Application of International Political Theory for Australia Joining the 2003 Iraq Conflict

2128 words (9 pages) Essay in International Relations

18/05/20 International Relations Reference this

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Under the leadership of Prime Minister John Howard, Australia sent our armed forces to join US troops into the 2003 Iraq conflict.  Australia’s decision to join the coalition was, and continues to be heavily controversial. In this essay, I will discuss the factors that contributed to decision to join via three levels of analysis: individual, state, and I will also discuss how the International Political theory of classical realism effectively explains Australia’s decision to join into the 2003 Iraq conflict.

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For the purposes of this essay, I would like to define what individual analysis, state analysis and system analysis refers too. Individual analysis is the analysis of the actionable behaviour of individuals in positions of leadership and power. In the context of this essay, this refers to the Prime Minister John Howard and the individuals of his administration. State analysis is the analysis of the nature of the state based on its governing manner, economic development, and historical precedents.  In the context of this essay, it refers to the liberal democratic institutions of Australia. System analysis is the analysis of the international relationships and strategic concerns of a state. In the context of this essay, it refers to the security alliance that had been established between Australia and the US.

The first level of analysis, is the analysis in the individual level. In this level, the focus will be on the conduct and leadership of Prime Minister John Howard as a key figure who occupied a politically significant position during the period that led to the decision to send Australian forces into the Iraq conflict (Spanier 1993, p 38).  There were several factors on the individual level that led John Howard and his administration to volunteer the Australian forces into the Iraq conflict. The most prominent factors that motivated his decision to join the coalition in Iraq was the “belief at the time that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the nature of our relationship and alliance with the US” (Howard 2013).

The United States in the early 2003 was still recovering from the aftermath of 9/11. The United States was in a vulnerable position and had focused resources and loyalties in preventing further terrorist attacks (Howard 2013).

This fear combined with the tension over Saddam Hussein possession and production of a weapons of mass destruction (Garran 2004, p 138), had led to a fear of the potential consequences of a non-ally state possessing a strong military force (Garran 2004, p149).  This fear was universally shared, even within Australia’s leaders, from John Howard too “Jacquis Chirac and Kevin Rudd”.  This fear that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction and the vulnerability of the US is what eventually lead to Australia’s participation in the USA attempt to denuclearise Iraq.   President Howards and his administration’s approach towards the issue of Iraqi nuclearlisation, is explained via the application of an offensive realist theory. Offensive realism, sates that “maximum security is achieved through full blown hegemony in the international system or at least in the region under consideration” (Miller).  By this theory, states are forced to do their best to immobilize any other state that can or could potentially be a competition in military power.  President Howard, based on the fear that Iraq could potentially be a competition in military power opted to do their best to immobilize the state by entering the Australian armed forces to join US and British troops. Howards decision is a textbook offensive realist action. “Howard reasoned that it was better to pre-emptively strike Saddam Hussein before he and Iraq had the opportunity to become the very threat (Garran 2004, p 137)”.  The use of military power through an aggressive manner to weaken the strength of other states align with notions supported by offensive realism as it ensures that maximum security to be achieved.  Retrospectively through an individual analysis of the John Howard and his administration, it can be confidentially concluded that Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War, from an individual level, was strongly motivated by John Howard’s perception and theoretical believe Iraq needed to be immobilised as a threat before they had the opportunity to reach a level that could be of a threatening nature.

The second level of analysis, is the analysis in the state level. In this level the focus will be on the internal factors within Australia, such as the state’s history, tradition and economic features (Spanier 1993, p 32). Australia and the United States have a long history of sharing a unique relationship.  “The US is Australia’s ultimate guarantor of security and intelligence” (Dibb 2003). Baker and Paal supported this contention and stated further it by stating that there is no relationship stronger in the Asia-Pacific then the relationship between Australia and the US.  The nations similarity in both being a western, democratic nation has allowed for a mutually beneficial relationship and for a strong ties to be formed between them, in spite of competing interest -  through the recogni(tion) that states are self-interested and competitive, yet entities that can cooperate through diplomatic efforts because they share many interests” (Alexane Saïd). This history and tradition of dependency and alliance is a significant factor that contributed to the Australian government’s decision to join the coalition. 

The last significant state level factor that I will be mentioning, that motivated Australia to support the US is the economic benefits a positive relationship between the two states would create. At the time that the Australian government sent our armed forces to join US and British troops into the 2003 Iraq conflict, the Australian government were also negotiating a free-trade agreement with the US. The free trade agreement, was predicted at that time to bring in upwards of $40 billion dollars a year. This particular economic interest itself could arguably have been a motivating factor for Australia to join US troops into the 2003 Iraq conflict. The support Australia provided via their involvement in the Iraqi conflict would have reinforced the US-Australia relationship and created a developed further a positive alliance between the US and Australia. The Australian government’s decision to reinforce the US Australia relationship as being a prominent ally, and Australia’s decision to further the economic agenda of establishing a Free Trade agreement, by means of offering military support can be successfully explained via the application of a Offensive realist theory. Offensive Realist theory “the ultimate goal of every great power is to maximize its share of world power and eventually dominate the system ( John Mearsheimer).” Offensive realism states do not regulate the ethicality of gaining such power. Thus, the state level analysis of Australia’s decisions is well supported through an offense realist approach.

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Retrospectively, we are aware that the free trade agreement came into effect in 2005, and has continued to bring in billions upon billions of dollars in profit for the Australian government. This supports the above contention that the military support that was provided, irrespective to the outcome on the denuclearisation of Iraq, benefited the Australian state immensely. It also supports the contention that the offensive realist theory of maintaining a state’s self-interest and maintaining security and power irrespective to the genuine-ness of the act, effects the power and control a state possess beneficially. This allows for a confident conclusion that Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war, from a state level was strongly motivated by the pre-existing historical traditions and by the billion-dollar economic deal that was being sought after and that an offensive realist approach can be successfully applied in explaining Australia’s decision.

The last level of analysis, is the analysis in the system level. In this level the focus will be on international systems that are interactive with Australia, such political components and other sovereign states (Spanier 1993). In this context, the focus will be on the relationship dynamic between the USA and Australia and the nations they are in alliance with.  As contended by Ranasinghe Australia cannot independently protect itself though its military force, as a means to combat the lack of power, Australia has pursued and built a positive relationship with the US in order to secure a strong bilateral security guarantee. This relationship has been continuous since the end of WWII, marked through the ANZUS treaty. “The Alliance is the foundation of defence and security cooperation between Australia and the United States. It increases Australia’s ability to protect itself and its interests by providing access to world-leading defence hardware and technologies, training courses and combined exercises, as well as vital intelligence capabilities. (DFAT)”

“The ANZUS Treaty underpins the Australia-United States Alliance. It binds Australia and the United States to consult on mutual threats, and, in accordance with our respective constitutional processes, to act to meet common dangers (DFAT).” The ANZUS treaty ensures that the USA, Australia and New Zealand are recognised allies that, they have a shared goal of maintaining security (Desilva-Ranasinghe). Australia’s involvement in such a treaty, guides Australia’s interaction and decisions in a manner that supports and adheres to the terms of the agreement. This factor, from a system level could be argued to be a strongly motivating factor in terms of Australia’s decision to be involved in the Iraq conflict. This also continues the successful application of an offensive realist theory.  Australia and the USA have a shared motivation to uphold the treat mentioned above. A violation of the treat, forfeits Australia their strongest ally, by so reduces the degree of power and security that the states has. Any reaction to the contrary of that, would reduce the state’s power and places Australia in an extremely vulnerable position.  It hence, allows for the confident conclusion that an offensive realist theory successfully explains the decisions made by the Australian government, if the premise is accepted that Australia’s participation in the coalition was to maintain the degree of security control.

To conclude, the individual, state and system levels of analysis allow for a successful application of offensive realist theories. From the individual analysis of the John Howard and his administration, that concluded that the decisions were strongly motivated by John Howard’s perception and theoretical believe Iraq needed to be immobilised as a threat to maintain power and control too state level analysis of Australia  history, tradition and economic features , that concluded that the decisions were strongly motivated by pre-existing historical traditions and by the billion-dollar economic deal that was being sought after to maintain and increase state power, all the way to the compliance to the ANZUS treat to maintain Australia’s ability to protect itself and its interests it can be confidently concluded that Australia decisions to send its troops to join in the Iraq conflict was motiviated by self-serving factors and that an application of offensive realist theories can be used to demonstrate this.

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