How should (will) Australia react on MH-17 shootdown?

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Would you say that Australia should somehow very specifically react on the situation regarding shootdown of MH17 flight as many Australians were killed, do you expect that Australia will do everything to see those culpable to be tried?


Rory Medcalf, Director, International Security Program,  Lowy Institute

Australia has united in grief and outrage over the shootdown of MH17.  The dead include 37 Australians,  whether citizens or residents.  There is a quiet fury about this issue among  the nation’s political leaders.   Australia  is not afraid to take a lead role in the international response,  including in the United Nations Security Council and in investigations on the ground.   In fact, today Canberra officially appointed the former chief of the nation’s  defence force,  Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston,  to lead the nation’s recovery and investigation team.  The Australian prime minister  has made it clear that this country seeks  facts and justice in response to this massive international crime.

Benjamin Reilly, Professor, Dean, School of Public Policy and International Affairs, Murdoch University

The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has already explicitly stated that Australia will do everything humanly possible to ensure that the crash is properly investigated and the culprits brought to justice. He has also made it clear that he thinks Russia bears a heavy responsibility for this attack.

In terms of concrete steps, I expect Australia to ban President Putin from visiting Australia for the G20 Summit, if that decision is not taken independently as part of a broader regime of sanctions against the Russian government.

Michael O’KeefeSenior Lecturer, La Trobe University

Any thought of a trial is a long way off, and the international community has a bad record of following through on these sorts of things (e.g. The former Yugoslavia). Now the focus is on recovery and investigation.

Australians were understandably shocked by the senseless killing of 298 innocent people, including 27 of their own. Australia has had the third largest number of casualties after the Netherlands and Malaysia and as we learn more about the identity of the individuals the frustration is mounting. There is rising anger over the heartlessness and contempt of the Rebels in delaying recovery efforts and the intransigence of Russia in not forcing the timely recovery and investigation.

Yes the Prime Minister has made some very strong statements. But despite the rhetoric normally Australia would be powerless to do much about it. However, as a non-permanant member of the UN Security Council Australia has the opportunity to bring pressure to bear. The resolution will be debated later tonight and the PM has pre-empted the Russian response by describing the resolution as reasonable and warning that a Russian veto would be very unwelcome. He also spoke with Putin last night. The way the PM described the conversation was telling; he said that Putin said all the right things, but the challenge would be holding him to his word. This is verging on undiplomatic, and highlights the disbelief that the Russians would push blame onto the Ukrainians when all the initial evidence shows that the Russian backed Rebels overplayed their hand to disastrous effect.

Emily CrawfordPost-doctoral Fellow and Associate, Sydney Centre for International Law, University of Sydney

In regards to Australia’s position – I think Australia will advocate very strongly for the perpetrators to be brought to justice, but will do so within the UN system; that is, I don’t think Australia will launch any independent or unilateral investigations, but rather seek to work with other States to ensure this situation is investigated.

Emilian KavalskiAssociate Professor of Global Studies, Institute for Social Justice. Australian Catholic University

Indeed, the government response has been very firm in terms of rhetoric. Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister have issued very clear statements that Australia’s position is to pursue the truth about what happened and bring those responsible to justice. In particular, the Prime Minister has been very clear that Russia and Russian separatists are responsible for shooting down the plane. Right now, the priority seems to be bringing home the remains of all Australians who were on the plane.

I expect that the Australian government will explore all possible diplomatic channels to find justice for the victims. Yet, I do not expect that it will go beyond that. Neither Ukraine (or Europe as a whole for that matter) is among the top foreign priorities of Australia. The tragedy with MH17 merely highlighted Australia’s disconnect from European affairs as most Australians were not even aware that there was a military conflict going on in Ukraine. Equally importantly, the Prime Minister has said unequivocally that he will not ban the Russian President Putin from visiting the 2014 G-20 Summit in Brisbane, because this is an “economic” and not a “political and security” meeting. In other words, as Tony Abbott has said time and again, it is the economy that drives Australia’s foreign policy agenda.

So far the Australian government has desisted from either insisting on or encouraging European countries to take a tougher stance on Russia. My hunch is that it is very unlikely that Australia will attempt to have a say in the European debates. on the sanctions. it is quite indicative that despite the public outrage against the shooting down of MH17, there has been no suggestions that Australia would introduce further sanctions against Russia (so far it has imposed sanctions against 50 individuals and 11 entities). The economic concern is indeed pretty substantial – especially, for this Australian government. For instance, the rural lobby (which is quite influential with the current government) is anxious that tougher sanctions might trigger a flood of Russian (and Ukrainian) wheat on global markets that would bring the wheat prices down and affect negatively Australian grain exporters. So in short, I do not think that Australia will try to influence European countries on for a variety of domestic, strategic, and historical (Australia’s traditional suspicion of the EU) reasons.


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