Australia — Statement on situation in Libya / Afghanistan

TOPICS: NATO Defence Min­is­ters meet­ing in Brus­sels, the sit­u­a­tion in Libya and ongo­ing oper­a­tions in Afghanistan.

FRAN KELLY: As we men­tioned, NATO Defence Min­is­ters are meet­ing in Brus­sels to dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion in Libya and the ongo­ing oper­a­tion in Afghanistan. Our Defence Min­is­ter, Stephen Smith, says there is no dis­pute with Kevin Rudd, and that Australia’s posi­tion on Libya is clear that the UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil should con­sid­er a no-fly zone over Libya. I spoke with the Defence Min­is­ter a short time ago. 

STEPHEN SMITH: Good morn­ing Fran, thanks very much. 

FRAN KELLY: Stephen Smith, are the Prime Min­is­ter and the For­eign Min­is­ter at odds over the push for a no-fly zone over Libya? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I cer­tain­ly don’t believe so. I’ve seen sug­ges­tions overnight and this morn­ing, but I’ve looked care­ful­ly at what both the Prime Min­is­ter and the For­eign Min­is­ter have said in the last week or so, and indeed what I’ve said, and the Aus­tralian posi­tion is, in my view, very clear. 

The Prime Min­is­ter, the For­eign Min­is­ter and I have all said that we believe the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil should con­sid­er a no-fly zone over Libya. We believe that hav­ing a Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion, the weight of inter­na­tion­al law is very impor­tant, and that should be the start­ing point. We’ve also sup­port­ed prepara­to­ry mea­sures by NATO, in par­tic­u­lar, to put itself in the posi­tion of being able to effect a no-fly zone if there is the author­i­ty of inter­na­tion­al laws. 

FRAN KELLY: What the Prime Min­is­ter said overnight, when she was asked specif­i­cal­ly about that, was, she said, I think it’s appro­pri­ate for the UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil to con­sid­er a full range of options. I don’t believe that range of options should be nar­rowed. In oth­er words, she did­n’t re-state Australia’s sup­port for a no-fly zone specifically. 

STEPHEN SMITH: No, the phrase that you’ve quot­ed includes a no-fly zone. That’s par­tic­u­lar­ly the case, giv­en last week when the par­lia­ment sat, she stood up on one of those occa­sions and said that Aus­tralia was call­ing on the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil to con­sid­er a no-fly zone, that we had to keep the pres­sure on. 

So, that phrase obvi­ous­ly includes a no-fly zone. It obvi­ous­ly includes all of the things which the For­eign Min­is­ter and I have been say­ing on our respec­tive over­seas trip. But because we’re deal­ing with, poten­tial­ly and effec­tive­ly, a mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion into anoth­er coun­try, the start­ing point for Aus­tralia has to be prop­er Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil authorisations. 

The gen­er­al form of words which the Prime Min­is­ter has used includes a no-fly zone. And I may be miss­ing some­thing, but I’m focus­ing on the sub­stance of the posi­tion here, not any angle that might be of inter­est to jour­nal­ists overnight. 

FRAN KELLY: All right. Well, you’ve been in meet­ings with the US Defense Sec­re­tary, Robert Gates in Brus­sels. What reser­va­tions does the US have about a no-fly zone over Libya? 

STEPHEN SMITH: What NATO decid­ed today was that NATO wants to put itself in a posi­tion where if it had to, or want­ed to, it would be able to pro­vide human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance using NATO assets. That it could, if it want­ed to, be able to enforce the arms embar­go using NATO assets. That it was impor­tant for NATO to do the rel­e­vant mil­i­tary plan­ning and con­tin­gency and scop­ing study for a no-fly zone over Libya. But before it would embark upon that process, it need­ed to have the appro­pri­ate inter­na­tion­al law autho­ri­sa­tion through the Secu­ri­ty Council. 

But also, impor­tant­ly, would want to have region­al sup­port. In oth­er words, if NATO was going to act on behalf of a coun­try in its region, it would want appro­pri­ate region­al sup­port, and that’s a ref­er­ence to the Arab League, to the African Union, and we’ve also seen in recent times expres­sions of sup­port for a no-fly zone from the Gulf Coop­er­a­tion Coun­cil and from the Orga­ni­za­tion of Islam­ic Conference. 

So that was, essen­tial­ly, the sub­stance of the NATO res­o­lu­tion today. 

FRAN KELLY: But Min­is­ter, I mean, clear­ly, what we’re hear­ing this morn­ing, and I’m sure you’ve heard the reports too, is that peo­ple in Libya are under bom­bard­ment. They think this is all talk and no action. It could be over for them by the week­end. So how quick­ly could we see UN autho­ri­sa­tion, and do you con­cede it’s urgent? 

STEPHEN SMITH: In our view, it’s urgent, and we’ve been say­ing that for some time. There’s no point shy­ing away from the fact that the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil itself is always sub­ject to a veto, and whether it’s Rus­sia or whether it’s Chi­na, we know from the his­tor­i­cal start­ing points that inter­ven­tion into what they will describe as the inter­nal affairs of a nation state is not some­thing that they deal with or pro­ceed with lightly. 

FRAN KELLY: Is sup­port from the Arab League key to that then, key to influ­enc­ing those countries? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, there’s always a prospect of veto, and so, the more region­al sup­port there is from Arab nations, from African nations, from Mus­lim nations, then the more prospect and chance there is of a Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion autho­ris­ing an intervention. 

FRAN KELLY: Just turn­ing to the meet­ings about Afghanistan over — tomor­row, coali­tion forces have had some suc­cess in recent months, but it is com­ing up towards spring and what’s nor­mal­ly called the spring offen­sive is an even more dead­ly time in this conflict. 

Aus­tralia has had an increas­ing num­ber of casu­al­ties in Afghanistan in the past year. There’s — is the tem­po of that kind of dan­ger­ous oper­a­tion about to increase? 

STEPHEN SMITH: We are, in a sense, steel­ing our­selves for the return to the fight­ing sea­son which occurs when the win­ter recedes and spring comes. So, April, May, June is the tra­di­tion­al start of the fight­ing season. 

So, we are steel­ing our­selves for a dif­fi­cult year, a dif­fi­cult fight­ing sea­son. Hav­ing said that, we have made, we think, progress in Uruz­gan and in Afghanistan gen­er­al­ly in terms of bet­ter secu­ri­ty control. 

FRAN KELLY: So, does that progress mean we will see the han­dover to Afghan secu­ri­ty forces? 

STEPHEN SMITH: We remain con­fi­dent that, in Uruz­gan Province, we can hand over lead respon­si­bil­i­ty for secu­ri­ty mat­ters some time between 2012 and 2014 over the next one, two, four years. 

The meet­ing tomor­row will all be about tran­si­tion, where the first tranche, if you like, of provinces or dis­tricts will fall for con­sid­er­a­tion, and I expect that’ll be announced by Pres­i­dent Karzai lat­er this month. 

We’re not argu­ing, or sug­gest­ing or believ­ing that Uruz­gan Province is in the first tranche. We think there’s 12 or 18 months to go before we get to that stage, but we are mak­ing progress. 

FRAN KELLY: Stephen Smith, thank you very much for join­ing us on Breakfast. 

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Fran, thanks very much. 

FRAN KELLY: Defence Min­is­ter Stephen Smith join­ing us there from Brussels. 

Press release
Min­is­te­r­i­al Sup­port and Pub­lic Affairs,
Depart­ment of Defence,
Can­ber­ra, Australia 

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