28 August 2013


The situation in Syria, with consideration of how to respond to the use of chemical weapons there, arises in the middle of a national election campaign in Australia, when Australia is about to take up chairmanship of the UN Security Council.

I have written thus to Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr:

Dear Bob

We have not seen each other since days when you were environment minister and I was ambassador to China.

I wrote to your predecessor ten years ago thus:
http://aplaceof.info/peace/200309downer.htm in particular to say:

"...that since September 2001 we have been watching events and strategic responses unfolding as at the outbreak of war in 1914:

• Delusions of moral rectitude.
• Defence of imperial status quo.
• Nothing but narrow military options.
• Resort to alliances, hostility to thought.
• Vilification of the enemy, climate of fear and promotion of paranoia.
• Simplistic notions of victory, expectations of speedy end.
• Failure to address real wider issues.
• Enveloping sea of violence."

I do understand the awfulness of chemical weapons. I do nonetheless urge awareness that we remain in that slow-World-War-I-like situation of spreading war without sufficient consideration of non-military options. Theoretically democracies are less prone to war, but in reality it seems democracies slide quite easily to war but have immense difficulties finding ways of avoiding war and accepting terms for war cessation.

I remain of the view I have held since the early 1980s (Iran-Iraq, Israeli's march 'briefly' into Lebanon) that "...it is in the nature of modern war that it tends, more than anything else - certainly it does not tend to ‘victory’ - to import into the righteous invading countries the problems you seek to eliminate by invading."

Clausewitz did say that statesmen should regard war as an instrument of policy, but noted that war can tend to drive out policy and pursue its own ends. This is not a situation to be begun in Syria, it is a situation in which we are already embedded.

with best wishes to you in an awfully combined situation of domestic and international roles.