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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 8222

STATEMENT TO PARLIAMENT BY THE PRIME MINISTER ON THE GULF CRISIS TUESDAY 4 DECEMBER 1990

Photo of Hawke, Robert

Hawke, Robert

Period of Service: 11/03/1983 to 20/12/1991

More information about Hawke, Robert on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 04/12/1990

Release Type: Statement in Parliament

Transcript ID: 8222

STATEMENT TO PARLIAMENT BY THE PRIME MINI STER
ON THE GULF CRISIS
TUESDAY 4 DECEMBER 1990
Mr Speaker,
I wish to inform the House, and the people of Australia, of
the Government:' s views on developments in the Gulf crisis,
and of the Government's policies in response to those
developments. Members will k~ now that on 29 November the Security Council
of the United Nations passed an extremely grave Resolution.
That Resolution is momentous, and in some respects it is
quite unprecedented.
Resolution 678I authorises member-states of the United
Nations, from 15 January 1991, to use all necessary means to
uphold and implement the Security Council's previous
Resolutions on the Gulf crisis. Essentially, those previous
Resolutions call on Iraq to withdraw unconditionally from
Kuwait, and to release all hostages.
The Resolution also requests all states to provide
appropriate support for actions taken under the Resolution.
The words ' all. necessary means' carry a clear meaning in
this resolution: they encompass the use of armed force to
compel compliaince with the Security Council's Resolutions.
The UN has of ten authorised the deployment of military
forces to prevent conflict; but only once before has it
authorised the! use of armed force to compel compliance with
its Resolutions. That was in Korea, forty years ago.
Korea is in that respect a precedent for the action which
the Security Council has now taken. But in other respects,
and in very important respects, this Resolution is quite
unprecedented. Never before has such a grave and momentous Resolution been
so broadly supported. Honourable members will know that
the Resolution was carried by a vote of twelve to two, with
one abstention. They may not realise that the Resolution
was actually E-nari by six members of the Council,
including not just the United States and Britain, but also
the Soviet Union, France, Canada and Romania.
I t

The fact that both superpowers were prepared, with four
other nations, to sponsor this Resolution shows in the most
concrete terms that the nations of the world are
overwhelmingly united in their condemnation of Iraq's
aggression; and in their determination to do whatever it
takes to use all necessary means to make sure Iraq's
aggression is not allowed to stand.
In a century marked by terrible wars, uneasy peace and
international distrust, this sort of response to armed
aggression has proved an elusive dream. Now it is a
reality. Resolution 678 offers the best prospect of a just and
peaceful resolution of the crisis. In passing Resolution
678 the Security Council is not seeking war. On the
contrary, the Resolution, while explicitly contemplating the
use of force if necessary, is founded on the hope that a
clear statement of that preparedness will in fact avoid war.
As President Bush wrote to me in a letter over the weekend
on his decision to seek high-level talks with the Iraqis,
" I know of your hope which I share that military
force be used only as a last resort".
Resolution 678 is seeking to show Iraq's leaders, just as
clearly as possible, that they must withdraw from Kuwait and
release the hostages. The Security Council has given Iraq's
leaders, in the words of the Resolution, ' one final
opportunity, as a pause of goodwill, to do so.'
This Resolution is a stark signal, but Iraq's leaders have
shown that no softer signal will move them. They have
ignored statements from around the world condemning their
actions, and they have ignored the concrete expression of
that condemnation in the mandatory and comprehensive
economic sanctions imposed by the UN.
Those sanctions have been very widely complied with, and
effectively enforced. Many countries, like Australia, have
paid heavily in lost earnings, and many, including
Australia, have contributed to enforcing the sanctions.
Nothing could be more effective than these sanctions in
persuading Iraq to get out of Kuwait, except the threat of
armed force.
This Government has nev * er ru ' led qut the, possibility that
armed force may need to be used as a last resort to resolve
the gulf crisis.
The question is, whether now is the right time to
contemplate this further and graver step. Should the
sanctions not be given longer to work? To answer that we
have to clarify how the sanctions have been intended to
work. Has their aim been to starve Iraqi people into
submission, or has it been to show Iraqis leaders that the
world would not accept their incorporation of Kuwait?

The answer is plain. The aim of the sanctions has been to
prove to Iraq., both through the seriousness of the action
itself, and through the great sacrifices which the sanctions
have imposed already both on Iraq and on its former trading
partners, that the world would not accept Iraq's invasion of
Kuwait. Starving Iraq's people into submission was not the UIN's aim
in imposing sanctions. That was implicit in the decision to
allow exceptions in cases of humanitarian need. Nor do I
believe that further economic hardship for Iraq's people is
likely to change the minds of Iraq's leaders. Sanctions can
be very powerful instruments of persuasion as they have
been in South Africa but they cannot force the hand of a
dictatorial leadership which is willing to ignore the
interests of its people.
I am myself surprised and deeply disappointed that Iraq's
leadership should have proven itself so resistant to the
message of sanctions; surprised because no rational reading
of Iraq's self-interest by its leaders should have allowed
them to ignore the message the sanctions sent.
The sanctions have succeeded for over three months in
virtually stopping all Iraq's trade with the rest of the
world. And yet they have not succeeded in persuading Iraq's
leaders to withdraw from Kuwait, nor to show the least sign
of reconsidering their disastrous position.
Meanwhile the economic impact of the Gulf crisis is causing
damage to fragile developing-country economies around the
world, and the difficulty and uncertainty of relying on
sanctions alonre to resolve the crisis is becoming all too
apparent. We believe that it is therefore timely to send an even
clearer signal the clearest and strongest signal that can
be sent that Iraq must leave Kuwait. We believe the
Resolution must improve whatever prospects there are that
Iraq will withdraw. We believe that this Resolution offers
the best prospect that war can be avoided.
Since Resolution 678 was passed, Iraq's apparent willingness
to consider President Bush's offer of talks, to be held
strictly within the framework of the UN Resolutions on the
gulf crisis, shows that already Iraq may be re-assessing its
position. in. the light of.. that. Resolution.
But we recognise that the power of Resolution 678 depends on
the acceptance by UN members that in the last resort it may
be necessary -to compel Iraq to comply with the UN's
Resolution by force of arms. Otherwise it is empty;
something that Iraq can shrug of f; something that would fail
to compel IraqI's leaders to address the terrible
consequences of a refusal to withdraw; a missed opportunity
to drive home the benefits for them and for their country of
making a choice for peace.

The gravity of the situation makes it important to restate
the reasons we believe that Iraq's actions must be reversed,
even to the point of using armed force, and why we believe
that important Australian interests are at stake.
Iraq's seizure of Kuwait was an act of pure aggression,
motivated solely by the desire of Jraq's leaders to increase
their territory, their wealth and their power. I would ask
anyone who is inclined to credit Saddam Hussein' s claims of
a wider mission on behalf of the Arab people, to explain the
incorporation of Kuwait as the nineteenth province of Iraq.
I would ask them to explain the plundering of Kuwaiti
property and the persecution of its residents.
And I would ask them to explain away the testimony before
the Security Council last week by people who have fled from
Kuwait. Even allowing for the exaggeration common in such
circumstances, this testimony was indeed shocking.
As well, Australia has been deeply concerned by the
consequences for the Middle East as a whole if Iraq's
aggression was allowed to stand. Who could doubt that
having swallowed Kuwait, a stronger Iraq would not then turn
on its other neighbours? Who will explain how Iraq could
then be prevented from establishing an hegemony over the
entire region; an hegemony backed not only by chemical
weapons, but sooner or later by nuclear weapons as well?
And who could doubt the brutality of that hegemony?
These are not scare-mongering speculations. They are
serious assessments of the regional consequences of allowing
Iraq's aggression to stand. And they carry with them the
terrible question were we to turn a blind eye now, what
still greater crisis, with what still greater stakes, would
we have to act to resolve in the future, at what still
greater cost?
These are crucial issues. They relate to the fate of vast
numbers of our fellow human beings. But these humanitarian
concerns do not stand alone.-They stand alongside, and
reinforce, important Australian interests which are deeply
engaged in the Gulf.
First, Australia has a direct and immediate interest in the
peace and prosperity of the Middle East. It is an important
market for our products and an important source of imports.
Australia-needs the-Gulf'-s-. oil, -and -our -trading partners
elsewhere in the world need the Gulf's oil. So stability in
the Gulf is important to all Australians.
But most important of all, standing higher than all the
factors I have mentioned, Australia has an interest in the
establishment and maintenance of an international order
based on the Charter of the United Nations. This has been
from the outset, and remains, the Government's guiding
principle in this crisis.

Our highest priority is to uphold the principles of the
United Nations: that international disputes must not be
settled by force; that national borders must be respected;
and that aggressors must not be permitted to prevail.
Those principles were enshrined in the UN charter by the
generation who saw the world slide into chaos in the 1930' s,
and who strove in 1945 to build an. international order which
would stop that happening again.
With the end of the Cold War the need to rebuild that order
is urgent. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait proves the urgency of
that need, and provides the first test of our ability to
meet it. With the momentous changes changes so much for
the better in the world political scene over the past few
years the world community has a tremendous opportunity to
achieve a more secure and just ordering of international
relations; to try again to give effect to the principles to
which the founders of the UN aspired.
The re-establiLshment of that order engages our direct
interests as well as our sense of right and wrong. The
security and prosperity of middle powers like Australia will
in the years ahead depend directly on the strength of the
UN's principles. And the strength of those principles in
the years ahead depends absolutely on the support we give
them today. To put it bluntly, if we or our neighbours were
subject to aggression in the future, we would want, and we
may need, the support of the UN. It is in our interests to
support the UN today.
That support must include our recognition that the UN should
be willing to defend its principles with armed force if
necessary. War is a terrible thing. Some people will find it
paradoxical that the UN, as an organisation devoted to
peace, should contemplate war. But that tragic paradox has
to be accepted. It can be necessary to be prepared to
fight, and in fact to fight, in order to secure peace in the
future.
That necessity was recognised by the United Nations at its
outset, and is: inherent in its nature. No one knew the
horrors of war better than the generation who built the UN.
Dr Evatt, who as Australia's Foreign Minister played a
leading role in establishing the UN, said in this House in
1945 that if economic or-diplomatic sanctions
" are deemed inappropriate to the situation or prove
ineffective, the Security Council may take any military
action necessary to suppress the aggressor."
We would all fervently hope for a peaceful resolution. But
if we rule out the use of force against a regime which has
already used it, we have given up seeking a resolution at
all. The international community would have simply
acquiesced in Iraq's aggression.

For all these reasons, the Government unreservedly supports
the United Nations Security Council Resolution 678.
Our support for the Resolution imposes on us an obligation
to respond to the request, in its third paragraph, for all
Nations to provide appropriate support for actions taken
under the Resolution. I emphasise. that the Resolution not
only authorises all necessary means; it explicitly requests
that member states provide support.
Members will be aware that the Government has provided
support for the sanctions imposed earlier by the Security
Council by deploying a task force of three ships of the RAN
two frigates and a supply ship to help enforce the
embargo against Iraq. Our ships have been performing that
task with great distinction, and have played a major role in
the multinational effort. They have brought credit to
themselves and to their country.
The passage of Resolution 678 clearly requires us to
consider whether we should extend the operational role of
our task force to allow it to prepare for, and if necessary
to participate in, operations envisaged by the Resolution.
In the light of the direct Australian interests which are
engaged in the crisis, and in the light of our support for
the specific measures contained in the Resolution, this
Government believes that Australia should take this course.
I therefore inform the House that Australia is prepared to
make our naval task force available to serve with allied
forces in operations authorised by Resolution 678, should
that become necessary.
Accordingly, if conflict occurs of a kind which is
contemplated and authorised by the Resolution, our ships
would be available to participate in action with the allied
fleet in the Gulf, where they would be in a position to make
an important contribution to its air-defence capabilities.
The Government will now authorise the ADF to deploy ships of
our task force from the Gulf of Oman into the Persian Gulf
to exercise and operate with allied naval forces in
preparation for that role. The ADF will also now
participate in allied military planning.
These steps need to be taken now because they are essential
to ensuring that our ships are fully prepared to operate as
safely and effectively as possible should conflict erupt.
They do not formally commit Australian forces to any action;
ADF units will remain at all times under Australian national
command. Our ships will operate principally with ships of the US,
Britain and Canada, under US operational control. This is
normal under such circumstances, and will contribute both to
the effectiveness and to the safety of our ships and men.

Under these command arrangements, the roles and missions of
our ships would be specified by the Chief of the Defence
Force in conformity with Government decisions. The task
force commander would be responsible for ensuring that
specific tasks assigned to Australian ships conform to these
specified roles and missions, and he would be required to
refer any disagreements back to the CDF and the government
for decision. In all circumstances Australia will retain
priority over the assignment of our ships.
As well as maintaining the task force of three ships, the
Government wiJll send another two medical teams totalling
some twenty people to join the two already serving on
hospital ships in the Gulf.
It is not proposed to make any other contribution of naval,
air or ground forces.
Australia's naval task force will be maintained at the
present level of two combat ships and a supply ship. The
frigates HMAS Darwin and HMAS Adelaide will leave the gulf
region to return to Australia in the next day or two, after
being replaced by the frigate HMAS Sydney and the destroyer
HMAS Brisbane.
This is a significant commitment which is proportionate to
the interests we have at stake and to our national
resources. It is also a practical commitment. Our ships
are in the area, and they are trained and equipped for this
task. We are confident that they will be properly prepared
for the role they may have to play.
Should conflict break out, naval forces in the Gulf could
face a serious threat, particularly from Iraqi aircraft.
The role of our ships will be to help defend against that
threat. It will be a hazardous role. The decision I am
announcing today is therefore a very serious one. I have
consulted the Leader of the Opposition on it. In taking
that decision I am fully conscious of the difficult task we
are asking our navy to perform. We recognise the great
contribution they are making to Australia, and to world
peace. I know there will be some who will ask why we should
contribute in -the Gulf when others do not. The essential
answer is this that what others do or don't do does not
obviate our responsibility to j udge-. or. ours ' elves what is
right, and what is in our interests, and to act accordingly.
We also need to recognise that not -only should we
contribute, but unlike many others, we can contribute we
have a relevant capability to contribute.
I know there wiLll also be some who cavil at the leading role
being played in the Gulf by the United States. They will
suspect that other nations who participate will only be
serving American interests. That view is profoundly
mistaken.

The US is certainly playing a leading role, as we would
expect from a nation as wealthy and powerful as the US.
Indeed, we would be disappointed if the US did not play such
a leading role. But the US role has been clearly at one in
this case with the wider interests of the international
community, as demonstrated by the support for Resolution 678
in the Security Council.
There are even those who have purported to base their
assessment of the Gulf situation on the presumption of moral
equivalence between the US and Iraqi positions. If such
views were to be taken seriously, it would reflect very
poorly on the standard of our public debate. Let there be
no ambiguity here no mindless muddying of the waters. If
it comes to conflict, the international community will not
be the aggressor. The United States and. the other allies
will not be the aggressor. The aggressor is the nation that
took, occupied and annexed Kuwait in August.
The Labor Party comes to this issue with a lot of history.
For much of its one hundred years the ALP has struggled to
ensure that Australia's armed forces are not used to fight
other peoples' wars. In the 1930' s that led Labor to turn
its back on aggression, as so many others did in so many
parts of the world.
But Labor learnt the lessons of that mistake, and did more
than its share to correct it. Dr Evatt recognised not only
that aggression must be resisted, wherever it occurs, and by
armed force if need be. He also recognised that all nations
must be prepared to contribute to that task. As he said in
1945: " It must be made crystal clear that the nations seeking
representation in the world organisation must be
prepared to contribute their share of physical force to
restrain the action of proved aggressors.
Since its establishment, Labor has been committed to
strengthening the UN as the arbiter of a better world order.
That is still our goal, more so than ever, as the passing of
the Cold War brings the goal closer to our grasp. And we
recognise the obligations which those aspirations impose on
us as a nation.
Confident as I am of the importance of Australia's interests
and the correctness of ou. r approach, cannot deny that the
decisions we are taking are onerous indeed. Should it come
to conflict, Australians may be involved in combat for the
first time in nearly twenty years albeit in very different
circumstances. This is a heavy responsibility, but I and my
Government will not shirk the exercise of that
responsibility.

Before closing, it is important to restate what I have
stressed before. The Australian Government and people have
no ill-will to the people of Iraq, and wish them no harm.
For their sake as much as for the rest of the world I
earnestly hope that peace will prevail. If Iraq has genuine
grievances they can be heard in recognised international
forums, but riot until Iraq has complied with the UN's
resolutions. Let me turn lastly to the issue which has been most
constantly in our thoughts throughout this crisis; the
situation of Australians, and of other foreign nationals,
held in Iraq and Kuwait against their will.
We have all heard in the last twenty-four hours of
suggestions including from Iraq's Ambassador in Australia
that Australian hostages may soon be. released. Of course
we hope that is true. We say to Iraq, as we have said
continually over recent months let them all go.
Like all Australians whatever we may think of Iraq's
propaganda lcottery being played out in Baghdad I hope
that as many of our people as possible may find their
freedom through it. But I recognise, as most Australians
do, that that lottery is entirely arbitrary. There is no
way to guarantee the freedom of all our people, except
perhaps by surrendering our policy and our national
interests entirely to the hostage-taker. Most Australians
understand that, including many of our people held in Iraq,
as I know through correspondence with me. It does them
great credit that they do understand that.
The only way to ensure the release of all our hostages is to
resolve the crisis. And the only way to resolve the crisis
is to press Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. That is what
Resolution 678 is intended to achieve, and that is what our
support for Resolution 678 is intended to achieve. We
believe it is our best chance.
We see in Resolution 678 our best chance to get all the
hostages home, to get Iraq out of Kuwait, to bring stability
to the Middle East, and to take a vital step towards
establishing a new world order in which nations like
Australia can live in peace. That is why we have supported
it by word, and that is why we will support it by deed.
We see in Resolution 678 the tragic necessity to confront
aggression, if necessary with-. armed force.
And we see in Resolution 678 the hope that, through
international cooperation, would-be aggressors will in
future be deterred before they begin.

Mr Speaker, I finish on a practical note. In the light of
the situation in the Gulf, and particularly of the timetable
implied by Resolution 678, I have decided that I should not
at this time plan to be away from Australia in January 1991.
I have therefore decided that I will at this point defer my
plans to travel to Europe at that time as had been planned.
One purpose of that visit had been. to allow me to pursue
Australia's interests in the Uraguay Round, if the Round is
not concluded this year. I will of course remain committed
to, and active in, pursuing these interests, including by
travelling for direct talks at a different time if that is
required.

Transcript 8222