Insurance or Security?
Australian Democrats Position on the Proposed Defence White Paper
Recent events including procurement catastrophes such as the Collins Class Submarines, budgetary questions and regional crises such as East Timor, Fiji and the Solomons have sharply focused public attention on to the state of our defence forces.
The Democrats have been long term advocates of a more transparent and participatory approach to defence issues. We believe that public debate and consultation is vital to ensuring an effective defence force with appropriate funding levels and use of those funds. For too long there has been a lack of public debate and a lack of public accountability on defence issues. An example of this is that when Defence does make savings the department keeps the extra money, whereas other departments have to deliver any cost savings back into general revenue.
Australia's security must be considered in an international context of changing forces and influences. The increased role of multinational corporations and international trade and financial markets has changed the nature of the international environment. This challenges the role of nation states and multilateral institutions set up to promote world security such as the United Nations. It challenges legal systems and the lack of an International Court and it also puts pressure on the use of International Conventions and standards. Civil society is more empowered as communications become cheaper and more accessible and so non government organisations are able to campaign and effectively disseminate information across borders.
Likewise, the degradation of the environment is a global issue which impacts on the security of individuals, nation states and entire regions. The way we and our neighbours use and abuse our environment will have dire consequences on our national security in the coming century. Already famine, drought and conflict have been seen hand in hand. The uncertainties of environmental warming can have dire consequences on international securities as nations cope with the ravages of floods, fires and famines, made all the worse by drastic land clearing and land mismanagement.
The digital divide is growing bigger as countries rely more and more on international communications such as satellites and the Internet. Cyberwarfare is a real threat and, as we have seen, hackers and opportunists can have a devastating effect on countries which rely totally on computer-based technology to run systems such as power, water, sewerage, communications and transport.
These trends suggest the growth of a borderless world. This will provide challenges for our governing systems which are predominantly structured as sovereign states, and in which security is still largely territorial. Increasingly nation-states are having to address these issues and also address advances made by multinational trading organisations who are eager to break down trade barriers and ease the regulatory regime in which they have to operate.
The proposed Multinational Agreement on Investment is a good example of this conflict. An obvious example, is the tension created when trans-national industries that produce defence equipment sell their wares to national governments. It is left to their home government to determine the strategic implications, and indeed the manipulative and political pressures that these sales may bring to bear. Policy decisions on security have too long been the exclusive domain of the Defence Department. The structure, and hence government departmental classification is a legacy of the Second World War. There has been very little dialogue as to whether such a model remains appropriate as we enter the 21 st century. Indeed the recent discussion paper released by the Defence Department maintains that model. Further, the security of the nation is increasingly under threat not from conventional armies, but from criminal activities such as drug smuggling and people trafficking as well as the factors already discussed.
Our military has not been used in a regional conventional confrontation since the Vietnam War, and peacekeeping or peace enforcement has been the dominant mode of operation, either as part of the United Nations, or a multi-lateral force. Both peacekeeping and peace enforcement are legitimate and core roles for our Defence Force, and should be acknowledged as such.
Many Australians see the delivery of developmental aid in our region as yet another strategic way of ensuring our security. They see diplomats located in Australian Embassies across the world reinforcing our security. We now have the opportunity to view the Defence Department's role in the bigger picture of security. It is also timely to look at the allocation of funding, and ask ourselves some hard questions as to where the money should be spent. Once security spending is seen in context, only then can discussion take place on whether Defence spending is sufficient.
Insurance - How Comprehensive?
Australia has the capacity to be a leader in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the areas of human rights and good governance. This leadership does not require Australia to lead a regional arms race, but relies more on aspects of good regional citizenship. The issue of Australia's positioning is crucial to this debate. There is pressure in some quarters to strengthen our Defence ties with the USA, and follow a path of "interoperability" which relies on Australia spending an even greater proportion of its Defence budget on high technology equipment. The questions need to be debated about appropriateness of the technology.
One of Australia's "competitive advantages" is our technological expertise, but we need to ensure that the technology we invest in is appropriate and relevant to our current and future needs. We also need to strike the balance between increased research and development and taking unacceptable risks for unproven technology.
"In the National Interest", the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's 1997 White Paper, written before the South East Asian Economic downturn and the democratisation of Indonesia, acknowledges that Australia is not likely to face the direct use of armed force against it. The Defence Department discussion paper also acknowledges this.
The Democrats believe that, in the long-term, the democratisation of Indonesia will increase regional stability and further decrease the risk of conventional military attack to Australia. If a force were to attempt to invade Australia, it would need to be quick, large, very well-trained and decisive. Civilian communications, including news accounts, have become so fast that it is likely that any mass movement of forces would be both noticed and reported early.
The role of Australian intelligence collection can not be underestimated, it needs to
be well co-ordinated and should ensure adequate safeguards are in place to assure privacy for Australian citizens. The Democrats welcome the introduction of the Defence Intelligence Board last year, and believe there is still some way to go in achieving better organisation within the Australian intelligence community in the future.
Other security threats to Australia can come via terrorist type activities such as chemical or biological contamination. To date Australia has been relatively free of these types of security threats. They are sporadic and hard to predict. While the military can and should have contingency plans in place to deal with such emergencies, prevention is always better than cure. To that end the Democrats will continue to push Australian Governments to assist regional neighbours to commit to the Chemical and Biological Weapons conventions and to foster the technological climate to allow the commitments of the conventions to be met.
The Democrats are concerned about the widespread availability of relatively inexpensive long-range missiles, such as the SCUDs used by the Iraqis in the Gulf War. Further, the nuclear arms developments in India and Pakistan are disturbing, as is the failure of the US Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The Democrats will push the Foreign Affairs Department to urge all Asian Nations to join the Missile Technology Control Regime, which presently has no ASEAN countries as signatories.
Given that so much money is spent on Defence, compared to other security agencies, it is clear that there are some activities, not currently carried out by military that could legitimately be. The Democrats recommend that a greater role can be played by the military after natural disasters, and the role of the Navy should encompass coastguarding. Search and rescue by the military can be increased, with greater co-ordination between the military, Customs and the Australian Federal Police. The protection of fisheries within the Exclusive Economic Zone should be also a role for the Navy and Airforce.
Most importantly, our military needs to be flexible and adaptable. These words are often used in the Defence Department, but usually without a strong sense of purpose.
Links between the military and the community should be strengthened. It is no longer appropriate for the military to be the body which defines what is and is not "core business". The community-those who fund the military-must have input into those decisions.
Security Issues beyond our Borders
Destabilisation can occur for many reasons, but the common denominator for conflict is inequity. Developing countries are often characterised by having an extremely wealthy minority and a huge underclass. When conflict or disaster occur in our region, Australians react strongly and with compassion. Our reaction to the post-election violence in East Timor is testimony to this. The Democrats believe this compassionate view is also strategically sensible, and that lessening the divide between rich and poor will lessen the level of friction. One factor in crisis prevention is development assistance, but only if it is both well funded and well directed. This assistance should encourage conditions that nurture free and critical thought, while discouraging corruption.
The Democrats actively and vocally opposed the sale of Radio Australia's state-of-the-art short wave transmitter at Cox Peninsula near Darwin. We believe Radio Australia assists in helping our neighbours understand our value systems, and what Australians recognise as important to how we see ourselves. In short we need to understand our neighbours, and we should encourage them to understand us.
During the East Timor crisis Indonesian media was broadcasting blatant lies about the activities of our military. We had no opportunity to correct the information and so Indonesians were left with a biased and untrue version of events in the region. However we also accept our responsibilities not to force our values on to other countries. It should be seen more as an avenue to encourage mutual understanding and tolerance.
There have been several crises in the pacific region in recent times which have highlighted the inability of our Government policy makers to accurate predict or understand events in the region. Examples include the coup in Fiji and the coup which followed in the Solomon Islands. The Democrats believe that reductions in university funding have had a direct impact on this failure. Presently no university in Australia runs undergraduate courses in Pacific Studies, and only the ANU conducts post-graduate studies.
In recent times, our neighbourhood has shown that it can change very quickly Any government policy must have the dynamism and flexibility to respond to such rapid change. Unfortunately, successive governments have demonstrated an inability to respond in this way. They also appeared to have entrenched views on conventional armed attack.
If armed conflict erupts within the region it is in the interests of Australia to work with the conflicting parties to seek early and lasting resolution. Adherence to International Law has increased in the recent past, and this has decreased the incidence of conventional armed conflict in the region. We see the promotion of International laws and conventions as vital to our role as a good regional citizen. And we consider that the leading role Australian Defence Forces have played in regional peacekeeping in Cambodia, Bougainville and East Timor contributes to this.
In addition The Australian Defence Force is extremely skilled and efficient in emergency relief work, as we saw following the tsunami in Papua New Guinea. We see emergency relief as some of the most important core work carried out by our armed forces.
This work reinforces Australia's reputation as a good regional citizen, as well as providing our troops with first hand experience of trauma reparation. It also allows the nation facing the crisis to recover as quickly as possible, while strengthening relations with Australia.
Environmental protection is crucial to maintaining stability in our region. One of the outcomes of increases in population is the strain that will be placed on food resources. Already we are seeing overfishing and threats to many species. Australia is advanced in the management of fisheries, we consider that there is a role for us in transferring those skills to our neighbours and that this is money well spent in enhancing our future security.
Unauthorised fishing within our Exclusive Economic Zone threatens the proper management of Pacific fish stocks, and must be discouraged-an operation best managed by the Navy.
Australia is the driest continent, and we are learning hard lessons about water use and land degradation. This is one area where we can usefully share the experience gained through our aid program. Clean water and sustainable food production are central to health and well-being, and it goes without saying that our neighbours' well-being is in our own best interests.
Deforestation and subsequent land degradation reduce the capacity for the region to feed itself. The wholesale removal of forests and replacement with palm oil plantations only results in greater differences between wealthy and poor, with possible resulting conflict over land ownership and food availability. As more palm oil plantations are created, small holdings become unprofitable as a result of falling prices. Australia can assist in working with traditional owners to understand the repercussions of deforestation and land degradation, and to work with communities to provide viable and environmentally sound economic independence.
Already the world has a refugee problem of monumental proportions. If as predicted by scientists, global warming leads to a melting of the Polar icecaps and rising oceans, there will be an increase in refugees, particularly in our region. Australia produces more greenhouse gases per capita than any other nation. We will not be able to claim that our own profligate production of greenhouse gases is unrelated to the flooding of our neighbours' low-lying island homes, and their subsequent need to find somewhere to live. Therefore we need to address issues of environmental sustainability domestically as well as internationally.
The Democrats acknowledge that Australia cannot operate in isolation from the rest of the world.
Australia presently has formal and active Defence arrangements with the USA and New Zealand. The treaty with the US is characterised by the concepts of interoperability, technology transfer and a bilateral focus. While the Democrats recognise that the joint facility at Pine Gap can offer Australia a degree of protection otherwise unavailable, we also believe that much of the Australian / US alliance is based on a cold war paradigm. The Democrats would like to see the Australian Defence Forces become less dependent on the US.
This is particularly true in the area of acquisition of new platforms. The Democrats believe that all new security acquisition projects should be evaluated on the basis of the need to either protect the nation or enhance regional stability. The concept of interoperability, which stresses the ability to assist the US in a conventional conflict outside of the defined region and in other than a peacekeeping role, should not be an isolated reason for equipment acquisition. It is important that the so called "Revolution in Military Affairs" is not used as a euphemism for Australia to head down an expensive technological path in order to be an Indian Ocean wing of the US Defence Forces.
Australia and New Zealand have a long history of coalition in Defence and Security activities. New Zealand has a lower budgetary commitment to Defence than
Australia, but has still managed to lead the region in dispute settling in Bougainville. While we do not believe New Zealand's defence model provides a perfect template for Australia, we do believe Australia can learn from New Zealand both in utilising the diplomatic corps and in the reduced cost of extensive use of the reserve military.
The Defence Budget
There is renewed discussion about whether the Australian Defence Organisation budget is sufficient for the Australian Defence Forces to be fully functional. The discussion has grown out of the East Timor deployment, and the added pressure that the Sydney Olympics will bring to bear if an issue of national security develops. There is future pressure to spend more to overcome the issue of "bloc obsolescence".
The Democrats would need to see compelling arguments to be convinced of the need for any increase in the Defence budget. Bloc Obsolescence is an issue of appropriate planning and long term strategy.
Likewise, the Democrats have difficulty with the proposal to establish a new policy research centre, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The Australian National University has an independent centre focussing on Defence issues. In addition, ADFA, which is funded from the Defence Department, also has a Centre for Defence Studies. Further, as the Defence Department would directly fund the proposed institute, its independence could be questioned. It seems to us to be more sensible for any additional funding to be directed to the ANU Strategic Studies and Defence Centre and other existing tertiary institutions offering international relations courses, rather than towards partial annexes of the Defence Department.
The Defence Department was quarantined from the budget cuts that characterised the early days of the Howard Liberal Government. Most Western countries, including the US, have been gradually reducing their Defence expenditure since the decline of the Cold War. Given that a threat from a conventional invader remains unlikely, the level of spending does not need to rise. Looking at the entire sphere of security, arguments to increase overseas development assistance are more sustainable. The Democrats support a significant increase in the overseas aid budget to the UN recommended level of 0.7 % of GNP.
Our Defence resources should co-ordinate civilian and military activities, to gain maximum coverage with the assets available. The slogan "Structured for war and adapted for peace" is rooted in a Second World War Australia .We need to be looking at Defence as a part of a broad security strategy, not simply as a stand alone force. The entire government, including all departments, needs to rethink how our security can be best assured.
As the most common use of the military is to be part of a multi-national peacekeeping force within our region, the predominant force is the army. As the multi-national force will have regional partners the use of high technology equipment is unlikely to be matched by those who are in coalition with us, leaving our army over-trained, and with redundant, often heavy, unusable equipment.
While the Democrats envision a place for high technology equipment, it should not
be the main focus for an army that is predominantly working with others to maintain peace. But we need to keep in mind that our huge land mass does require us to rely on technological advances for defence, rather than numbers of personnel.
The Democrats believe our security force should have a strong reserve component.
The reasons are twofold. First, a part time military is cheaper to maintain than a large regular force. Secondly, as the reserves live most of their day-to-day lives as civilians, they bridge the gap between society and security. For example, in the remote northern reaches of the country, Norforce, a combined Regular/Reserve Army unit with a large Indigenous contingent who know their land well, are already working closely with Customs and other agencies.
The Government has acknowledged that rural Australia is facing difficult times. A means of linking both city and country and the community and the military, is to employ those in the country areas, with high quality, well paid, part time work. The reserves can play a strong role within the Australian Defence Force, although the inherent prejudice from the regular forces will have to be addressed. As well attitudes from industry and private enterprises must be challenged to ensure no discrimination against employees who undertake reserve duty.
Presently, with the exception of the Norforce regiments, from the Pilbara and Far North Queensland, the reserves are mainly Public Servants or members of the Police Force. These are people who already have a reasonable income, and are mostly city based. If the Norforce model were used, money from Defence would be injected into rural Australia.
The joining of the three services under the one headquarters can only be seen as a move towards efficiency. However, the Democrats would want to see the process go
further, with the "tribal" services overcoming their old allegiances and moving forward as one. The Democrats suspect that much more can be done in the areas of efficiency and full and frank advising, if the culture within the Defence Department and government as a whole was less militarily focussed, and more security focussed.
- The Defence Force should be focussed more on peacekeeping, and less on irrelevant and irresponsible purchases.
- The level of Defence spending must not be increased, and a planning structure that underpins Australia's security interests first and foremost should be developed. The interests of our allies should never be the primary reason for the actions or acquisitions of our defence force.
- The role of Defence should be widened and the Government should consider all the other important issues that will impact on security in the next century.
- The role of the Reserves should be elevated, as the link between the military and the community.