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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Australia Challenges Idea of National Sovereignty

CANBERRA, Australia -- The Australian government on Thursday branded multilateral forums such as the United Nations as "ineffective and unfocused" and said its future foreign policy would rely on "coalitions of the willing" like the one that waged war in Iraq.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer also said that in Canberra's view, other nations' sovereignty was "not absolute."

The assertive new doctrine outlined by Downer comes a day after Australia announced it would lead an international force of troops and police to restore order to the violence-wracked Solomon Islands in the southwest Pacific. Downer's speech reflected comments late last year by Prime Minister John Howard that Australia would be prepared to launch preemptive strikes against terror targets in Asia -- words that sparked outrage in Asia.

Australia's decision to support the U.S.-lead war in Iraq without UN sanction "has signaled that we are prepared to take the hard decisions to enhance our security," Downer said in a televised address to the National Press Club.

"Some multilateral institutions will remain important to our interests," he said. "But increasingly multilateralism is a synonym for an ineffective and unfocused policy involving internationalism of the lowest common denominator."

Australia has been an unflinching supporter of U.S. President George W. Bush, sending 2,000 troops to the Iraq war and backing Washington's so-called "preemptive strike" policy, in which the United States would invade countries if it believed they were harboring terrorists. Howard has stood with the United States in its war on terrorism and earlier contributed troops to the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan.

"We are prepared to join coalitions of the willing that can bring focus and purpose to addressing the urgent security and other challenges we face," Downer said. "Sovereignty in our view is not absolute. Acting for the benefit of humanity is more important."

The impact of international terrorism was brought brutally home to Australia on Oct. 12 when 88 of its citizens were among 202 people killed when two bombs exploded in crowded bars on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.