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Australia Criticizes U.N. Efforts

June 27, 2003|From Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia — The Australian government Thursday branded multilateral forums such as the United Nations "ineffective and unfocused" and said its foreign policy will increasingly rely on "coalitions of the willing" such as the one that waged war in Iraq.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer also said that in Canberra's view, other nations' sovereignty was "not absolute."

The assertive new doctrine outlined by Downer came a day after Australia announced that it would lead an international force of troops and police to restore order to the violence-racked Solomon Islands in the southwestern Pacific.

Downer's speech reinforced comments last year by Prime Minister John Howard that Australia would be prepared to launch preemptive strikes against terrorists in Asia -- words that sparked outrage in the region.

The doctrine is likely to cause further unease among Australia's Asian neighbors. For example, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim nation, has accused Howard of acting like a deputy sheriff to President Bush.

The effect of international terrorism was brought home to Australia on Oct. 12 when 88 of its citizens were killed in bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali that claimed a total of 202 lives.

Australia's decision to send 2,000 troops to support the U.S.-led war in Iraq without U.N. sanction "has signaled that we are prepared to take the hard decisions to enhance our security," Downer said in a nationally televised address to the National Press Club.

"Some multilateral institutions will remain important to our interests," he said. "But increasingly, multilateralism is a synonym for an ineffective and unfocused policy involving internationalism of the lowest common denominator."

He added: "We are prepared to join coalitions of the willing that can bring focus and purpose to addressing the urgent security and other challenges we face.... Sovereignty in our view is not absolute. Acting for the benefit of humanity is more important."

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