US Citizens Will Effectively Decide Whether Our Nation’s Constituents Enter War With China

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USA and China

As Australians for War Powers Reform (AWPR) pointed out recently, the nations of France, Germany, Denmark, Ireland, Spain and Norway, all “require parliamentary approval for overseas troop deployments” to conflicts that have broken out on foreign soil.

However, “by contrast, the Australian government has no obligation to notify, consult or seek approval from parliament”, explained the civil society group that, since 2012, has been pushing for this country to change how it makes this decision, which is commonly referred to as war powers.

Indeed, at present, if Canberra wants to enter a foreign theatre of war, the National Security Committee makes that commitment, which is a body comprised of a small number of cabinet ministers the reigning PM appoints, and thus basically leaves it as a decision of that top minister.

But, somewhat tellingly, despite Labor having pledged in its 2021 National Platform to hold an inquiry into making this a whole-of-parliament decision, which then triggers the want of the entire community, the government had a committee probe it and then head the reform off at the pass.

And on making its observation, AWPR also highlights that in the US, the president consults congress on entering into battle, which, given our country’s war history and its increasing interoperability with the US military, effectively means the American people decide on war on behalf of Australians.

Maintaining control

“An Albanese Labor government will refer the issue of how Australia makes decisions to send service personnel into international armed conflict to an inquiry to be conducted by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Trade,” Labor’s National Platform continues to read.

But the actual committee investigation is done and dusted, as the inquiry report was released last March, and it found that war powers, “arguably the most significant and serious institutional power” should fundamentally be a “prerogative of the executive”.

This outcome, however, came as no surprise, as, on having launched the inquiry in September 2022, defence minister Richard Marles proceeded to write to the committee to recommend against any reforms being made, whilst foreign minister Penny Wong said there would be no change in February.

If the reform had been made and war broke out between the US and China, and Albanese thought it best to enter into it, that question would then be put to the vote of the entire parliament, which, with its members having been voted in by the various constituencies, represents all Australians.

But instead, what the government has redetermined to be the case is that the prime minister and ministers Penny Wong, Richard Marles, Jim Chalmers, Chris Bowen, Mark Dreyfus, Clare O’Neil, Katy Gallagher and Pat Conroy make the decision on whether our nation’s young people go into battle.

And it must be remembered that the eight other ministers making up the war cabinet in order to assist the leader of the government in making such an important decision, were all selected by Albanese, so it’s rather likely, they’ll all be in agreement with him.

Follow the leader

The reason why war powers reform is such a loaded subject at present is that it’s looking increasingly likely that the United States will enter into what would prove to be a devastating conflict against China, over Beijing now challenging Washington’s global hegemony.

And there are a few reasons why a decision to enter such a conflict would likely see the war cabinet deciding to follow the White House into battle, with the first being that, as the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) detailed in a report last year, Canberra always does.

Since World War Two, Australia has followed the US into eight foreign theatres of war, commencing with the Korean War, followed by Vietnam, then the Gulf War, the Afghan War, the Iraqi War, the war on the Islamic State in Iraq and that in Syria, as well as fighting in Yemen in a naval capacity.

This behavioural pattern isn’t likely to be altered in terms of a war against China either, especially as the Morrison government committed the nation to a new security pact with the US and the UK, known as AUKUS, of which the Albanese government has been all the more happy to comply with.

The AUKUS arrangement not only serves to strengthen the relationship between the three English-speaking nations, but it specifically involves Australia obtaining attack submarines that will have the ability to target mainland China, as well as opens up local waters for US subs to operate in.

This interoperability with the US navy serves to complement a preexisting arrangement agreed to by the Gillard government, and officially entered into by the Abbott administration, which provides for an ever-increasing mixing of both nations’ armies and air forces, mainly on Australian soil.

The 2014 Force Posture Agreement not only provides that a growing number of US marines are stationed here, and that our air forces become interoperable, but it further provides that the White House can access dozens of our local military bases, which it controls if it decides to upgrade one.

And with this broadening interoperability, it makes it less possible for our nation not to follow the AUKUS leader into a conflict with China, as the line between our nation’s military and that of the US is increasingly blurred, especially as a growing part of Washington’s military force is stationed here.

War is a given if the US public says so

That the US economy is reliant on warfare is no controversial matter. But with its release of its Defence Strategic Review 2023, what perhaps is raising eyebrows is that the Albanese government has indicated that military conflict will also increasingly serve to keep Australian coffers full.

With a cost of $368 billion in return for eight attack class nuclear-powered subs being paid off over a period that lasts until at least midway through the 2050s, federal Labor has condemned our nation to becoming its own war-based economy with decades of austerity measures to facilitate this.

So, if US president Joe Biden does find reason to launch his desired war against China, he will put it to the US congress, where each of its members who’ve been voted into office by the various US state constituencies will determine whether such a conflict will proceed.

And if Biden gets his way, and his nation enters into what will likely prove the most destructive war in human history, Joe will only have to call Anthony, who will then convene a meeting of this nation’s war cabinet, which will go on to ponder a question we already know the answer to.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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