Australia: the Peacemaker or the Warmonger?
The roll call of countries where the civilian population endures armed conflict is seemingly endless. When the conflict is primarily about a struggle for power between internal rival political, ethnic or religious groupings the world at large pays scant attention as can be demonstrated in Myanmar, Tigray, Sudan, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, or the Congo.
However, when global alliances are at stake, or global economies are deemed to be at risk, then sides are taken. A very good example is Yemen. The conflict here has absolutely nothing to do with Australia, or Europe, or the United States. Its antecedents are the Arab Spring of 2012. Disquiet about the leadership of President Saleh was the trigger. Continuing disquiet under the presidency of Hadi, the alignment of Saleh with Houthi rebels, all led finally to international intervention and side taking. Because the Houthi rebels are perceived to be aligned with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s enemy, the US and its allies which include Australia has provided Saudi Arabia with armaments. Unleashed from the air these have caused almost unprecedented misery on a people and nation that at one time was a jewel in the Arab world. A Yemini civilian has nowhere to hide; prevention of humanitarian aid is a weapon of war.
A similar situation prevails in Palestine. Israel has waged a covert strategy of apartheid and ethnic cleansing of large sections of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, quite apart from the cruel blockade of Gaza, since the Oslo accord of 1993 - 95. What was covert is now overt. But because Israel is aligned with the West, even now the US and its ally Australia cannot bring itself to sanction Israel for its obvious abuses of international law and its clear intention to never allow a Palestinian State. Condemnation always follows the death of Israeli civilians, but never condemnation of the provocation that led to it, of which the Israeli army’s brutal incursion in Jenin is a recent example.
What of Ukraine? The depraved brutality of Russia’s invasion, even the apparent callous disregard it has shown for its own forces, their training and their expendability, is beyond shocking. Of course, the Ukrainian people need and deserve all the support they can receive from the international community. But is that all there is to be said? Is there another side to the conflict which should be honestly acknowledged and responded to? Ukrainians have as much right to autonomy, identity, and freedom as any other peoples in Europe. But the Russian Federation equally has the right to feel its borders are not under threat and that potentially hostile armaments are not mounted close to its heartland. Even the most hawkish cannot seriously believe this conflict will end militarily. It must end through diplomacy. Caricaturing the Russian Federation as the evil empire says more about the West than it does Russia. Treat others through your caricature of them and they will live up to the caricature. What role is Australia playing in the diplomacy that ultimately will end this conflict?
And Taiwan? What are we thinking that we could conceivably imagine being involved in a future military campaign over Taiwan?
Alliances have determined whose side we are on in conflict. Whether we should have been involved, taken sides, is quite another matter. Why were we in Vietnam, the Gulf, Iraq, or Afghanistan? What good did we achieve?
There are several dimensions to peace and peace making. The most common, but least meaningful, is the cessation of conflict. The Great War ended in 1918 but the settlement gave rise to WW2.
Much more meaningfully, peace is enjoyed when injustice is resolved. Peace can never exist while injustice remains. Israel’s idea of peace is of a subservient Palestinian population who are prepared to live a diminished life with intergenerational injustice. New Zealand’s Māori would not put up with injustice and achieved the Treaty of Waitangi. Australia is blessed with many First Nations peoples, but the downside of many nations is that treaty has been infinitely harder to realise and grievance emanating from injustice has continued to fester.
If Australia is to be involved in any future military conflict, we must be very clear about where injustice or potential injustice lies, and be certain our involvement not only contributes to resolving the injustice, but does not contribute to a consequential and perhaps greater, injustice. There can be little doubt that many military engagements have been unadmitted initiatives designed to perpetuate injustice, sold to the Australian populace as defending Australia’s self-interest. On too many occasions our self-interest further disadvantages the appropriate interest of others. We cannot live peaceably in a world where the lifestyle advantage of the wealthy is made at the lifestyle disadvantage of the poor. That does not mean that inequality can or should be removed. But it does mean that inequality arising from the impoverishment of the already poor and powerless will lead to prolonged conflict.
A yet deeper meaning of peace lies at the heart of the teaching of Jesus. Peace is essentially contentment that lies within. Being at peace with oneself means it is possible to be at peace in the home and if there is peace in the home there will be peace in the nation and throughout the world.
Statistics appear to show that in the West we are a people deeply ill at ease. Although Australians live in the wealthiest country on the planet, we are apparently consumed about our finances. Youth suicide is high. Elderly feel isolated and lonely. We spend more money on punishing people than rehabilitating them. We seek someone to blame and are given to conspiracy theories.
Is it just a coincidence that the nation that spends most money on armaments, the US, appears to be the nation most at war with itself. Is it therefore more likely that we will seek to fight an enemy without when we are most afraid to deal with an enemy within?
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God. This well-known adage is of course one of the beatitudes that form the preface to Jesusʹ Sermon on the Mount. Here Jesus describes humanity’s higher nature – higher because it reflects the nature of God. Peace within is an antidote to fear from without. Fear is the catalyst of violence.
As Australia continues to formulate its international and security policies, we must be clear they are not framed by fear or worse by ignorant and false assumptions of othersʹ intentions. Nor must they be framed by perceptions of Australian self-interest to be secured at the expense of the legitimate interest of others.