De­fence should do more with less.

The Saturday Paper - - Contents - Mike Gilligan

Early re­ac­tions to the election of Don­ald Trump told us much about our lead­ers, and our­selves. The day after his win, for­mer prime min­is­ters Paul Keat­ing and John Howard were in­ter­viewed on the ABC’s 7.30.

“With the election of Don­ald Trump,” Leigh Sales asked Keat­ing, “can Aus­tralia con­tinue to de­pend on the United States al­liance, the way that it has?”

Keat­ing re­sponded that “the idea we should get around like Uriah Heep, like we’re some sub­or­di­nate out­fit that has to get a sig­nal from abroad be­fore we think, is of course a com­plete de­nial of ev­ery­thing we’ve cre­ated here”.

So then, in­quired Sales, how do we re­spond? Keat­ing said we should act “like grown-ups, like we should have al­ways re­sponded all the years through

... I mean what we have to do is make our way in Asia our­selves with an in­de­pen­dent for­eign pol­icy”.

To most peo­ple, in­de­pen­dence reeks of risk.

Sales pressed on the prac­ti­cal­i­ties and Keat­ing lamely re­turned to “the al­liance”. I sus­pect Sales was hop­ing for as­sur­ance that we would be se­cure. Keat­ing was un­able to ad­dress this key ques­tion – our abil­ity to de­fend our­selves, or not, was not in his equa­tion.

Howard felt that our se­cu­rity would not be af­fected by Trump. Per­haps, even, it would be en­hanced. Be­cause safety would be as­sured un­der the ea­gle’s wing – if we be­haved – Howard found no need to won­der about our own de­fence ca­pa­bil­ity. “I think one of the things we can look for­ward to is more money be­ing spent by Amer­ica on de­fence, and that is likely to end up strength­en­ing the in­volve­ment of the United States in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion.”

In 1976, a revo­lu­tion in de­fence think­ing was in­tro­duced to Aus­tralians through the first De­fence white pa­per. It ties to­gether the key fac­tors shap­ing our de­fence, es­pe­cially risk, time­li­ness and al­lo­ca­tion of scarce re­sources, in plain enough lan­guage to ren­der its ne­glect in­ex­cus­able. Our forces were not long out of Viet­nam, de­feated. Aus­tralians had been warned of com­mu­nist hordes rolling onto our shores. Peo­ple could not be cer­tain of any­thing but a risky ex­is­tence.

Abruptly, the gov­ern­ment had a dif­fer­ent mes­sage. Have no fear; there is no threat of in­va­sion. “Ma­jor threats (re­quir­ing both mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity and po­lit­i­cal mo­ti­va­tion) are un­likely to de­velop with­out pre­ced­ing and per­cep­ti­ble in­di­ca­tors,” it ad­vised. “The fi­nal emer­gence of a ma­jor mil­i­tary threat to Aus­tralia would be a late stage in a se­ries of de­vel­op­ments.”

Even more, we were told that we would aim to be self-re­liant – to be ca­pa­ble of de­fend­ing Aus­tralia with­out re­quir­ing as­sis­tance of the armed forces of oth­ers. A gi­ant step. The pa­per went on to de­fine prac­ti­cal de­fence mea­sures planned to pro­vide the na­tion with in­sur­ance against any un­favourable de­vel­op­ments.

The logic of the 1976 white pa­per sur­vived changes of gov­ern­ment and was re­in­forced by the white pa­pers of 1987, 1994, 2000 and 2009. But none of th­ese sub­se­quent white pa­pers showed any in­ter­est in how we were pro­gress­ing to­wards the goal of self-reliance. In­stead we learnt of “short­com­ings” and “gaps”, al­ways re­quir­ing ad­di­tional money.

Small won­der Aus­tralians still feel in­se­cure. With­out knowing where our se­cu­rity stands, gov­ern­ments floun­der in for­eign pol­icy re­la­tions, with the US and any­one else. Whether we feel se­cure enough in our own de­fence ca­pa­bil­ity is as fun­da­men­tal to Keat­ing mak­ing a case for in­de­pen­dence in for­eign pol­icy as it is for Howard’s ac­cep­tance of reliance on the US.

I think our own de­fence is ca­pa­ble enough for us to sleep well. This as­sess­ment will be con­tested, un­doubt­edly – many claim ex­per­tise here. My cred­i­bil­ity rests on 20 years as a pub­lic ser­vant in the depart­ment, mostly re­spon­si­ble for ad­vice on ca­pa­bil­ity de­vel­op­ment, tech­no­log­i­cally based. In 1976 we had no abil­ity to de­tect in­tru­sions into our vast north­ern airspace. Now, after set­backs of many hues, the de­fence of Aus­tralia is now un­der­pinned by a net­work of over-the-hori­zon radars known as Jin­dalee. This tech­nol­ogy en­ables us to be highly con­fi­dent of de­tect­ing in­com­ing air­craft and ship­ping. It is a re­fined amal­gam of in­no­va­tions, squeez­ing in­for­ma­tion out of re­flec­tions of ra­diowaves via the iono­sphere. This break­through has en­abled ef­fec­tive de­fence to be con­structed eco­nom­i­cally. Knowing what’s hap­pen­ing in our air and sea sur­rounds multiplies the ef­fec­tive­ness of all as­sets and in­fra­struc­ture, whether we talk about pa­trolling our ap­proaches, in­ter­dic­tion, strike or land com­bat and so on. I ex­pect that any com­pe­tent anal­y­sis will be pos­i­tive about us nul­li­fy­ing armed at­tack.

The 2016 white pa­per fi­nally states as much. It ac­knowl­edges for the first time that self-reliance has been achieved: “The gov­ern­ment is pro­vid­ing De­fence with the ca­pa­bil­ity and re­sources it needs to be able to in­de­pen­dently and de­ci­sively re­spond to mil­i­tary threats.”

We have reached the point where we do not need the in­volve­ment of US forces to de­fend Aus­tralia from armed at­tack.

So what’s the ANZUS al­liance for? The crafters of ANZUS in 1952 wanted Aus­tralia to grow up, by be­com­ing self-re­liant. They wrote: “... the Par­ties sep­a­rately and jointly by means of con­tin­u­ous and ef­fec­tive self-help and mu­tual aid will main­tain and de­velop their in­di­vid­ual and col­lec­tive ca­pac­ity to re­sist armed at­tack”.

Hence, ANZUS was the spark for the pol­icy ar­tic­u­lated 24 years later in the first white pa­per. At­tain­ing self-reliance is the goal of the al­liance. Of course, at­tack from a ma­jor power could be be­yond our in­di­vid­ual de­fence – a risk we share with most of the world. Here ANZUS pro­vides some in­sur­ance: the dec­la­ra­tion of each party that it would act to meet com­mon dan­ger in the Pa­cific. We would look to the US, and the US would act, pro­vi­sion­ally – no guar­an­tees ex­ist, as the late Mal­colm Fraser ar­gued in his book Danger­ous Al­lies. But such an at­tack is also un­likely, the more so be­cause it would be an act against the US’s in­ter­est.

There is no re­quire­ment un­der ANZUS to spend more than we need on de­fence to en­able us to join mil­i­tar­ily with the US in its global as­pi­ra­tions. How­ever, go­ing as far back as the 1976 white pa­per we find an am­bigu­ous ref­er­ence to “con­tribut­ing … to the US global ef­fort”.

The Hawke gov­ern­ment pushed the en­ve­lope by send­ing forces to the Kuwait war in 1990. Howard’s in­va­sion of Iraq had noth­ing to do with ANZUS, and it eroded the global rules-based or­der. The ro­ta­tion of US marines through the North­ern Ter­ri­tory, agreed by Ju­lia Gil­lard, is not needed for our se­cu­rity – the in­flu­ence of their heavy fight­ing doc­trine will dis­tract and de­grade our own de­fen­sive ca­pa­bil­ity.

We are now on a slip­pery slope tak­ing us away from our cen­tral in­ter­ests. The 2016 white pa­per qui­etly iden­ti­fies a new ob­jec­tive: “mean­ing­ful contributions to global re­sponses to emer­gent threats to the rules-based global or­der that threaten Aus­tralia and its in­ter­ests”.

It is no sur­prise that much more tax­pay­ers’ money is sought by De­fence to meet this ob­jec­tive. Naval ca­pa­bil­ity is to be ex­panded for more dis­tant op­er­a­tions with US forces. New air warfare de­stroy­ers of­fer­ing only a mi­nor in­cre­ment in our de­fen­sive ca­pa­bil­ity over other plen­ti­ful mar­itime as­sets and land-based air de­fences are to cost $9 bil­lion. Th­ese ves­sels en­able seam­less op­er­a­tional in­te­gra­tion with the US naval air­craft car­rier groups in high in­ten­sity warfare.

In the new sub­ma­rine project, at a cost of $50 bil­lion, we ob­tain an­other mod­est in­cre­ment in de­fen­sive ca­pa­bil­ity over land-based, air and other mar­itime as­sets. Th­ese sub­marines will en­able of­fen­sive strikes at dis­tant in­land sites, pre­cisely and un­de­tected, and far­away sur­veil­lance and in­ter­dic­tion at choke points of lit­tle rel­e­vance to our di­rect de­fence. How­ever, sub­marines are slow, re­quir­ing a fort­night’s no­tice to get any­where. Re­gional ob­servers find it ir­ra­tional that Aus­tralia should bear such heavy cost to be able to de­liver con­ven­tional mu­ni­tions well be­yond its neigh­bour­hood, and will note that the sub­marines’ cruise mis­siles pos­sess war­heads in­ter­change­able be­tween con­ven­tional and nu­clear.

We are slid­ing up the scale of danger­ous geopo­lit­i­cal in­volve­ment.

The US is pres­sur­ing us to spend ever more on de­fence. The el­e­va­tion of de­fence spend­ing to 2 per cent of GDP, dat­ing back to Ju­lia Gil­lard’s lead­er­ship, has noth­ing to do with our di­rect se­cu­rity needs. Urg­ing that GDP goals be set for de­fence has been a US tac­tic directed at its ma­jor al­lies. Pro­gres­sively, Aus­tralia’s de­fence has be­come en­twined in US geopo­lit­i­cal ob­jec­tives, ten­u­ously pre­sented as al­liance ne­ces­si­ties. How far US global am­bi­tions should in­flu­ence our fis­cal and in­ter­na­tional poli­cies is what the 7.30 de­bate was re­ally about. Re­solv­ing such is­sues re­duces to a clin­i­cal weigh­ing of our na­tional in­ter­ests. But un­til now the scales have not reg­is­tered con­fi­dence in our own ca­pa­bil­ity.

De­fence has es­caped the per­va­sive cuts to ex­pen­di­ture gov­ern­ments have made as they pri­ori­tise the re­duc­tion of the na­tion’s fis­cal im­bal­ance. It has been al­lo­cated a 71 per cent in­crease on $32 bil­lion in 2016 over the next five years. One ex­pects ex­tra­or­di­nary rea­sons for this anom­aly, but none have been pre­sented, be­yond the “mean­ing­ful contributions to global re­sponses to emer­gent threats to the rules-based global or­der”. This un­bounded, un­ex­plained ob­jec­tive ap­pears to be driv­ing ded­i­cated in­vest­ment in un­nec­es­sary mil­i­tary re­sponses ill-suited to pro­gress­ing our in­ter­ests.

Even a pedes­trian fi­nance min­is­ter would ad­vise cab­i­net that, hav­ing just with­drawn from a cou­ple of wars, De­fence of­fers per­son­nel and op­er­at­ing ef­fi­cien­cies. An in­formed fi­nance min­is­ter would ques­tion the costly pe­riph­eral ex­pense of join­ing op­er­a­tions with the US be­yond our di­rect sphere of in­ter­est, and be­yond the re­quire­ments of ANZUS. An alert min­is­ter of any kind would have noted that the 2016 white pa­per ac­knowl­edged, for the first time that we have achieved self-reliance.

Alas, most min­is­ters go co­matose at the word “de­fence”, those in fi­nance es­pe­cially. Gov­ern­ments can­not have it both ways. As we are now self-re­liant, due to a pur­pose­ful pro­gram cost­ing a tril­lion dol­lars over 40 years, De­fence spend­ing should have lit­tle bud­getary pri­or­ity. De­fence should be re­quired to do more with less, like every­body else in the na­tion. De­vel­op­ing tech­nolo­gies mean more ca­pa­ble de­fence can be de­liv­ered even with a re­duc­tion in De­fence spend­ing.

If, how­ever, the gov­ern­ment were to deny that we have at­tained self-reliance, the ques­tion then is why are we spend­ing with such largesse on lesser pri­or­ity de­fence ar­eas, when our ba­sic need re­mains un­ful­filled?

The nar­ra­tive on the US al­liance – through ANZUS – has be­come in­verted. Rather than com­pre­hend­ing that the al­liance aims for Aus­tralia to be in­de­pen­dent, com­men­tary as­sumes we are in­escapably re­liant upon the US for our se­cu­rity. This is a dis­tort­ing an­chor to pe­ri­odic de­bates about where to draw a line in join­ing with US geopo­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions, and in shap­ing our for­eign pol­icy and the econ­omy.

Not by ac­ci­dent, we have rea­son to be con­fi­dent of our de­fence. Re­gard­less of the casino of fed­eral elec­tions, it is time for our for­eign, fis­cal and de­fence poli­cies to reflect our own strength. Howard’s undis­cern­ing san­guin­ity and Keat­ing’s half-cocked pas­sion for self-be­lief show that the nexus has long

lead­ers.• eluded the na­tion’s


MIKE GILLIGAN worked as a De­fence Depart­ment ad­viser on ca­pa­bil­ity de­vel­op­ment from 1973-93.

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