No war with Iran: No war without parliament

Our correspondence with the Prime Minister regarding Iran, 2019

Letter to the Prime Minister

27 June 2019

Dear Mr Morrison

I write on behalf of Australians for War Powers Reform, an organisation dedicated to achieving Parliamentary involvement in any decision Australia might make to deploy members of the Australian Defence Force into international armed conflict. The purpose of this letter is to convey our concern about the prospect of military action against Iran.

Australia has no quarrel with the government of Iran, which since 2015 has fully observed the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and has not proceeded towards development of nuclear weapons. Iran and Australia have a significant two-way trading relationship, worth $A584 million in the last financial year.

A year ago, United States President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the JCPOA, imposed economic sanctions, and threatened other countries which trade with Iran. In April 2019 he designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organisation.

In May he sent a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East, and anticipated deploying 120,000 or more US troops. In June two attacks on tankers in the Gulf were blamed on Iran, without robust evidence, a rocket was fired into Baghdad’s Green Zone, and confrontation occurred with US proxy fighters in the Persian Gulf. Reports that Iran was responsible for these hostile acts have been widely questioned (example). A US drone was shot down by Iran, and the question of whether or not this was in international airspace is contested by the two sides. President Trump came close to ordering an attack on Iran.

The aim of further recent US sanctions is to draw Iran into armed conflict, according to an unnamed American official (quoted by Helen Cooper and Edward Wong, ‘Skeptical US Allies resist Trump’s New Claim of Threats from Iran’, New York Times, 14 May 2019).

False narratives were used in the past to justify attacks on Vietnam and Iraq, which included Australian forces. We do not wish Australia to repeat the experience of those disastrous, illegal wars.

We urge you to advise President Trump that our alliance does not oblige Australia to join a war against Iran, and to halt any preparations for it.

We also suggest that you use the opportunity of the G20 summit to discuss the Iranian situation with other leaders, and prepare a joint statement advising President Trump that they are not willing to join a coalition.

In the absence of a credible threat to Australia and without an authorising Resolution of the UN Security Council, any Australian involvement in attacks on Iran would be an act of aggression and therefore illegal.

We appeal to you for a debate in our Parliament on the growing tensions between the US and Iran, and steps which Australia could take to reduce them. Such a debate and a vote by all our elected representatives, and authorisation by the Governor-General, as the only person with the Constitutional power to authorise the deployment of the ADF into international armed conflict, must be absolute prerequisites before any military action is undertaken.

Yours sincerely
Paul Barratt AO
President, Australians for War Powers Reform

2 August 2019: Letter to Paul Barratt, AWPR, from The Hon Ben Morton MP on behalf of the Prime Minister

Dear Mr Barratt

Thank you for your correspondence dated 27 June 2019 to the Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, on behalf of Australians for War Powers Reform regarding Australia’s approach to Iran. The Prime Minister has asked me to respond on his behalf

The Australian Government is deeply concerned by the current tensions in the Middle East. A deterioration in the situation would be counter to regional security, global trade and the best interests of Australia and the world. We have urged Iran to refrain from escalatory action.

Australia continues to support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which serves the international community’s interests in non-proliferation. We note with concern that Iran has moved away from full compliance with the JCPOA. Australia has repeatedly urged Iran to comply with its JCPOA commitments, and – noting Australia is not a JCPOA participant – we look to the parties under the deal to constructively address this issue.

I trust this information will be of assistance to you.

Yours sincerely

Ben Morton
2 / 8 / 2019

AWPR’s response to the Prime Minister, copied to the Hon Ben Morton MP

13 August 2019

Dear Mr Morrison

No War with Iran: No War without Parliament

I refer to my letter to you of 27 June 2019 on the subject, and to a letter of 2 August 2019 which I received from The Hon Ben Morton MP, replying on your behalf.

I must say that my colleagues at Australians for War Powers Reform and I are astonished that Mr Morton’s letter states, “We note with concern that Iran has moved away from full compliance with the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action],” without any reference to the circumstances that gave rise to that Iranian move. As I stated in my earlier letter, since it came into force in 2015 Iran has fully observed the terms of the JCPOA, as verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The JCPOA has ceased to be effective because, as I also stated in my 27 June letter, a year ago United States President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the JCPOA, imposed economic sanctions, and threatened other countries which trade with Iran.

In other moves which have exacerbated the always difficult relations between the US and Iran, in April 2019 President Trump designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organisation. In May he sent a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East, and anticipated deploying 120,000 or more US troops. In June two attacks on tankers in the Gulf were blamed on Iran, without robust evidence, a rocket was fired into Baghdad’s Green Zone, and confrontation occurred with US proxy fighters in the Persian Gulf. Reports that Iran was responsible for these hostile acts have been widely questioned (example). A US drone was shot down by Iran, and the question of whether or not this was in international airspace is contested by the two sides. President Trump came close to ordering an attack on Iran.

We note with pleasure that Australia continues to support the JCPOA, but are surprised that “Australia has repeatedly urged Iran to comply with its JCPOA commitments,” when it is the United States that has walked away from the arrangement that seemed to be providing satisfactory assurances against Iranian nuclear proliferation.

Similarly, while we would support the government urging Iran “to refrain from escalatory action,” we note with concern that the letter from Mr Morton is silent on the question of whether or not we have been urging our US ally to refrain from provocative measures of the kind described above.

Australia has a long and honourable history of effective diplomacy, and for many years the continuity of our diplomatic presence in Iran enabled us to communicate with the Iranians in a way that few other Western nations could. I put it to you that, far from simply looking to the parties to the JCPOA to address this issue constructively, we should be engaging in active diplomacy to encourage all parties to keep the arrangements alive, and in particular to encourage our US ally to resume its place in the arrangements, and deliver on its obligations under them.

Regarding the military pressure on Iran which some in the US Administration seem to favour, I would reiterate that in the absence of a credible threat to Australia and without an authorising Resolution of the UN Security Council, any Australian involvement in attacks on Iran would be an act of aggression and therefore illegal.

We appeal to you again for a debate in our Parliament on the growing tensions between the US and Iran, and steps which Australia could take to reduce them. Such a debate and a vote by all our elected representatives, and authorisation by the Governor-General, as the only person with the Constitutional power to authorise the deployment of the ADF into international armed conflict, must be absolute prerequisites before any military action is undertaken.

Yours sincerely
Paul Barratt AO
President, Australians for War Powers Reform



by AWPR

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