Communist Party of Australia

We acknowledge the Sovereignty of the First Nations’ Peoples.


Journal of the Communist Party of Australia

ISSUE 29May 1992

Australia’s defence policy

by Dr Hannah Middleton

The Federal Government has called for a review of its current defence strategy which was released in its 1987 Defence White Paper. This provides the opportunity for us to look again at the choices which face Australia In fashioning its defence and foreign policies.

The Federal Government can retain its current policy of “forward defence” or “forward deployment”. This is an offensive approach based on the idea that Australia is to be defended by military, economic and political intervention throughout the Asia-Pacific region in association with an alliance with the United States. It is a military policy which seeks to use deterrence to secure territorial security.

In our region, this approach in essence is neo-colonialist and arrogant, undermines the independence and sovereignty of Australia and its regional neighbours, is aggressive and destabilising, and provokes a regional arms race.

The best alternative for Australia would be a genuinely self-reliant policy structured to defend our people and territory, our immediate environment. This must be coupled with active support for struggles for national liberation and sovereignty, an end to the US alliance, aid for sustainable development programs in regional states, increased trading relations, confidence and security building measures, and respect and non-interference towards other countries.

Offensive “defence”

The 1987 Defence White Paper introduced what the government called “the largest defence capital investment” and “the most dramatic expansion” of Australia’s forces “in peacetime history”. It was claimed that “Australia’s long range strike capabilities are being developed to respond – quickly and lethally – to early warnings far from Australia’s shores”.

Major change took place, including increasing long-range strike forces (F-111 planes, submarines, frigates), military responses to disturbances in south Pacific states, participation in aggressive US naval operations in the north Pacific, new electronic spy systems, and growing militarisation of Australia’s economy.

Increasing reliance on long-range delivery systems which are clearly offensive rather than defensive emphasises the fact that the government’s underlying strategy includes a role for Australia’s military forces far beyond our borders with equipment and personnel adequate for intervention and police-style actions in the Pacific region.

The former Minister for Defence, Kim Beazley, argued that in order to achieve national security, Australia must develop capabilities which enable us to move offshore and to intervene within the region if necessary. Defence is not about self-defence but about ensuring the stability of our “area of direct military interest” (which is defined as stretching over 7,000 kilometres from the Cocos Islands to New Zealand and the islands of the South West Pacific, and over 5,000 kilometres from the island chain in the north to the Southern Ocean).

The offensive stance in government defence policy was developed despite the fact that Australia faced no military threat according to official estimations. However, alarmist assessments were made of alleged potential threats to Australia in a region pictured as full of changing power relationships and dangerous military and political developments. These assessments arose primarily not from realistic predictions of political and military trends but from the need to justify military spending.

Interference in region

Government policies went beyond what is required for the legitimate defence of Australia to encompass strategic planning, equipment purchases and force adjustments which allow interference within the Pacific region, if not beyond. The base at Geraldton in Western Australia is an example of this.

Geraldton will have the capacity to “eavesdrop” on satellites, the most likely one being the international communications satellite INTELSAT which carries all our ordinary international telephone calls, telexes, faxes and so on. The base will also have the capacity to monitor Australian internal communications carried by AUSSAT.

Geraldton is located as far west as possible so that it is in the optimum position to monitor satellites posted over the middle of the Indian Ocean which relay thousands of channels of communications between Europe and Asia. Thus Australia will have no difficulty in monitoring communications in and out of Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and so on.

The Australian Government’s basic response to what is seen as a changing, unstable regional situation has two elements: in south- east Asia, stress is laid on co-operation with existing powers, reactivation of the Five Power Defence Arrangements, a continuous naval presence, greater participation in regional exercises including regular exercises with Thailand, an increase in surveillance flights over the South China Sea and the rotation of F-111s and F/A-18 planes into Singapore and Malaysia.

In the south Pacific, the government is working to establish regimes which suit Australian interests, increasing surveillance flights and military aid, and sending personnel (naval attaches, advisers, etc) to support the patrol boat program.

The United States

Australia’s defence policy is dominated by our country’s adherence to the alliance with the United States. As just one example, the ANZAC frigates have been widely criticised on the grounds of expense, vulnerability, their inability to protect trade routes and their unsuitability for surveillance or disaster relief.

The money would be better spent on small, inexpensive coastguard vessels, catamaran mine-sweepers, and converted merchant ships for relief missions or troop transport, all of which would be more appropriate for a defensive defence of Australia.

Instead, millions are spent on the frigates which are the sort of small warship which can take part in exercises with US carrier-based battle fleets.

Despite Canberra’s rhetoric of self-reliance, the Australian Defence Force remains a loyal cog in the US military machine and Australian inter-operability with US forces has been increased.

In the north-west Pacific, for example, Australia’s military activities come directly under US control; the Australian Navy participates in what has been called “a grand informal naval alliance (commanded by the US and including Canada, Japan and South Korea) which aims to maintain Western control of the seas”.

Australian warships protect US aircraft carriers in the biennial RIMPAC exercises; Australian submarines have spied on the Soviet fleet in its home waters; and the British-Australian bases in Hong Kong and the US bases in Australia provide intelligence and communications in support of US naval operations.

In 1985-86, half the exercises held by the Australian Defence Force with other countries took place outside Australia’s area of direct military interest and 60 percent of the total were with the United States. Many of these were relevant to US but not to Australian strategy.

Furthermore, Australia remains dependent on US assistance in critical areas, notably the supply of guided weapons. Little wonder then that the government’s foreign policy remains fundamentally aligned to the US view and independent only at the margins.

The United States intends to maintain its military dominance in the Asia-Pacific region, pushing Japan and other allies, including Australia, into greater military spending to take some of the financial pressure off the Pentagon. This is the Asia-Pacific component of the new world order in which the United States intends to retain global dominance based on its military supremacy over its economic competitors.

Recently Prime Minister Paul Keating, has spoken frequently about Australia becoming part of Asia. There is logic to this argument if it is taken at face value. However, there is more to it. When US Defence Secretary Dick Cheney visited Australia at the beginning of May, Keating urged the US to become more involved in Asian politics. If these two positions of Keating’s are taken together, we can see that the Australian Government is attempting to bolster the position of the US in Asia at a time when Washington has been forced to retreat somewhat from the Philippines and South Korea. In this respect, Australia is attempting to play the same role in Asia as Britain plays for the US in Europe. Unless Australia adopts a policy clearly independent of the US, Keating’s manoeuvres will end badly for Australia.

Conversion and the “peace dividend”

The government argued that military spending would provide a healthy stimulus to Australia’s ailing manufacturing sector, that it could act as a kind of massive industry assistance plan. Coupled with this was the government’s vision of a high-tech based economic recovery.

However, military spending is an inefficient and ineffective way to pursue economic goals. It is competitive with all other consumption or investment – every dollar spent on military activity is a dollar which cannot be spent elsewhere. Most military goods and services have no social or economic use. Military spending diverts financial and human resources from useful productive activity and investment and actually slows the rate of economic and employment growth.

Military production is capital intensive rather than job creating. Research from a number of industrialised countries makes it clear that military spending creates fewer jobs than would be created in Civilian production for the same sum of money.

From the United States there is evidence that some 24,000 jobs would be lost for every US$1 billion cut from United States military programs but 31,000 would be generated for every US$1 billion of civilian investment. This means that every $1 billion transferred from the military to the civilian sector could create 7,000 jobs.

Between 1961 and 1986, 100 military facilities in the US were converted to civilian use. Over 138,000 new jobs more than replaced the loss of former Department of Defense civilian jobs (93,424) at the former bases. Twelve four-year colleges and 33 post-secondary vocational technical schools or community colleges with 53,744 students are on the former bases. In addition, 57 former bases now have educational uses with 7,864 high school vocational-technical students and 8,110 vocational trainees. Industrial and office parks are located at 75 former bases and 42 former defence facilities are now in use as municipal or general airports.

A defensive defence policy

A genuinely defensive defence policy could take advantage of cheaper but still efficient alternatives which could permit a peace dividend. The following two examples from a research paper illustrate this point.

“ ... we should develop a naval force suited to our needs and entirely within our budget. What we need most is a large fleet of very fast heavily armed small vessels, capable of being swiftly relocated from one port to another so they are never collectively exposed to possible enemy action ...

“For the incredibly high price already allocated to building a force of submarines ... Australia could easily afford to build between 60 and 100 gas turbine powered vessels of about 110' overall length and constructed out of GRP (fibreglass) to ensure a low radar signature and relative invulnerability to mines. Armed with anti-ship Exocet missiles or their derivatives plus Phalanx anti-aircraft weapons, the vessels would have a top speed of around 60 knots and their shallow draft would permit refuelling and rearming at almost any small fishing cove around the Australian coastline ...

“It is difficult to explain why we have 22 US FA18 Hornet interceptors horribly exposed on large easily located airfields, all of which are no doubt located on someone or others target maps ...

“True we now have converted Boeing 707s fitted with refuelling drogues to double their range – but why? Are we going to attack Fiji or Bali or Port Moresby perhaps? More likely it is another way of supporting US forces and someone forgot to tell us ...

“The startling Swedish Saab 37 Viggen can be airborne from a rough runway or road in 500 metres, has a top speed of Mach 2.3, full multi-role capability ... It also has the very positive advantage of being produced by a neutral nation who would not block the supply of spare parts at the drop of a hat.

“It would not be unrealistic to plan on perhaps 40 of these aircraft dispersed across Australia including five of the high speed low level reconnaissance version. For advanced training and tactical back-up perhaps 20 of the Saab Viggen’s predecessor, the Mach 2 Draken, could be-purchased for as little as A$1 million each – 20 Mach 2 jets for half the price of a single FA 18."

An alternative defence policy

The Socialist Party has for a long time been arguing that the Federal Government can and should develop an alternative defence policy for Australia which will be efficient, affordable and genuinely serve the defence needs of our country and the need for peace, stability, independence and social justice in our region. It should be an independent and non-aligned policy which recognises that the security of any country cannot be guaranteed by military means.

The people of Australia would receive considerable benefits from a policy of peace and disarmament. Conversion programs would release funds to provide thousands of additional jobs in areas of human and environmental need. The “peace dividend” would provide major financial resources to satisfy the needs of the people for jobs, housing, education, health, environmental protection, culture and leisure. Living standards could be dramatically improved.

Improving regional security must include measures to achieve peace and disarmament, improve political relations and establish just economic relations between states and to benefit the human conditions of the people.

To achieve this will require a prolonged, determined and united struggle against vested economic, political and military elites and particularly against the influence of the United States in our region. Winning each of the goals set out below will mean both a victory in and a strengthening of the overall anti-imperialist struggle.

Regional disputes must be settled peacefully without prejudice to the security and national independence of any state in the region. Negotiations and co-operation should replace confrontation and force. There should be no interference in the internal affairs of any country in the region.

No country should remain under the effective colonial control of another. The rights of all indigenous peoples should be respected. Political, racial and religious discrimination should be abolished.

Collective security arrangements from which no country is excluded should replace the alliances which embroil the region in conflict. The arrangements should bind all countries to mutual non-aggression. Until these new arrangements are possible, no new alliances should be formed and existing ones should not be expanded.

As countries in the region reduce their military expenditures, part of the funds released should be made available for assistance to the least developed countries in the region. Equitable economic relations should be put in place and an end made to discriminatory trade terms, tied aid packages, and the smothering demands of foreign debt repayments.

As a vital part of the disarmament process, the region needs to be made free of nuclear weapons and their support systems and bases. Reliable and effective nuclear-free zones need to be set up, with guarantees from the nuclear weapons powers. There need to be strong barriers to the further proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region.

All other forms of military presence in the region need to be reduced. Naval and air forces, non-nuclear ground forces, all should be the subject of negotiated reductions. All possible confidence-building measures should be explored to help bring about these reductions.

No country should possess more military force than is necessary to defend its territory against likely military threats. No country should be in a position to threaten the territory of other states. All countries should agree not to introduce new weapon systems into the region.

Non-aligned and independent

In Australia itself, the Federal Government must adopt a policy which is non-aligned and independent, based on peaceful co-existence and relations of equality, respect, friendship and mutual benefit with all other states and including a determined commitment to solidarity with other movements for peace, national independence and justice.

Australia’s military capability and doctrines must be changed so that, although capable of defending its own territory against likely military threats, it is not in a position to threaten the territory of other states.

The country’s military budget must be cut, US military-related bases on Australian soil removed, the visits of foreign warships and military aircraft banned, the sharing of Australian-gathered intelligence with other aggressive powers ended, armed units explicitly intended for overseas service like the Operational Deployment Force and the Special Air Service disbanded, and the supply of military equipment and the provision of military training to or joint military exercises with repressive regimes in the region ended.

Legislation must be introduced to give all permanent and reserve military personnel the right to conscientious objection to particular wars or to particular acts in war and to permit the establishment of trade unions within the armed services.

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