Jakarta; who knows what the one in Kuala Lumpur is doing; what about the one in Bangkok?
As a starting premise, what we argue for is a comprehensive region-wide audit of our counterterrorism capabilities if you’re serious the enterprise, that’s where you start. Then the second thing you do is identify capability gaps, and you agree on a strategy across the region in order to clear the gaps. This is not happening. You have a bit here and bit there, usually in response to an event, and that is a classical conservative party misunderstanding of a fundamental national security challenge.
INVESTIGATE: It sounds like you’re talking civilian operations – but what about on the military side. If we had knowledge of someone with a suitcase nuclear weapon somewhere bound for Australia, does Australia have the right to go stop it?
RUDD: That’s a fantastic hypothetical…
INVESTIGATE: Perhaps, but so was 9/11 before it happened.
RUDD: Look: the only way Australia, a country with twenty million people and limited national security resources of our own, both military and non-military, could do so is collaboratively, with the states of the region.
I mean, John Howard by talking about unilateral action is alienating regional states and the diplomatic support necessary to actually engender the cooperative relationships which are necessary to stop terrorists on the ground. This is a mindless piece of politics and hairy-chestedness.
Ask yourself this question: if you’ve got a problem with terrorists in south-east Asia, can you concede that Australia could in any way act other than collaboratively with the local state involved?