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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

14 - A serious decision

from PART 3 - THE FIRST GULF WAR

Summary

While the RAN task group conducted interception operations in the Gulf of Oman, throughout October and November the government was preoccupied with a range of issues: securing the release of the hostages; assessing the terrorist threat; considering whether to expand the military commitment; and deciding how to react if the United Nations authorised the use of force to expel Iraq from Kuwait. If the government responded positively to the latter situation, it would be the first commitment of Australian forces to war since the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, sent an infantry battalion to South Vietnam in 1965.

The resolution of the issue of committing forces to war underlined the fact that the government had committed forces to the Gulf for purely political and diplomatic reasons. Whether or not Australia deployed forces would make no difference to the eventual outcome, and the government needed to judge the extent of Australia's commitment against this calculus. As with the initial decision to apply sanctions, the dominant figure was the Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, who received strong support from his key ministers, Senators Evans and Ray. They were acutely sensitive to the views of the left-wing members of their party, who generally opposed the commitment, and needed to balance these views against their belief that it was in Australia's interest to support the United States and, more broadly, the United Nations.