Monday, September 09, 2002

We keep hearing about the risk that Britain will be the only state standing alongside the U.S. in the event of war with Iraq. This has become somewhat less likely in the last few days, but it was never very likely. While Canada, for instance, is sounding obstructionist, the U.S. can almost certainly count on support from Australia-- and, indeed, already is counting on it. Australia lacks Britain's force-projection capabilities; but it also lacks Britain's messy EU ties and its primitive left.

The Land Down Under was the first state to invoke a mutual-defence treaty with the United States last September; days before NATO held that the North Atlantic Treaty had been triggered, Australia said so about the ANZUS pact. (Note that ANZUS is now entirely a treaty between Australia and the U.S., since New Zealand has effectively withdrawn from it.) And this from a state whose nearest neighbors are Muslim giants that it would rather not offend, before it was at all clear how Malaysia and Indonesia would line up in the war on terror. Prime Minister John Howard was in Washington on 9-11, and his administration has been firmly on side ever since.

I don't want to make Howard out to be a great hero; with respect to refugees and asylum he's been really quite terrible. (See this article, or this paper, by my friend, the distinguished Australian political scientist William Maley.) But his administration has faithfully reflected Australia's political climate on matters of war and peace, and that climate is very different from that of Germany, France, or even Britain. Just compare Scott Ritter's current stance with that of Richard Butler, an Australian former UN weapons inspector and UN ambassador who says that it's the Security Council that's on trial: "If the Security Council cannot get its act together on this one, I do not believe it would survive this failure to put down this most extreme rejection of its authority." Howard can't precommit to military action the details of which he doesn't know; but expect the Aussies to fight alongside us.

On a related note, the Australian-led UN reconstruction of East Timor seems to me a useful example of institution-building by outsiders, one that could be kept in mind for today's Afghanistan and tomorrow's Iraq. It required a large and serious investment of time, money, and attention; but it set limited, attainable goals and a finite timetable. And it was substantially successful. Our quarter-heartedness in Afghanistant is making our long-term project much harder, and is contributing to a sense among both Europeans and Iraqis that we can't be counted on to do the job right in Baghdad. See Spencer Abraham's article in the New Republic.

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