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In chapter 4, I examine the debates of 1965–66 over Australia’s participation in the Vietnam War. In 1965–66, the UN Charter regulated the use of force by states but the success of international legal arguments in the public debates did not depend on the ability of the speaker to characterise an argument as a ‘legal’ one. Successful use of international legal language in the 1965–66 debates depended on the ability of the speaker to cast international law as something more than merely law – as either a standard of morality or a manifestation of an alliance. The legality or illegality of Australia’s actions was not enough, on its own, to provide a persuasive justification for war in 1965–66.
To Australia’s political leaders in the interwar years the task of deciding upon an appropriate defence policy for the nation seemed an almost insoluble problem. Throughout this period of two decades, however, there was a remarkable consistency in the understanding of the nature of the problem, which was identified clearly within eighteen months of the end of the First World War. This chapter describes how the leaders of the two key services, the army and the navy, sought to advise the government on a suitable defence policy. It is a reminder that the issues of strategy and command are just as important during peacetime as in war.
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