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Australian PM Calls for UN to Allow Pre-Emptive Attacks - 2002-12-01

Australian Prime Minister John Howard says his government is prepared to launch military strikes against terrorists in neighboring Asian countries. Mr. Howard believes international law should be changed to allow nations to carry out pre-emptive operations against extremists who plan to attack them.

Prime Minister Howard says the nature of war has changed and threats no longer come from rogue states but from groups operating within the borders of countries failing to control them.

Mr. Howard says the United Nations charter should be altered to allow members to strike pre-emptively at terrorists. He says the charter was created when conflicts were defined in terms of nations attacking nations.

Australia has been in a state of high alert since the October terrorist bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali killed almost 200 people, half of whom were Australian tourists. Mr. Howard said he's prepared to adopt a strike-first policy to prevent a repeat of such an attack. "Any Prime Minister who had a capacity to prevent an attack against his country would be failing the most basic test of office if he didn't utilize that capacity if there's no other alternative," he said.

Australia has one of the most powerful militaries in the Asia-Pacific region. It has a modern air force and highly regarded special forces. Prime Minister Howard says he'd have no hesitation sending them in to target terrorists in a neighboring country.

Mr. Howard's comments have drawn angry responses in Asia. An Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman says Australia did not have the right to launch military strikes in other countries and should not be allowed to flout international law.

Thailand's government spokesman says any Australian requests to conduct operations on Thai soil would require "highly cautious consideration." Philippine officials, already angry about the closing of the Australian embassy there last week, criticized Howard's comments even as those countries consider a memorandum of understanding to jointly fight terrorism.

The radical Islamic group Jemaah Islamiyah has been blamed by Australian authorities for the attack in Bali. Although many suspected JI agents have been jailed in South-east Asia, including the alleged mastermind of the Bali bombings, many more are still believed to be operating in the region.

Australia has boosted security at its embassies overseas and warned that terrorists may also strike at targets at home.

The Australian government has also begun drawing up plans for a possible war in Iraq following talks with U.S. officials.