Monday, September 20, 2004

Australia threatens first strike on terror

Ozzy PM, John Howard, today reiterated his intention to unilaterally and preemptively strike at suspected terrorist targets in Australia's neighbouring countries, if he believed they represented a threat to Australia's security.

Given Howard's record of involvement in a preemptive strike against Iraq, based on the mistaken belief that Iraq posed a serious threat, many of our neighbours could be excused for feeling concerned and uneasy about the Howard government's bellicose posturing.

Add to that, Howard's enthusiasm for the US missile defence system and his decision to purchase $450 million worth of intermediate range cruise missiles, which enhance our capability to conduct such preemptive strikes, it is quite likely that some of our neighbours are wondering where all this is headed.

Perhaps most troubling is the Howard government's determination to impose US-style hegemony on the region, taking its cue from the unilateralist Bush administration, and living up to its reputation, in some quarters, as an arrogant "deputy sheriff" of the United States.

The opposition leader, Mark Latham, wasted no time in condemning Howard's "clumsy foreign policy", ruling out any support for such preemptive strikes and reaffirming his party's commitment to work cooperatively with our neighbours in the region.

This in turn provoked the usual accusations of Labour being "weak on national security" from Howard and Downer, who have both become increasingly shrill in their personal attacks on Mark Latham in the lead up to the October 9 federal election.

No doubt, many in the region will be hoping for a change of government here in Australia, not least the East Timorese, who have been rather unfairly treated by the Howard government over the marine boundary dispute involving the offshore Greater Sunrise petroleum reserves.

In that dispute, Howard has unilaterally withdrawn Australia from the jurisdiction of the World Court and refused to negotiate on the contested boundary, claiming Australian possession of the seabed to within 9 miles of the East Timorese coast line, 60 miles from Australian shores.

The alternative Latham government has said it will return to the negotiating table with East Timor, a welcome sign that Australia might soon become, once again, a fair-go sort of country that respects the rights and aspirations of our neighbours.

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