March 22nd 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The future ... after Iraq

CANBERRA OBSERVED: After Iraq: the challenge facing John Howard

MEDICINE: Leading specialists reject destructive embryo research

BIOETHICS: Embryo research and state laws

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Bazaar politics/Sponsors/Beautiful People socialism

COMMENT: The real culprits in the internet porn scandal

FAMILY: Youth legal guide alarms families

MEDIA: Accord strikes a chord / 'Australian' shake-up a matter of opinion

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Deregulation and water could be a tragedy for National Party

LETTERS: Foreign debt (letter)

LETTERS: The vision thing (letter)

How Australian support is rebuilding East Timor

WATER: Towards healthier river systems: a flawed process

NUCLEAR WEAPONS: The future of non-proliferation treaties

BOOKS: Life, Liberty and the Defence of Dignity, by Leon Kass

BOOKS: Australia And Israel: An Ambiguous Relationship, by Chanan Reich

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The future ... after Iraq

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, March 22, 2003
Due to printing deadlines, this comment was prepared on March 11, before the UN Security Council was to vote on a resolution - jointly moved by the United States, the UK and Spain - which stated that unless Saddam Hussein fully complied with UN Security Council Resolution 1441 to disarm immediately, he would be disarmed by force.

At the time of writing, the outcome of this vote was quite unclear. Within the UN Security Council, there are four strong supporters of the resolution, but five opposed, including three which have the power of veto, France, Russia and China. Between the two sides lie six nations whose final vote is uncertain.

It is further unclear whether these "swinging votes" will be influenced by the actual words of the resolution, by the political and economic influence of the great powers, or the desire of the member states to have a unanimous vote on the Security Council.

There has been widespread criticism of the United States for applying pressure or offering inducements to poor Third World nations such as Mexico, Cameroon, Guinea and Angola, in exchange for their votes. However, two opposing Permanent Members of the Security Council, France and Russia, have been doing the same thing.

The picture is further complicated by the rise of the anti-war protest movement, which has mobilised widespread opposition to American policy, providing a possible respite for the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein.

One consequence is that the British Labour Government was shaken by a threat from a leading left-wing Minister, Clare Short, and other ministers, to resign if Tony Blair goes to war against Iraq without UN endorsement.

However, in the Middle East, a by-election in Turkey has brought back into power Ercep Erdogan, a strong supporter of military operations against Saddam Hussein.

The essence of the issue remains whether the Iraqi dictator has met his obligation to provide full and free access to all information about the chemical and biological weapons he has attempted to build over the past 20 years.

In his report to the UN Security Council on January 27, the Chief UN Weapons Inspector, Hans Blix, said, "Resolution 1441 (2002) was adopted on November 8 last year, and emphatically reaffirmed the demand on Iraq to co-operate. It required this co-operation to be immediate, unconditional and active."

Despite statements coming from the Iraqi regime - extracted under threat of imminent military action - Saddam's response has been reluctant, conditional and passive.

"It is not enough to open doors. Inspection is not a game of 'catch as catch can'," Dr Blix said. Yet this is precisely what the UN weapons inspectors have been obliged to do.

If military action eventuates, responsibility will rest with the Iraqi regime, rather than with those who have attempted to enforce the obligations which Saddam entered into after his defeat in the Gulf War in 1991: to remove all chemical and biological weapons he had been developing, and the means of their deployment.

These developments have overshadowed the recent release of figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which confirm that the apparent growth of the Australian economy has been achieved not by increasing Australia's productive capacity, but by sucking in money and goods from abroad.

The apparent health of the economy can be compared to the flush of prosperity enjoyed by people living beyond their means.

The Bureau's figures show that Australia's current account deficit - which measures the difference between money leaving and entering the country - for the December 2002 quarter soared from $8.2 billion to $11.6 billion. The figure for the first half of the current financial year is a massive $19.8 billion, driven by an apparently insatiable rise in consumer spending.

According to the Bureau, the Current Account Deficit for 2002 was $32.7 billion, an increase of $16 billion from the previous year.

In a trading nation whose primary industries have been ravaged by drought and low commodity prices, the prospects for a quick turnaround in Australia's overseas trade appear minimal.

The effect of all this was to increase Australia's net foreign debt, at the end of the year 2002, to $354 billion, around 50 per cent of GDP.

One consequence of a nation living on debt is that the country must live with a high level of foreign ownership of Australian industry.

Another consequence is that we depend on others to subsidise our standard of living.

The risk is that if the lenders lose confidence in Australia's ability to repay the debt, or need to repatriate their money to meet their own financial needs, Australia could suddenly face an Argentine or Brazilian-style financial crisis, with potentially disastrous effects on the most vulnerable.

The alternative is to support the development of Australian industries and to protect them from unfair competition from subsidised imports.

If the US, China, Japan and Western Europe have done this, selectively, to preserve their social fabric and vital local industries, it is surely not beyond the wit of Australia to do likewise

  • Peter Westmore is President of the National Civic Council

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