Blog No. 183
PART II MURDER IN BAGHDAD AND CLIMATE CHANGE IN CANBERRA: BACKGROUNDS FOR A NEW AUSTRALASIAN DEFENCE POLICY.
New Zealand’s defence policy is predicated on Australian defence policy. As things stand, it is impossible to conceive of a New Zealand defence policy that is not tied into and coordinated with that of Australia. While Australia is tied into its alliance, formal and informal, with the USA and the NATO nations that tag along behind it, New Zealand has little choice but to follow in its wake. Thus it joins Australia in spying on its Asian and Pacific neighbours through the CIA’s Five Eyes network, and joins other five-eyed partners in helping the USA in its attempt to dominate space. Militarising space
Together with Australia, New Zealand sends its soldiers to demonstrate its solidarity with the USA in fighting the wars America has instigated in Afghanistan and Iraq that would otherwise not be of the least concern to New Zealand. In preparation for kinetic hostilities, it squanders its sparse defence budget among other things on weaponised maritime reconnaissance aircraft that enable it to coordinate its actions in defence of obsolescent American carrier fleets against whatever threats from Chinese submarines they might provoke.
It is difficult to envisage changes in New Zealand’s defence posture while that of Australia remains unchanged. Though a revaluation of Australia’s defence posture has long been a necessity, it is only now becoming a possibility. There are four major factors influencing the change in Australian perceptions. Of these, the most significant is the fading of Australian confidence in its United States ally’s continued willingness (and ability) to prevent potential threats to Australia’s security emerging from the Asian mainland. Even such a staunch and desperately dependent US ally as Great Britain is gripped by similar doubts. British doubts
The second factor is the rapid developments in military (mainly missile and surveillance) technology that favour the defender rather than the aggressor at sea.
Thirdly, in light of the above, there is an erosion of confidence that the balance of power between Eurasia/Asia and the USA rests in favour of the USA. It is no longer certain that the USA and its allies would prevail in the event of open hostilities between China and the USA. Aggressive American campaigns, in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, to all of which Australia and two of which New Zealand have been inveigled into making military and PR contributions, have all been conspicuous failures. It is not in the Australian psyche to welcome being associated with a losing side. Australian decision makers, as they look at the seeming recklessness of the Trump administration’s decision-making, must ask themselves what other campaigns, in which Australia loses both money and international respect, are they likely to be dragged into? Will Iran be next and an own goal scored as Australia’s fuel supply is compromised?
Fourthly, there comes the realisation that the Australian economy is rapidly shrinking in comparison to the economies of those the US alliance views as potential enemies. Just as Australia is in greater need of secure protection than ever, the elements of that security seem to be slipping away from it. Furthermore, the Australian economy is extremely dependent on the success of the Chinese economy. While the USA, accounts for 9% of Australia’s foreign trade, China accounts for 29%. America’s confrontation with Beijing must inevitably jaundice Chinese policies towards the USA’s boots-and-all Australian ally.
Finally, there is the lack of self-confidence that will come, as the full extent of the bungling in Australian procurement and defence policy over the past several decades becomes obvious. Hugh White, in his recently published ‘How to Defend Australia’ The Book is particularly convincing on the extent and the causes of this misbegotten defence strategy and the squandering of both money and opportunity.
An early indication that there might be dissent within the Australian establishment regarding its strategic dependence on the US alliance, was provided by a former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, who expressed his views in his book ‘Dangerous Allies’ Fraser’s book Hugh White’s is a more recent and more detailed iteration of the same argument.
White’s argument is that, given the deteriorating confidence that Australia can have in the security offered by its alliance with the USA, it should be looking for an alternative. White comes up with a choice between two options. Either Australia should decide at significant cost, to remain a middle-rate military power, able to defend itself against all possible threats, or else, at far lower cost, it should be content to becomes a small power and thus in theory leave itself open to either invasion, or blackmail by any of the several Asian powers that might develop the capability – Indonesia, India, Japan and China.
White opts for Australia retaining its present ranking in the league tables and the inflated national self-image that goes with it. His proposed solution is for a defence posture based on Australia’s status as an island, surrounded by other islands and far away from the centres of power that might, sometime in the future, generate potential invaders. Given its geographical advantages, he argues that with a tolerable up-tick in defence expenditure, say from 2% to, at the most, 4% of GDP, depending on how the economy performs, Australia could defend itself from all possible enemies. The book goes into detailed analysis of the type of forces that would be required, their deployment and their likely cost.
The favoured strategy would be a sea-defence. The Australian defence forces, while ditching the majority of the Navy’s expensive and vulnerable surface vessels, as now redundant, would develop the forces required to deny any potential enemy use of the waters surrounding the Australian mainland. Facing Australia’s modern surveillance technology, aircraft, missiles and expanded submarine fleet, no would-be landing force would be able to gain control of the sea-approaches, essential to the successful establishment and maintenance of a beachhead on Australian soil.
The all-professional armed forces would have additional tasks. The army, consisting of up to twelve light-infantry battalions, would be responsible for dealing with any small parties of hostile intruders attempting to infiltrate the mainland. More importantly it would continue its role as a peace-keeping and stabilisation force in surrounding island territories so as to prevent them falling into the control of powers that might want to use them as bases from which to mount an invasion of the Australian mainland. White could have, but doesn’t argue that national service should be introduced and the whole of the population trained in sabotage and guerrilla warfare so that, like Switzerland, Australia becomes far too unpalatable a dish for a potential enemy to swallow. Switzerland’s other defence is that its neutrality is made quite explicit. Having no policy of pre-preemptively seeking out potential aggressors before they cross its borders, its neutrality is nonthreatening and has high value to other warring nations interested in mediation.
In addition to the main task of defending the Australian coast, a portion of the forces envisioned, would have the capacity to be deployed at longer range to help defend possible allies such as Singapore and Malaysia and even further afield. In all of the above, New Zealand is seen as Australia’s only totally reliable ally, which could never become an enemy. Despite its puny defence capabilities, it is seen as an asset when it comes to maintenance of the neutrality of Pacific islands that could be used by a hostile power.
It could be argued that there are some questionable aspects of White’s proposed defence posture. In a country besieged by climate change and facing the possibility of trade disruptions and feeble or declining growth, any additional commitments to defence expenditure, particularly on hardware that will have to be expensively maintained over decades, involves sacrifice. Other countries, such as Singapore, geographically far more exposed to risk and far more tempting as a strategic prize than Australia, retain their neutrality, and their confidence in their security with a per capita defence expenditure less (in the case of Singapore, only marginally) than that White proposes for Australia.
It could be that that White’s additional defence expenditure involves resources that could be better deployed on the environment, on developing an autarkic economy and in other useful areas that bolster national security. Intelligence is one such: after the collapse of the US alliance, no matter on how friendly a basis, will Australia still be able, or willing to rely on full and frank disclosure of the intelligence gathered by US agencies from Australian facilities?
It is a common error of defence specialists to exaggerate threats. This is well illustrated by White’s view of Russia as an aggressive nation whereas, having suffered more losses through European invasions than any other nation, it can be shown to have been pursuing a purely defensive strategy. This is in the face of NATO’s profit and jobs-for-the-boys-fueled expansive aggression (presented to western audiences by a sophisticated propaganda machine, as being purely defensive in the face of Russian aggression.)
Pundit paranoia knows no end to the threat scenarios that can be imagined and guarded against. At no stage does the author ask why should any other nation wish to assault Australia? If it is careful and restrictive in its alliances, why should Australia inspire the hostility of others? If it has goods to sell that other nations covet, why should they not buy the goods, rather than go to the huge expense and risk of war? If it is Lebensraum they are in search of, why go to increasingly parched and inhospitable Australia when there are underpopulated areas in the Northern Hemisphere that are being made ever more attractive by climate change? It is perhaps indicative that when the Polynesian tribes migrated through Asia and into the Indonesian archipelago, they decided to venture into the unknown expanse of the Pacific rather than cross a few hundred kilometres to the north Australian coast.
It could be argued that White’s proposed defence commitment to meddling in Northern Hemisphere wars could inspire unnecessary hostilities and is a luxury a neutral Australia should forego. Perhaps the most glaring omission in the proposed defence strategy is additional investment in diplomatic and media activity. Australia will need to be on exceptionally good terms with its neighbours and will need to explain its position eloquently to the rest of the world.
Should Australia go in the direction proposed by White, it will be to New Zealand’s benefit, enabling it to reappraise its own defence policy and follow in the same direction. This submission on the National Government’s Defence White Paper pertains. White paper
For far too long, both New Zealand and Australia have looked at themselves as ‘Western’ nations. This is in defiance of the fact that geographically both nations are firmly positioned at the Asian end of the southern hemisphere. New Zealand’s indigenous Maori population are clearly Asian in origin and culture and Australia’s’ Aborigine people first arrived in Asia 70,000 years ago. Aborigines
In summary, both Hugh White’s and Malcolm Fraser’s proposals for a change in Australia’s defence policy are based on a realisation that a promise of American protection is no longer a guarantee of national security. Setting aside any moral arguments for adopting a neutral stance, decoupling from the cold (could turn Hot) war against China and Russia that the USA and NATO are energetically promoting, makes practical sense.
And so we get back to the most pressing threat to the security of both New Zealand and Australia: rapid climate change. Australia is very late entering the race, but New Zealand is already well in advance of the majority of other OECD countries in its move towards the UN’s sustainable development goals. Being so light on population, both countries are on a scale that should allow them to move faster than most in developing a national economy closer to the Raworth ecological model. In New Zealand, the Labour Green coalition is already moving in that direction. However, for the global economy and climate change there can be no victory in just one country.
Any Australasian success in combating climate change and escaping from the war-making entanglements of international military alliances would have to be positioned so that they can serve as an example and nudge other countries in similar directions. The vast majority of humanity will pay scant attention to an NZ or Australian example, while they remain committed to the Western camp in the East-West conflict now emerging (and that is so prodigal of the planet’s diminishing resources.) It would be to everyone’s benefit were New Zealand and Australia, separately or together, to abandon the fast diminishing security offered by a western alliance and instead join the majority of their fellow southern hemisphere nations (and indeed of the global population) in joining the non-aligned nations movement. Non-Aligned
The initial move might be to apply for observer status. There are no obstacles or diplomatic hurdles to be crossed in such a move. The long-term goal would be to cooperate as fully as possible with neighbouring island nations and in helping them to achieve their doughnut economies. It is remarkable how many of the immediate community, are already members of this grouping. Its effectiveness and future development will certainly be enhanced by the acquisition of more members from the developed world.