Subject: Thoughts on Australiaís Defence Ė A Dissenting Humanitarian Perspective - James Dunn

Thoughts on Australiaís Defence ≠ A Dissenting Humanitarian Perspective James Dunn

As one who spent years in our Defence Department before moving to the foreign affairs area, I have followed with interest and growing concern the comments on the Defence White Paperís assessment of our strategic security situation. The Paper itself really worries me, for it appears to be moving us in the wrong direction, and cost. The proposed massive development of our air and naval forces is surely quite out of proportion to the reportís assessment of the present situation, especially in the nearby region where the security situation has improved significantly in recent years, both in terms of shifts to democracy and levels of violence and terrorist threats.

We cannot predict what lies ahead, but letís focus on threats we can realistically deal with, and, more importantly, intensify our efforts to make multilateral peace-keeping arrangements more effective, as both Mr. Rudd and President Obama have at various times urged. We cannot match the military power of the big powers, so in the unlikely event of a threat coming from that direction, the effectiveness of bodies like the UN Security Council or regional bodies would surely be our best defence. Letís not try to match the military capabilities of China, India, Russia or the United States. There is currently alarm about Pakistan, with its significant military and nuclear capability, but that capacity is more than matched by Indiaís greater military power.

The realistic foreseeable threat is manageable without the development of a powerful strike force, which will merely serve to provoke regional fears that we are claiming the right to launch pre-emptive strikes, a concept that caused alarm when Howard was in office. The development of a force of 12 submarines and 100 strike aircraft will not only involve a huge cost: it could easily provoke a regional arms race that would increase rather than diminish the risk to Australiaís security. As for the boat people issue, we do not need submarines, cruise missiles or powerful frigates to deal with them. In the first instance that problem is essentially humanitarian and we should deal with it accordingly.

Already our military capability is the most powerful in the Southeast Asia region. If the Government goes ahead with this plan it could do more to increase tensions and suspicions that to secure peace in our immediate neighbourhood, with right-wing generals returning to political power on the basis of fears of Australiaís intentions. It would play into the hands of those Indonesian generals who are still smarting from the Interfet intrusion that they found humiliating.

But with democracy taking root in the region, where are these threats likely to come from? India has a much larger military capability, but it is really inconceivable that a military conflict would develop between our two countries. China, for all its power and undemocratic rule, unlike European powers, has never been expansionist. Japanese governments are restrained by the strong anti-war sentiments of its people, as well as constitutional restraints. It takes us back to Indonesia, long been regarded as a potential threat, but the present direction of Indonesian politics has surely reduced that danger. At the recent election the orthodox Islamic parties polled badly, and moderate President Yudhoyono has emerged as the most popular leader. Former Kopassus commander, retired general Prabowo Subianto, may have gained some popularity, but it is precisely this sudden move by Australia to establish military hegemony that could help a suspect war criminal into office.

What is absent from the discussion is the alternative; how to improve our security by non-military means. Firstly, we should move to strengthen the UN Security Council, including pressing for those reforms Kofi Annan had recommended (and which the Bush Administration blocked), in order to improve its capacity to prevent conflicts and deter aggressive attentions. And let us look at ways of improving regional security; bringing it into line with the situation in Western Europe. I would like to see Australia convene a regional security forum, aimed at containing, or even reducing, military expenditure, enabling billions of dollars to be spent on improving health services, and on poverty elimination. Such a regional arrangement could in turn seek non-aggression treaties with China, Japan, India and Pakistan. This kind of multilateral approach is the humanitarian alternative to military responses that seem so inappropriate at this point in our history. Such responses are bound to lead to wasteful expenditures on measures that risk setting back efforts to bring democracy and better living conditions, and a durable peace, to the region. The climate change factor keeps creeping into this debate, but surely in the event of a natural disaster in our neighbourhood we donít see ourselves repelling the fleeing victims with naval power? In such an event, our best security response, as well as our moral obligation, is surely massive and prompt humanitarian assistance, reminding ourselves, in the words of Mahatma Ghandi, that Ďall men are brothersí(and sisters, to bring it up to date)..


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