SYDNEY 8 August 2000
My name is Dr Hannah Middleton. I represent the Blue Paper Project, a national NGO initiative established in 1993. We will be making a written submission on Defence Review 2000.
Now I want to briefly address two aspects - security and regional engagement.
The first point we wish to make is that the Green Paper and the video are fundamentally deeply flawed.
While the current debate necessarily focusses on defence matters, the failure to properly and fully consider these in the context of the wider security issues leads to an approach which is conceptually flawed.
This in turn leads to the presentation to the community of policy choices which are actually restricted, skewed and unrealistic.
It is essential to examine the complex nature of security and the interconnections between its various dimensions.
Security is multi-dimensional and it is bad policy to analyse defence in isolation. It is time to assess the best way to balance and integrate our responses.
Security is often interpreted to mean military security -- the capacity to identify and meet perceived threats to a nation by military means, by the use or the threat of the use of force.
However, Australia's security can be enhanced by attention to social, political and humanitarian issues which affect the people of this country as well as in neighbouring states.
The over-emphasis in casting the military as Australia's guarantee of "security" has not engendered a true culture of national security.
Resources committed to developing the military have meant that less is available for constructive work such as preventive diplomacy and Radio Australia, to offer just two examples.
Resources committed to military defence mean less money for developing strong social cohesion and stability within the nation through employment programs and the health, education and housing needs of Australians and our neighbours.
A feature of military expenditure is its "opportunity costs", that is, the opportunities which are foregone for alternative consumption and investment.
The World Bank says high military spending contributes to fiscal and debt crises, complicates stabilisation and adjustment, and negatively affects economic growth and development.
Military expenditure reduces public and private investment, diverts funds and personnel from civilian research and development and increases the current account deficit, it tends to retard the rate of economic growth.
There is no readily identifiable threat to Australia of major direct attack. This has been so for decades and there is no evidence it will change in the foreseeable future.
The regional strategic environment is clearly complex and changing, but this does not necessarily mean it is more dangerous for Australia.
Conflicts in the region are predominantly internal. They are not directed against Australia and they cannot be solved by military means.
Regional engagement requires that we rethink what we mean by security and develop different relationships with regional states.
Overseas aid can assist recipients to cope better with their conflict-inducing social and economic problems.
Overseas aid is a cost effective means of contributing to reducing the problems of people in our region, yet Australia's contribution is minute compared to defence spending.
We cannot afford a continued cold war paradigm which defines regional engagement as interoperability with the United States in potential high intensity conflicts.
This would require expanding strategic strike and force projection capabilities, maintaining a 'knowledge edge' over regional states and remaining a substantial maritime power.
Australia simply cannot afford such an approach economically, politically and socially.
A rational reassessment of our security priorities would lead to a number of conclusions which may be at odds with the Federal Government's stated intention of increasing defence spending.
However, they would contribute to an independent policy which would make a major contribution to Australia's security.
These could include such things as:
- using more defensive and less costly systems as opposed to the long-range, aggressive capabilities currently in use;
- developing a proper coastal protection system;
- committing Australia to possess enough military force to defend our territory but not to threaten the territory of other states;
- focussing on dual-use equipment (for example, aircraft which can be used for water bombing bushfires as well as for coastal surveillance and interception);
- investing time and effort in regional arms control through bodies such as ASEAN;
- working to develop transparency and confidence building in the region and to restrict a regional arms race;
- increasing the share of GDP allocated to overseas aid;
- contributing to the elimination of the foreign debt problem;
- expanding trade, co-operation in the development of science and medicine, educational and cultural exchanges.
These are strategic positions we believe should be taken and should underpin decisions on defence spending if Australia and the region are to be genuinely stable and secure.