Opinion – Special forces issues have deep historical roots

Media coverage and public discussion of alleged breaches of the laws of war by Australian special forces is heavily focused on individual personalities. Little attention has been paid to longstanding collective, structural and cultural drivers, or to decisions made over decades by the chain-of-command up to cabinet level.

The ADF is the disciplined defence force of a democracy and rightly subject to the rule of law. Our troops and their leaders are rightly accountable for their combat actions, even in difficult situations. And our political leaders are also responsible for their decisions.

But great care must be exercised in publicly judging whether allegations of misconduct or breaches of the laws of war are valid or not. Analysis of why they may have occurred must acknowledge the actual context surrounding them.

Neither simplistically excusing possible fault by claiming ‘bad things happen in war’, nor context-free criticism of our troops using peacetime civil standards, meet the mark.

All allegations and any consequences need to account for complex structural causes stretching back to the mid-1950s. These include decisions made by the highest levels of government—particularly those that led to overdependence on special forces personnel in meeting Australia’s contemporary strategic challenges.

Read More on Neil James’ article in the APSI’s Strategist

Neil James is executive director of the Australia Defence Association

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