EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Defence: new situations demand new policies
, September 27, 2008
Throughout history, great powers have operated as much through their economic power as their military strength.In his keynote address to the RSL national conference, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that, in response to the arms build-up in the Asia-Pacific region, his Government "has already committed to making sure we stay ahead of the game by extending the real growth of the defence budget by 3 per cent per annum to 2017-18".
In light of the inadequate resources given by successive governments over many years to Australia's defence forces, a commitment to 3 per cent defence growth will make little difference, particularly given the expense of new military hardware, and our inability to maintain necessary manpower levels in the defence forces.
In an accompanying media conference, Mr Rudd placed high emphasis on building Australia's naval capacity. He said, "Australia is a maritime state. We have significant maritime interests, not just in terms of our own immediate interests in the south-west Pacific, but more broadly in the defence of our own sea-lines of communication."Neglect
It is a sign of the neglect of Australia's navy that Australia's premium shipyards cannot get enough work from the government to keep them busy.
The Perth-based shipbuilder, Austal, recently completed a $460 million littoral combat ship for the US Navy, while Incat, the Tasmanian manufacturer of 40 per cent of the world's large high-speed ocean-going ferries, has built three transport ships for the US defence forces, but none for Australia's.
Currently, the defence forces are required to perform a range of multi-dimensional tasks, including major engagements by the army in Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor, on top of substantial commitments to disaster relief in South-East Asia, peace-keeping in the Pacific islands, as well as involvement with the United States and other allies in joint military operations.
In the foreseeable future, these should be the priority areas for expansion of Australia's defence forces.
The idea that Australia could act unilaterally as a naval power - able single-handedly to protect her sea-lines of communication which extend to the Middle East and North Asia - is naïve in the extreme.
A more serious criticism of Mr Rudd's program is that it ignores the fact that the greatest threat to Australia's sovereignty is economic, not military.
As a result of the massive growth in consumer debt, Australia's current account deficit has risen above 6 per cent of GDP, and the net foreign debt is $616 billion. Rising fuel prices and interest rates will push this even higher.
In order to maintain our standard of living, we have become dependent on imported capital flows and on the continuation of China's purchases of this country's natural gas and minerals.
Australia is therefore highly vulnerable to economic pressure from China, which is already flexing its muscles by buying a major stake in Rio Tinto and other mining companies.
More seriously, China has used its economic bargaining position to ensure that Australia does not build any kind of political relationship with democratic Taiwan, and, early this year, after protests to the Australian government, succeeded in forcing the abandonment of the quadrilateral security dialogue involving Australia, the US, Japan and India.
As Australia has sought a new relationship with China - which is still a one-party communist dictatorship - relations with long-term trading partners such as Japan have significantly cooled.
Japan is not the only nation concerned at the Rudd Government kowtowing to China. India, another long-term ally, is unable to obtain uranium from Australia because she has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proli-feration Treaty, while Australia quite happily exports uranium to both China and Russia.
Throughout history, great powers have operated as much through their economic power as their military strength.
As the emerging great power in the Asia-Pacific region, China is already exercising this role, and is leaning on Australia to effect the latter's partial disengagement from its traditional allies.
If the lenders who have kept the Australian economy buoyant over the past 20 years suddenly take fright and decide to take their money elsewhere - and there are signs of this in the collapse in the Australian dollar - China may well emerge as Australia's economic saviour.
The price, however, may be very high: the surrender of our sovereignty.
In his 1970 Nobel Speech, reflecting on the influence of Soviet communism, the great Russian novelist, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, put it this way: "The timid civilised world has found nothing to oppose the onslaught of bare-faced barbarism except concessions and smiles.
"The spirit of Munich is a disease of the will of prosperous people who have given themselves over to material prosperity, so that their comfortable life might go on, believing that everything will be all right.
"But it will never be all right! The price of cowardice will only be more suffering. We will reap courage and victory only when we dare to make sacrifices."- Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.