Articles by " Daryl Morini"

The ANZAC spirit can prevent war

“We laughed, knowing that better men would come,
And greater wars: when each proud fighter brags
He wars on Death, for lives; not men, for flags.”
– Wilfred Owen, The Next War

Australia and New Zealand celebrated ANZAC Day this week. This was a solemn occasion for families and friends to remember lives scarred and stolen by war. Some argue that ANZAC Day has become a ‘nationalistic fix’ and a jingoistic day of hero-worship, with school children taught to deify patriotic sacrifice and war heroes. But whatever one thinks of the cultural significance and historical veracity of the ANZAC spirit, this national holiday should also become a day on which to reflect on potential wars, and how to prevent them.

A hypothetical ANZAC Centre for the Study of Peace, Conflict and War, which had been proposed by a report of the National Commission on the Commemoration of the ANZAC Centenary, now appears to have been rejected by a high-level advisory board. The price tag of $20 million appears to have been a deciding factor in dropping this option.

This is a shame – and not only because I’m an academic with a specialisation in the prevention of war and, therefore, a bread-and-butter interest in such a centre. It is a shame because the questions that informed this recommendation are as important as ever: Read more

Why do wars happen?

How can they be prevented?

If they can’t be prevented, how can they be contained?

As the original report noted, these are questions which soldiers and civilians in the First World War, and again in the aftermath of the Second, have agonised over. ‘Today’, it went on, ‘these questions remain as vivid and urgent as they were almost 100 years ago’. Indeed, although studying the causes of war and how it might be prevented is no certain defence against its outbreak, this fact can’t justify complacency or inaction, as the report argued.

True, many academics, think tanks and government officials spend their waking hours studying defence and foreign policy, military capabilities, and strategic studies. However, for every 100 books on the history of particular wars at your local bookstore, good luck finding even one that dedicates more than the introductory chapter discussing its possible prevention.

Rather than treating the outbreak of the First World War as some inevitable tragedy, I want to see more Australian academics, think tankers, officials and the public talking about the multiple potential futures which existed back in early 1914. For example, as well as focusing on Gallipoli, there should be more discussion of Sir Edward Grey’s mediation proposal during the July crisis.  What can we learn from his failure? Could he have succeeded? How would Australian leaders deal with a modern variant of this great power crisis?

In 1956, Robert Menzies was sent to Egypt to mediate the Suez Crisis. Although he failed, there ought to be more attention by think tanks and scholars analysing why, and whether he could’ve succeeded under different circumstances. Why don’t school children learn this part of Australian history? And how would Australia seek to mediate such a crisis today?

The need to learn lessons from such historical episodes is more than academic. Diplomatic history is as useful to future national decision-makers as military history is to generals.

A modern example of a war that could have been prevented is Afghanistan. This is bound to be a politically inconvenient argument, and is therefore liable to being charged as un-Australian or unpatriotic. But, according to some U.S.officials, bilateral talks on the Taliban extraditing Bin Laden to the US before the American intervention were full of missed opportunities. As one former CIA station chief noted: ‘We had no common language. Ours was, “Give up bin Laden”. They were saying, “Do something to help us give him up”.’ In October 2001, President George W. Bush rejected a Taliban offer to hand Bin Laden to a neutral country, if the American bombing campaign stopped.

As such, the ANZAC Centenary commemorations should feature strong public discussion of past wars, not only in terms of the necessity of patriotic sacrifice, but in terms of the fact that such sacrifice in lives and treasure is never inevitable, and is often preventable. This raises the question of whether it’s unpatriotic to talk about preventing war. I should hope not; reflecting on ways to prevent war is no indictment of the Australian conduct of war, particularly in wars of necessity or national survival, such as WWII. Instead, this is a necessary inquiry into the political decisions which lead states and societies to war, and how and when these decisions might be influenced by persuasion or deterrence.

Regardless of where government money goes for the Centenary celebrations, Australian think tanks, academics, writers and the general public should take the prevention of war more seriously. It isn’t a science, or even a quasi-science. It’s a quintessentially human art, and one which we don’t yet value or understand enough. This needs to change. A future in which Australia ‘wars on Death, for lives; not men, for flags’ is actually within reach. To ensure that we’re the better people Wilfred Owen dreamed of, we must begin by thinking long and hard about the wars of the past, and how we could have prevented them. We must then think about how to avoid the potential wars of the future.

Daryl Morini is a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland and a Pacific Forum CSIS WSD-Handa Non-Resident Fellow.

How we can prevent Japan–China war

A demonstrator bares a shirt declaring the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands as Japanese territory. Nationalist group 'Ganbare Nippon' has seized on the issue as an example that Japan needs to enact a tougher foreign policy position towards China and its recent 'aggression'.

The Australian debate on the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute is interesting for what it reveals, and what it omits. So far, very few are talking about Australia’s diplomatic strategy—and that’s a big problem. While the best strategy will probably involve elements of military balancing, it’s worth examining Australia’s potential diplomatic role in the peaceful de-escalation of Japan–China tensions.

Australian foreign policy, under Bob Carr, has been prudently non-committal on this dispute. That’s a smart approach, but prudence and even-handedness don’t equate a diplomatic strategy. Australia has some diplomatic leverage in the current crisis, in part thanks to its status as a new member of the UN Security Council and future G20 host. And we have good reason to take a keen interest.

It matters very little to the direct Australian national interest who owns a pile of rocks in the East China Sea. What matters is that Japan and China don’t go to war over them and risk Asia’s (and hence our) security and prosperity in the process. We can’t afford to be so complacent on this crisis as to assume that major war, involving Australian lives, could not result from it. Read more

Under a reasonable reading of ANZUS and the San Francisco Peace Treaty, Australia has no alliance obligations to involve itself, should war break out and the US come to the aid of Japan. The United States, however, might have some expectations about Australia’s involvement under a strict reading of both texts, and this is something for us to consider very seriously.

For the above reason, it’s important to emphasise that Australia cannot aim to directly mediate this dispute. In short, it’s not seen as a neutral player by both parties. And we are not, as far as China is concerned. According to numerous sources, since the deal with the US on basing Marines in Darwin, China basically perceives Australia as part of a strategy to contain its rise.

The following points suggest key elements of the Australian contribution to a broader diplomatic game plan to prevent Japan–China war. (See my six-point plan to prevent Senkaku war). Australia should pursue a two-pronged strategy—with two short-term and two long-term objectives.

Our first short-term goal in this dispute should focus on directly restraining both parties. In practice, Australia can begin by proposing an immediate naval and aerial standoff, in which both Japan and China ceased incursions around and over the contested islands for one month of high-level talks. Submarines should fall under this understanding, as their presence could destabilise peace talks.

Secondly, by virtue of our seat on the UNSC, Australia might be able to increase pressure on both parties to accept Ban-ki Moon’s recommendations. To this end, we could support the Secretary General in referring this dispute to the Security Council, under Article 99 of the UN Charter. It’s obvious that China would try to block this from reaching the agenda, and this could spark a damaging public debate at the UN. This is a fairly blunt instrument, so Australia should only seek to use it if Ban-ki Moon requested the extra pressure.

Clearly, the above two are only short-term measures to encourage de-escalation. Even if successful, they will only buy time for calmer and more in-depth talks to seek to resolve the core issues.

As a first long-term objective, Australia should encourage Japan and China to conclude military-to-military and civilian confidence-building measures (CBMs) covering their interactions at sea. Mark Valencia offers two basic formats—either a US–Soviet style Incidents at Sea Agreement (INCSEA) along the lines of what Sam Bateman has previously discussed on this blog, or a Declaration on Conduct, similar to that concluded by ASEAN and China in the South China Sea.

I favour the first agreement. The ASEAN–China declaration was more aspirational, but its failure was evident in the past few years of skirmishes in the South China Sea. An INCSEA agreement’s concrete measures of mutual restraint—such as ‘not simulating attacks at, launching objects toward, or illuminating the bridges of the other party’s ships’—are more relevant to this crisis.

Australia can push both parties to conclude such an agreement in the next few months. To avoid the trappings and slow bureaucratic channels of officialdom, a major Australian think tank could perhaps present a draft INCSEA negotiating text to Japanese and Chinese negotiators in a Track II proposal.

Finally, Australia’s second long-term objective should be that Japan and China conclude the present bout of tensions with an in principle agreement to negotiate the future status of the islands. In many ways, this would vindicate China’s position that Japan recognise the disputed nature of the territories. However, Japan need not verbally recognise the territorial dispute—its very engagement in such talks would tacitly make this brave concession. Whatever their content, future talks should not ignore Taiwan, which is a legitimate and constructive claimant to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.

Daryl Morini is a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland and a Pacific Forum CSIS WSD-Handa Non-Resident Fellow. Image courtesy of Flickr user Al Jazeera English.