Canberra, Dec. 2 (Reuters): Despite mounting regional and domestic criticism, Prime Minister John Howard stood firm today on Australia’s right to defend itself from any attack, even if that meant taking pre-emptive military action overseas.
Howard came under fire from Asian neighbours and political rivals after saying yesterday that he would be willing to take pre-emptive action in another country if he believed terrorists there planned to attack Australia.
His comments came in the wake of the deadly bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali on October 12 that killed more than 180 people including up to 90 Australians, and after Australians were warned last month of the possibility of an attack on home soil. His tough rhetoric prompted an outcry from some Asian neighbours, whose relations with Australia are fragile at the best of times with Canberra often accused of bullying or playing “deputy sheriff” to the United States.
Malaysia said it would never allow foreign troops to operate on its soil the Philippines said the warning of pre-emptive strikes was “bizarre”.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said today Malaysia would consider it an act of war if Australia intruded into his country to fight terrorism.
“We will hold this as an attempt to wage war against the government and the country if Australia pursues its intention to attack any country to tackle terrorism,” he said.
“This to me is quite arrogant,” Philippine national security adviser Roilo Golez said of Howard’s comments.
At home, the Opposition Labor party accused Howard of making “hairy-chested statements” to sound tough and play to a nervous electorate whose sense of security, built largely on geographical isolation, was shattered by the Bali blasts.
Labor foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd said Howard was also using arguments about pre-emptive strikes and the need to change international laws to expand the definition of self-defence as a way of justifying action against Iraq.
“What we have is a Prime Minister using language which is being interpreted by governments across Southeast Asia as hostile and as a consequence, creating more problems than it potentially solves,” Rudd said.