07.05.2017 Author: James ONeill

Time to Rethink Australian Defence Policy

6745324324The recent visit to Australia by the US Vice-President Mike Pence and statements by both Prime Minister Turnbull and Opposition leader Shorten have highlighted yet again the singularly dangerous path that Australia is following in its defence and foreign policies.

A symptom of that danger was the statement by the North Korean leader Kim Yong-Un that Australia is now a nuclear target because of its close adherence to US foreign policy in respect of the current Korean tensions.

While Kim’s threats are easy to dismiss because of that country’s inability to actually carry them out, this will not always be the case. The cartoonish nature of the way that country is often represented in the Australian media allows our media and politicians to avoid discussing the much wider threat that our foreign policies create.

The two countries most regularly portrayed as constituting a threat to Australia are Russia and China. There is no doubt that either of these countries have the current capacity to quickly eliminate Australia as a viable entity, military or otherwise.

Pence’s visit to Australia, the real objective of which we know little, follows on the heels of senior American military officials to cement further into place the basing of US navy, air force and marine units in bases on Australian soil.

The stationing of US military personnel on Australian soil is downplayed in the political discourse by the use of euphemisms such as “rotation” as if that meant something other than a permanent presence where only the personnel may change.

Taken together with the role of Pine Gap in America’s worldwide military actions and other military installations performing similar though less well-known roles, Australia’s participation in the American war machine poses a threat in a way that is more serious than the posturing of North Korea’s current dictator.

If statements made by senior defence personnel at the time of the signing of the military agreements extending the US military footprint in Australia are any guide, Australia’s defence policies appear to rest on a set of assumptions that are dubious at best, and for the most part delusional.

The ANZUS Treaty, signed in 1951 is regularly stated to be the cornerstone of Australia’s defence strategy. That New Zealand, the treaty’s third part, effectively withdrew in 1984 has not altered the Australian view of its importance. It is consistently represented to the Australian public as a security guarantee. In the event that Australia is attacked, the US will come to Australia’s aid. In fact, the ANZUS Treaty does not provide for such a guarantee. Unlike, for example, the NATO Treaty, it merely provides that each country shall “consult” in accordance with its constitutional procedures.

That such a flimsy base should be the cornerstone of a defence policy for nearly 70 years speaks volumes about the faith based nature of the policy. That is, Australian defence planners believe that the US will come to Australia’s aid in the event that it is attacked by a hostile power.

Australia’s willingness to join a whole series of US foreign policy misadventures since World War 2 may be seen as an attempt to provide a basis for mortal suasion should the need arise for US help: “look, we helped you umpteen times, now you can help us.”

It is difficult to ascertain any other basis upon which Australia would enter into a series of largely illegal wars, and in the case of Afghanistan and Iraq, stay indefinitely when no vital Australian strategic interest is discernible. Apart from continuing that policy as in the case of Syria, Australia does the US the courtesy of refraining from criticizing the latter’s involvement in other unconscionable actions such as the ongoing onslaught of Yemen, or Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

It is significant that Australia was recently excluded from any participation in the Syrian peace talks on the basis that it did not have any independent contribution to make but was simply an echo chamber for the Americans. Unsurprisingly that fact received little or no coverage in the local media because the notion of independent sovereignty is another carefully nurtured myth.

Australia’s policy is only explicable in terms of each of its actions being seen as a continuing down payment on an insurance policy of American goodwill, even though there is no guarantee of an eventual payout.

That is the dubious element that permeates the policy. The delusional element is reflected in a series of statements made in recent months by senior defence personnel, both civilian and military, and the political support given to sustain the delusions. Some brief examples illustrate the point.

Australia is currently committed to the expenditure of over $55 billion for submarines (not due in service until 2030), and $105 billion for the lifetime cost of the US built F35 fighter jet. Quite who the F35, if it ever flies in a combat capacity, will actually be attacking has never been made clear. It is plainly useless in an Australian environment. To be used elsewhere would require a foreign base that would be an obvious primary target in the event of actual hostilities.

In 2016 a Defence Department spokesman was quoted as saying that the submarines could “pop up” in the South China Sea and fire missiles at China in the event of a war with that nation.

That thinking is beyond delusional. Assuming that the submarines could even penetrate China’s maritime defences (of which the island building exercise is a crucial part), does our Department of Defence seriously expect that China has no capacity to detect and eliminate such missiles; and that such an attack would not result in immediate and devastating retaliation?

If the Department of Defence believes that the US alliance would protect Australia from such retaliation, then that is only further evidence of delusional thinking.

In respect of proposition, quite apart from their own systems, the Chinese have acquired the S300 and S400 anti-missile systems from Russia. Those two models are superior to anything in the western armoury, and Russia is now replacing them with the even more sophisticated S500 series.

Among its many capabilities, the S500 series renders obsolete the F35 fighter, which even the Americans acknowledge. This instant obsolescence of the F35 has not deterred Australia’s commitment to huge expenditure to no obvious advantage.

In regard to proposition the Chinese capability for massive and devastating retaliation is linked to another delusional statement by the Department of Defence. At the time of the signing of the bases agreement with the Americans in late 2016, the statement was made that Australia was ‘like a fixed aircraft carrier’ out of reach of Chinese missiles.

If this is an accurate reflection of Defence Department thinking, then it is dangerously misinformed. If on the other hand if it was a statement made that was known to be untrue, then the Australian public is being misled.

The DongFeng41 is a Chinese ICBM with a range of 12,000-15,000 km with a top speed of Mach25. It can deliver 8-10 independently targetable nuclear warheads. Simple arithmetic demonstrates that any Australian target can be reached from China in less than 30 minutes.

The only anti-missile defence system capable of intercepting the DongFeng41 is the Russian S500 series, which Australia does not have and is unlikely under present policies to ever have.

Surface warships are no less vulnerable. The Chinese have the DongFeng21D, a supersonic cruise missile capable of Mach10 speeds, and with a range of 1600km. It has rendered obsolete US aircraft carriers, which are incapable of defending themselves against this weapon, as are other warships.

The Chinese also have the YJ-18 supersonic cruise missile, which has the ability to be fired from submarines. Its intelligent mechanisms also make it virtually invulnerable to interception. It has been described as “America’s Nightmare”. Other Chinese missiles, the supersonic YJ-12 and the long range XJ-100 and the CX-1 supersonic missiles are currently under development.

The Russian equivalent is the Khalibr range of missiles of which there are more than a dozen variants. They have the advantage of, among other things, of being able to skim over the sea at 4.6 metres of altitude, making detection and defence very difficult. A more advanced model, the Zircon, is due to be introduced shortly.

Again, the Americans have admitted that their anti-aircraft defence systems are virtually incapable of intercepting the Russian hypersonic systems. Their range and capability means that US aircraft carriers, until now the major means of power projection, will have to operate so far from the coastline as to render their aircraft ineffective.

This July the Australian Navy will again be taking part in Operation Talisman Sabre, an exercise with the US Navy aimed at practicing a blockade of the Malacca Strait through which 80+ percent of Chinese imports and exports currently pass.

It is clearly a hostile act aimed at China, which is Australia’s largest trading partner by a significant margin. For the first time in Australia’s history, its largest trading partner is also designated as a potential enemy. This requires cognitive dissonance on a significant scale.

OBOR is creating alternative markets for China to purchase the same raw materials that have enabled Australia to grow rich over the past several decades. The time will shortly arrive when China will be able to source its raw materials without recourse to Australia. This will have major economic repercussions for Australia, a topic that is not even considered.

In the light of these developments, and the military realities which our planners seem determined to ignore, would it not be more in Australia’s true national interest to reappraise our current blind adherence to the US military alliance? Notwithstanding the constant propaganda to the contrary, it is difficult to perceive what actual benefit it has brought to Australia. On the contrary, it is only too easy to identify the disadvantages, including a reduced standing in the international community and a very real threat to economic prosperity.

Unless Australia’s foreign and defence policies are made to reflect actual reality, the failure risks those policies bringing real dangers to Australia. We could do no better than to base a new policy on the adage propounded by Palmerston, the 19thC British statesman, who said words to the effect that nations have neither friends nor enemies, only interests.

It was an adage repeated by the supreme realist Henry Kissinger. It is one that Australia’s political and defence planners would do well to heed as we charter the very changed geopolitical waters of the 21st century.

James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

Please select digest to download: