Journal of the australian naval

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by Tom Friedmann

I recently told an Australian officer whom I greatly admire that I was writing a column on the Dibb Report and was having a hard time moving beyond what Michael O'Connor, President of the Australian Defence Association, calls the Report's provision for Australia's de facto withdrawal from ANZUS.' The officer in question advised me to go back and look beyond the rhetoric and I would find that the proposals made were not as detrimental to the United States as they seem.

I went back. I re-read and re-studied. Unfortunately, the rhetoric is impossible to ignore:

  • ANZUS is no longer vital' to Australia but rather is significant' to Australian defence.

  • 'There is no requirement for Australia to become involved in ANZUS contingency planning for global war. Neither this possibility, nor other remote possibilities for calls of assistance under ANZUS, should influence the structure and equipment of the ADF — apart from the need to maintain a degree of inter-operability in key areas such as common communications.' (Emphasis supplied.)

  • There are now no likely contingencies ... where we would likely be fighting in alliance with American forces....'

Ship visits, B—52 landing rights, and bases are now deemed sufficient for Australia's contribution to the ANZUS. At a time when technology is shrinking the world and making all countries more interdependent than even before, Australia's 'new nationalism' appears to be turning the Commonwealth inward instead of outward toward the world. Defence relationships that have been highly successful in the past, such as those with Malaysia and Singapore, have been terminated and ANZUS is drifting. Instead of extending her influence throughout Southeast Asia, Australia is abandoning hard

won positions of influence in the guise of better self-defence.

John Gunther. writing in 1972 in his book Inside Australia, analyzed proposals similar to those made by Dibb. and called the effect of such policies.

'(a)rmed neutrality' (which) amounts to withdrawal from forward bases in favour of a flexible, mobile force based, probably, in northern Australia... The essence of the strategy is that the home force could stop any small conventional attack; therefore an aggressor would have to attack in such force as to constitute a sizeable war. and the US would have no choice but to come to (Australia's) aid.... A variation of armed neutrality is the proposal for an Israeli-like semimilitary society, in which every citizen is a soldier; such a nation, though small in population, can be fearfully dangerous to attack. The difficulty with this approach is that it sacrifices the delights of the consumer society, and requires persuading people that they are living in a fools paradise.'

At least had a proposal that an Israeli-type reserve army system been put forward. I could believe that the Commonwealth had a reasonable belief that it could defend itself from any form of aggression against its territory. Instead, the famed Australian Army, reduced to a paramilitary force, will only number 60,000 regulars and reserves. Even if Dibb's assumption that the primary threat against Australia is from a low-level attack (and please note that I do not quibble with the assumption), the standard ratio of regulars to insurgents is given as 10:1. Assuming Australia fields 50,000 men during an emergency, it will not take a very large number of invaders to dissipate (his force at 10:1, particularly if they land in a coordinated manner in widely dispersed locations. And just

November '86. Journal of the Australian Naval Institute — Page 57

imagine what would happen if, say, 1,000 insurgents do the unexpected and land in the southeast portion ol the country with the bulk of the Army deployed in the north.

Australia does not need ANZUS to defeat an invasion of the Red Army. I have yet to hear anyone knowledgeable on the subject say that he believes such an invasion will ever occur. The whole point of the exercise is that if the Soviet Union ever could invade Australia, it would not have to invade Australia because anything it wanted Irom Australia would be available through threats and blackmail.

Thus, if the proposition that there are now no likely contingencies... where we would likely be fighting in alliance with American forces... becomes the policy of the Australian Government, it is not inconceivable that the ADF will be unable to meet a crucial part of the definition of national security set forth in the 1976 White Paper: to provide the nation with security from armed attack and from constraints on independent national decisions imposed by the threat ot such attack.

A great part ol the problem, and what I see as a major flaw in the report, is its reliance on the perception that it would take 10 years to mount a major conventional threat to the Commonwealth. Ten years is a long, long time. Indeed, too long for the purpose used. Despite cautions that Australia must be ready for the unexpected, the 10 year estimate is the basis for the Report's overall strategic plan and may lull the population into a false sense of security.

How many Australians could have predicted in f 905 that 10 years later Australia would have an expeditionary force and fleet stationed thousands of miles away? Who in 1932 predicted that the territory of the Commonwealth would be bombed by enemy aircraft in 1942? And who in 1942 could have predicted that Australia would be fighting yet again in 1952?

As for a warning period, democracies are notorious about seeing all sorts of warning signs that the peace they value so highly is about to be breached by others and ignoring every sign except the dollar sign when considering their defence needs. Many of the proposals in the Report are retreads, brought to the fore again because they previously ran aground on the Australian budget. With that budget's current state, cannot a repetition of the past be expected?

Peter Samuel. Washington correspondent for the Australian, writing in The Wall Street Journal, sees the problems between the United States and Australia as being a series of differences that, taken individually, may not be very important but, when taken together, are

potentially very troublesome. Beyond the Dibb Report, Samuel notes differences over key elements of our strategic policy: the refusal to transfer any bases from the Philippines to Australia should the US be forced out of the former; the reduction in US Navy Ship visits at the reported reguest of the Australian defence minister; the proposed restriction of American access to a proposed fuel-storage depot in Western Australia for routine peacetime operations only; and last, but not least, the recent massive American commodities sales.

Samuel says that the rot can be stopped by some official candour. Of course, he is correct. But Australia has a long way to go to make sure its side is heard both in political Washington, and throughout the United States.

Australians complain that Americans do nol hold ANZUS in the same regard as does Australia; that Australia has a 'special relationship' with the United States and it should not have to fight for what it wants from the American political system. In a perfect world. Australia would be able to get everything it wanted on reguest. But the world is not a perfect place so Australia will have to fight. And so far, Australia is not doing a very good job. Some examples:

  • Many Americans were appalled that the US not only sold wheat to the Soviet Union but subsidized the sale. And the Soviets, good capitalist traders that they are, refused our first offer because the subsidy was not high enough! But Australia had friends in the government starting with the secretaries of state and of defense. Editorial opinion in respected papers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post supported Australia. But how did it respond to the emergency? A minister to protest after the bill authorizing the sale had passed Congress!

  • In a city where presence means access and access means power. Australia has an embassy that was designed to house 500 and can be expanded It presently houses only some 300 persons and even that overworked staff is being trimmed in the name of economy. The defence staff is. as I write, being gauged yet again at a time when its responsibilities continued to grow.

  • In the political system in which lobbyists form an integral part, Australia is only now beginning to consider their use (and here I am a biased observer) because they are not favoured in Australia! Australia should make use of every means at its disposal to make its case in the 'corridors of power'. The Japanese, who have a reputation for

Page 58 — November "86. Journal ol the Australian Naval Institute

tough and, for them, successful dealing with

the United States, employ over 100

lobbyists in Washington.

1986 was a year when Americans were

afraid to go to Europe because of the

terrorist threat. It was a golden opportunity

for Australia to pick up some of the slack

and get Americans to Australia and

convince them of the importance of our

alliance. And what happened? A great

series of television commercials with Paul

Hogan were pulled because the money to

run them ran out! The Europeans, on the

other hand, spared no expense to lure the

American tourist back. Britain's Prime

Minister even served tea at 10 Downing

Street to some of the winners of the

hundreds of free trips British Airways gave

away in order to increase ticket sales.

And as to a special relationship with Australia,

of course we have one, and a good one. too. But

does not Canada have a unique relationship with

the United States? France is our oldest ally. Is

this not special? The Netherlands is the only ally

dating from our revolution with whom we have

continually had peaceful relations. Is this not

special? And Israel? And Japan? And Mexico?

No ally of the United States is so close that it

does not have to occasionally fight for its own

interests. Britain certainly did recently to force

passage of a new extradition treaty.

Sir Antony Acland, Britain's new ambassador, said that his embassy had to 'operate on the basis of trying to promote and encourage legislation that the British government wants to see pushed through'. The British joined the administration in lobbying for the treaty and won. Sir Antony's correct impression was that, in Washington, you have to be a bit pushy .. and it's no use having your light under a bushel. You've got to say what you think, and you've got to push fairly hard'.

The point is that many countries have special' relationships with the United States. What Australia's alliance with the United States has created for the Commonwealth is a vast reservoir of good will toward it that has been left virtually untapped. But whose fault is that?

It is up to Australia to determine whether or not her political capital plus the expenditure of $6 billion for armaments in the United States since 1980 is to be turned to practical benefit. The alliance opens doors but Australia must enter them and work' Washington. And rest assured that if the alliance goes, many of those doors will close.

A retreat into 'Fortress Australia' will guarantee the Commonwealth neither military security in wartime nor economic security in peacetime. With its American alliance. Australia has the tool to secure both. How that tool is used is up to Australia.


The Annual General Meeting will be held at 2000 on Friday 20 February 1987 at RSL National Headquarters. Constitution Avenue. Campbell. A notice of business is printed on page 5.

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