COVER STORY / DEFENCE: Australia's future in the US alliance
by Ken Aldred
News Weekly, February 18, 2012
The rapidly changing strategic environment facing Australia for the immediate decades ahead is underscored by the results of the Pentagon strategy review announced in Washington at the end of the first week in January this year.
In a unique twist, President Barack Obama took the key role in the announcement, which was clearly driven by two distinct factors.
First, in a pragmatic response to the overriding debt problems facing the United States, defence spending will be cut by $US487 billion ($A476.2 billion). These cuts will come into effect over the next 10 years and have already been approved by the US Congress.
Central to the cuts will be a reduction in troop numbers of over 100,000. This is a substantial contraction in a fighting force of 565,000 US army troops and 201,000 marines. Many other details of the cuts are yet to be made public.
Second, while still endeavouring to maintain a credible commitment to NATO, the United States is clearly undertaking a reorientation of its military focus from Europe to Asia and the Persian Gulf. The winding back of US military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan is obviously helping facilitate this reorientation of US strategic focus.
Integral to this reorientation is the movement away from the concept of the US having the capability to successfully fight two major wars, to the proposition that it should be able to fight one major war and be able to deter a potential aggressor from engaging in a second war.
There are also suggestions in the Pentagon strategic review that the US may move to reduce the number of weapons in its nuclear arsenal. However, no specific indications have been made available.
Australia’s role in the US strategic realignment was made clear before the announcement of the outcome of the Pentagon strategic review, when in November 2011 President Obama visited Australia on the 60th anniversary of the signing of the original defence treaty between the two countries.
On November 16 in Canberra, President Obama finalised with Prime Minister Julia Gillard a new security arrangement between Australia and the United States. Under this agreement, 250 US marines will arrive in the Northern Territory during this year for a six-month training period during the dry season. This US marine taskforce will train in the Bradshaw and Mount Bundy training areas, operated by the Australian Defence Force (ADF).
Eventually, by 2016-17, the US taskforce will be taken up to its full complement of 2,500. Consideration is also being given to the increased use of the naval base, HMAS Stirling, in WA, by US warships and maybe nuclear submarines.
None of these proposed or possible developments include the creation of permanent US bases in Australia. Rather they are being built in coordination with the US, using the existing military or naval bases of the ADF.
Nor are the numbers of military personnel as substantial as those already positioned at various US bases around the Asia-Pacific region.
Leaving aside the diverse small deployments of US military personnel in the region, the numbers at the major bases are considerable. There are 32,000 US military personnel based in South Korea and over 40,000 in Japan. The latter presence is likely to be reduced within the foreseeable future, because of local political opposition to the US presence in Okinawa.
In addition, there are of course significant numbers of US military personnel on US territory in the Pacific. At the core of US operations in the Pacific are the 55,000 personnel in Hawaii with another nearly 5,000 based to the west at Guam.
The enhanced concentration of US forces in the Asia-Pacific region is paralleled on a smaller scale by the redeployment of ADF personnel and assets. The Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, has recently announced that further ADF resources will be moved to northern Australia and to Western Australia. Full details are yet to come.
There is little doubt that a combination of the growing economic importance of the Asia-Pacific region and the US’s winding down of commitments elsewhere around the globe has driven much of the American and also Australian strategic realignment. However, the principal imperative for this major shift of global strategy has been the steadily rising and expanding military, economic and political power of the People’s Republic of China.
American and Australian political leaders and senior diplomats have been cautiously denying that the strategic realignment to the Asia-Pacific region is really about containing China.
The reality is, of course, that what is taking place is definitely about containing China, and that country and its Communist Party elite know it. There are, in fact, many good reasons for finally addressing the rise of China and not simply observing it.
China’s present and future potency was succinctly explained early last year by Lieutenant General Ronald L. Burgess, Jr, director of the US Defence Intelligence Agency. In his “World Wide Threat Assessment”, delivered on March 10, 2011, to the US Senate’s Committee on Armed Services, he warned: “While China’s military strategy may be defensive, its doctrine calls for seizing the initiative, including possible pre-emptive acts.
“China continues to field new weapons and test doctrines to counter US capabilities. It increasingly can carry out military operations along its periphery. Growth in space, cyberspace, electronic warfare and long-range precision strike capabilities could enable Beijing to delay or degrade US military forces entering the region during a conflict….
“We estimate China spent more than $US160 billion on military-related goods and services in 2010, compared to the $US79 billion Beijing reported in its official military budget. The published budget omits major categories, but does show spending increases for domestic military production, foreign acquisitions, and programs to improve professionalism and quality of life among military personnel.”
General Burgess went on to say: “The [People’s Liberation Army] Air Force continues to acquire precision-strike weapons, aircraft with greater ranges, and offensive electronic warfare capabilities. PLA Navy progress in aircraft carrier research and development could enable China to start building a series of domestically-produced carriers and associated support ships by 2020.
“China is having moderate success introducing new missiles. [China] currently has fewer than 50 [inter-continental ballistic missiles] that can strike the continental United States, but probably will more than double that number by 2025. To modernise the nuclear missile force, China is adding more survivable systems, such as the road-mobile DF-31A ICBM. China deploys a limited but growing number of conventionally armed, medium-range ballistic missiles, including the DF-21C, and it likely is nearing deployment of a medium-range anti-ship ballistic missile….”
He added: “Realistic and complex training is part of the PLA’s modernisation and professionalisation efforts. MISSION ACTION 2010, the past year’s most comprehensive mobilisation training event, involved ground forces from three military regions….
“PLA Navy ships routinely operate in the South and East China Seas, including patrols near the Spratly and Paracel Islands. Chinese military and civilian ships continue to respond to US naval research vessels in both areas, but the extent to which Beijing coordinates these responses is unclear.”
Finally, General Burgess concluded: “The space program, including ostensible civil projects, supports China’s growing ability to deny or degrade the space assets of potential adversaries. China operates satellites for communications, navigation, earth resources, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. It has successfully tested a direct ascent ASAT [anti-satellite weapon] and is developing jammers and kinetic and directed-energy weapons for ASAT missions.”
In respect of Australia’s position, the chief of the Australian Defence Force, General David Hurley, pointed out in November last year that it had been a “well known fact for many years” that China had missiles that could reach Australia.
This had been earlier pointed out by Australian intelligence analyst, Dr Andrew Campbell, formerly of the Office of National Assessments (ONA). In an article published in 2006, Dr Campbell said that the US, Taiwan and Japan “watch with apprehension as China introduces the new generation of mobile nuclear missile, the DF-31. This intercontinental ballistic missile, which will be operational by next year, could target Australia in an arc from Brisbane to Perth. A later model, due to be deployed in 2007-09, is expected to be able to strike any Australian city, New Zealand and the greater part of the US. Moreover, the DF-31 is a solid-fuelled missile which, being road-based, is highly mobile and can avoid satellite surveillance” (National Observer, no. 68, vol. Autumn 2006).
When you add in the fact that this nation of over 1.3 billion people has nearly 320 million males in the 16-49 age group fit for military service, over 300 million females similarly fit in the same age group, has the world’s third largest merchant marine and a rapidly modernising Chinese army, navy, marines and air force, the strategic realignment by the United States and Australia is long overdue.
Though this article is essentially about the strategic realignment of the United States and Australia to face the growing power of China, it is worth noting in conclusion the importance of the role of China’s intelligence service, the Ministry of State of Security (MSS). China, in fact, operates the world’s largest espionage network.
It has used this network very effectively, particularly in targeting the high technology and military technology held by American industry and the military. By September 2011, US Justice Department records showed there have been at least 58 defendants charged in federal courts for China-related espionage since 2008. Most have been convicted and hundreds of investigations are still on-going.
In Australia it is estimated that the Chinese intelligence officers of the MSS operate a network of 1,000 to 1,100 agents across our continent. These agents are well positioned, many in Australia’s various Chinese communities and in industries such as banking and financial services, hospitality and travel.
The other emerging problem for Australia, and for that matter the United States also, is that of dual allegiance. This problem was identified in great detail by Dr Campbell in his National Observer article referred to earlier.
This problem arises from the growing number of Australian former political leaders, MPs, intelligence officers, ambassadors and senior public servants working as consultants for foreigners, including foreign governments such as China’s.
The consultancy relationship is not necessarily treasonable, but this issue of guanxi or “personal contact networks” certainly enables China to plug into an extraordinary range of information about Australia.
Dr Campbell in his article urged the adoption of a mandatory Australian foreign agents registration act (AFARA) to help deal with this problem.
Australia and the United States have been aware for some time that the dragon has awoken from a long sleep. We now jointly face the harsh reality that it can now breathe fire as well if it chooses to do so.
Ken Aldred is a defence specialist and former federal Liberal member of parliament for Victoria.
Andrew Campbell, “Guanxi and Australia-China consultants — the risk of dual allegiance”, National Observer (Melbourne), no. 68, Autumn 2006.
Lieutenant General Ronald L. Burgess, Jr, “World Wide Threat Assessment”, statement before the US Senate Committee on Armed Services, Washington DC, March 10, 2011.