The Blue Paper Project

A draft ubmission by Julie Clutterbuck

10th August 2000

Introduction

In a review of Australia's defence force, we should broaden our focus from defence to security, asking what security means for the people of Australia and of the region. This includes environmental security, human rights, and self determination. Once we have thought about our priorities for security in this wide sense, we can ask what role the defence force has to play.

We can draw guidance from the Commission on Global Governance's 1995 report Our Global Neighbourhood:

"All people, no less than all states, have a right to a secure existence, and all states have an obligation to protect those rights.

The primary goals of global security policy should be to prevent conflict and war and to maintain the integrity of the environment and life- support systems of the planet by eliminating the economic, social, environmental, political, and military conditions that generate threats to the security of people and the planet, and by anticipating and managing crises before they escalate into armed conflicts.

Military force is not a legitimate political instrument, except in self- defence or under UN auspices.

The development of military capabilities beyond that required for national defence and support of UN action is a potential threat to the security of people.

Weapons of mass destruction are not legitimate instruments of national defence. The production and trade in arms should be controlled by the international community."

The defence review process

I would like to thank the government for listening to my opinion. I would also like to request that further consultations be undertaken. For consultations to be meaningful, I think we need a longer time-frame. Many organisations only communicate with their members by quarterly newsletter, so six months would be a minimum.

I would also like to request that all submission be available for public viewing (except where confidentiality has been requested). If submissions are made in electronic form, they should be freely available over the internet.

What are our strategic interests?

The discussion paper asserts the need to "focus narrowly on our strategic interests- those relating to the risk of armed conflict

involving Australia" while at the same time recognising the impossibility of such a narrow focus, given the interconnected nature of our world.

Clearly, we have strategic interests in decreasing the risk of armed conflict occurring. An attempt to focus narrowly on "having the ability to defeat potential military attacks" may be counterproductive.

Our strategic interests include:

  • maintaining control over our borders and over our marine territories;
  • eliminating the causes of conflict, whether they be economic, social, environmental, political or military;
  • maintaining the "life support" systems of the planet;
  • strengthening the democracies that surround us;
  • eliminating the wealth gap that separates us from our neighbours;
  • developing strong relationships in the region based on trust and mutual respect;
  • decreasing the level of military build up both at home and overseas, including weapons of mass destruction;
  • protecting the human rights of all people. Our strategic interests do not include:
  • protecting economic interests overseas or access to resources overseas (for example Australian mines in Bouganville);
  • supporting the military interests of the United States, especially when they decrease our security by creating fear or distrust; or when they directly threaten the security of the people who live in the countries around us;
  • supporting the local or international arms industry;
  • maintaining a gap between our military capabilities and those of our neighbours;
  • denying people the right to self-determination

What should our defence force be able to do?

Military threats

Our defence force should be appropriate to the level of threat we face. As the discussion paper admits, we are one of the most secure nations on earth. While some nations may have the technical capability to invade Australia, when we evaluate the level of threat we should also take into account the political likelihood of such a hostile invasion. For example, the United States is possibly the only country with the technical ability to launch a major invasion; yet it would be ridiculous for us to prepare for this given that there is no political reason to expect it.

We should have the capability to repel any likely on-shore invasion.

Strike capability and other offensive capabilities

The discussion paper canvasses the possibilities regarding maintaining the F-111 or upgrading our strike capability. I believe this should not be a high priority.

Firstly, such technology, almost by definition, has a very narrow range of uses. It cannot be put to any peaceful or life-enhancing purpose. It is of no use for peace keeping forces.

Secondly, such technology is expensive, both to buy or develop, and to maintain. It is also more prone to becoming obsolete, thus having a shorter shelf life. It represents a poor return for our security budget. This has been demonstrated by the Collins class submarines.

Thirdly, our strike capability is someone else's military threat. The fact that we possess the capability indicates our willingness to use it. As such, it puts pressure on our neighbours to increase their military spending... a classic arms-race situation.

This kind of one-up-manship diverts funds away from areas of desperate need, and threatens the security of all people. A high level of offensive capability will decrease our security.

Strike capability is not a high priority for Australia. It poses a threat to our security and the security of our neighbours. If anything, we should downgrade our offensive capability and redirect spending to areas of greater need.

Peacekeeping and humanitarian operations

The Australian peacekeeping forces in East Timor and Cambodia have had enormous public support. The Australian people are willing to commit resources to military operations when they support the human rights of our neighbours.

I believe that we should be active players in UN-sponsored peacekeeping forces. We can consider the cost of this to be an investment in greater regional security; thus decreasing the amount that we need to spend on war-fighting capabilities.

To be effective participants in peacekeeping forces, we may need to change or modify both our equipment and our training. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in East Timor, in some situations the Federal Police were more effective than the military, because of their civilian policing training. Peacekeeping skills are different to those needed for war-fighting; they may include conflict resolution, mediation, and community-building.

Serious thought should be given to the establishment of a Peace Force, perhaps involving both experienced civilian and military people.

This could intervene in crisis situations before they degenerate into situations needing UN peace-keepers. A relevant example here is the Solomon Islands over recent months.

The defence force has been active in humanitarian operations both at home and overseas. It is appropriate that it has the capabilities to support our civilian efforts in times of extreme need. Training should be provided to defence force personnel so they can operate effectively in such situations (for example fires, evacuations, disaster relief).

Involvement in peacekeeping forces should be a high priority for Australia, at the expense of war-fighting capabilities.

Technology

As indicated elsewhere, I think we should avoid spending money on high-tech weaponry that has little or no peacetime use, that will quickly become obsolete, and that is expensive to maintain. I do not think that "inter-operability" is a high priority- it seems to me that it might be more convenient for the international arms trade, but it seems to offer little benefits for Australia. Good communications should allow us to work effectively with other countries. We should prioritise investment in equipment that has a broad range of uses, including non-war-fighting uses.

Narrowing the gap

The discussion paper seems concerned that our neighbours are improving their capabilities to levels that approach ours, and suggests that this will put our "relative military strength " under pressure. It seems silly not to consider that perhaps our military strength has for a long time been putting our neighbours under pressure for exactly the same reason. Any attempt to "increase the gap" will increase that pressure, and lead to a vicious spiral of increasing military spending. We should avoid this trap.

The discussion paper is notable for its failure to discuss what reaction our choices may elicit from other countries. This is not a static environment; the decisions we make now will directly affect the level of military threat we face later on.

A decision to increase or maintain the gap will lead to a less secure region for us and for the people who live in other countries.

Instead, we should seek to make alliances with our neighbours, and develop trust and strong relationships so that their levels of military expenditure pose no threat to us, and our levels of military expenditure pose no threat to them.

We should not attempt to maintain a military advantage over our neighbours; we should instead create a culture of peace where we are neither threatened nor threatening.

Budget Issues

In general, governments try to spend money in areas of "greatest need". When there is no immediate need, we need to evaluate the risk of needs developing in the future and plan accordingly. Proactively, we can also act to decrease those risks.

At the moment, we face no immediate need in the area of defence spending, except in humanitarian or peacekeeping operations.

However, we are facing immediate threats to our environmental security - for example salinity; and to the security of our region - for example, the instability and human rights violations in Indonesia. We should allocate funds appropriately.

Rather than increasing defence force spending, it would be much more efficient to concentrate on eliminating the causes of conflict.

We should take a "whole of government" approach to security, rather than just a military one.

For example, in future conflict might arise from environmental crises (like resource scarcity; deforestation;climate change, especially a problem for our South Pacific neighbours; land degradation), large-scale migration,economic conditions, political problems like human rights violations.

Spending money now on improving environmental conditions, eliminating poverty and strengthening democratic processes abroad may be cheaper than dealing with military conflict in the future. The amount needed to address many problems should not be under-estimated. It will be quite large- but there will also be immediate benefits to Australia from such spending.

We can also seek closer relationships and greater understanding through diplomatic and cultural links. This could include restoring Radio Australia's range.

I support spending more money on these "prevention" issues. We already have bodies such as AusAID with expertise in these areas.

The defence force budget should not be increased either in overally terms or as a percentage of government spending; instead, security should be addressed by a "whole of government" approach aimed at eliminating the causes of conflict. This would allow the defence force budget to be decreased.

Conclusion

A review of the defence force cannot take place without serious consideration of what security means for us, and the best way to achieve this. Such a broader review should be carried out before the questions posed by the discussion paper are answered. The defence force has a part to play as part of a broad strategy to eliminate the causes of conflict; to defend Australia against likely on-shore attacks; and to provide security for all people in our region. Funding for the defence force should not be increased.