Tuesday 24 Nov 2020 | 17:30 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 24 Nov 2020 | 17:30 | SYDNEY

Rudd speaks loudly, with no stick


Sam Roggeveen


9 March 2011 16:21

Kevin Rudd wants to go to war with Libya, but it looks like he'd prefer others do the fighting.

CNN gave Foreign Minister Rudd an opportunity to put some hardware behind his rhetorical push for a Libya no-fly zone, and he totally squibbed it:

Journalist: After a no fly zone is implemented, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said that does include going tactically after Libyan positions. Is Australia prepared to commit boots to the ground to join an international effort, if that is deemed necessary'

Rudd: Well the first thing I would say is that a no-fly zone is vastly different from what you described as boots on the ground. Boots on the ground is direct, military, armed intervention on the ground. And I see no consensus for that emerging anywhere at least at this stage.

But as for a no fly zone the characteristics of it, the operational characteristics of it, the operational characteristics of it, are the subject, as I’m advised by public briefing by the British and the French to be under active consideration in NATO as we speak. That is, what it would look like, what the rules of engagement would be, and therefore, I think it’s imprudent for politicians, let alone Foreign Ministers, to engage in the detailed mechanics of what such a military operation involving air units would look like.

But obviously there is a particular responsibility, that is being faced by the [inaudible] states and NATO as a proxy for the region. And therefore let us see what military plan is agreed on.

Bob Gates is a friend of mine, a very good Secretary of Defense, a very practical man, and the cautions he urges in terms of the implications, should be taken note of, but we don’t depart from our Australian view; and that is one which is shaped by recent humanitarian history.

We failed as an international community in Rwanda; we failed as an international community in Darfur; by-and-large we were very too late in Srebrenica. Let us be mindful of the lessons of history here and not see it repeated in Libya.

The journalist should have avoided the phrase 'boots on the ground', as it gave Rudd an easy opportunity to deflect. Rudd knew the journalist was not referring to a ground invasion; he meant, is Australia compared to contribute materially to establishing a no-fly zone, whether that be anything from fighter aircraft to RAAF air traffic controllers' Evidently not, though let's leave open the possibility that Rudd is trying to convince his Cabinet colleagues that Australia should play a part.

In the meantime, Rudd's definition of 'boots on the ground' is worth considering. He defines it as 'direct, military, armed intervention on the ground'. But that is precisely what a no-fly zone would involve. OK, you're not actually putting troops on Libyan soil, but that's a distinction without a difference. You would still need to drop bombs on Libyan anti-aircraft sites, airfields and command & control facilities, meaning you are effectively going to war with Libya. In what sense is that not a 'direct, military, armed intervention on the ground''