Government Gives In-Principle Support to US First-Strike Policy

This is the text of an Address by the Minister for Defence, Senator Robert Hill, to the Defence And Strategic Studies Course at the Australian Defence College, Canberra.

Transcript of speech by Senator Robert Hill at the Australian Defence College.


Thank you for the opportunity to address the course today. I intend to keep my remarks short and relatively informal, because my aim is to provoke you a bit and to leave some time to answer any questions.

I know I am speaking to an international audience. Much of what I want to say will obviously reflect an Australian perspective, but one of my themes is that contemporary security challenges are inherently international and can only be resolved cooperatively. In that sense the composition of this course is very appropriate.

I was recently reminded that I gave a speech 11 years ago, as the cold war was coming to an end, on the ‘New World Order’.

In the euphoria following the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, many – perhaps understandably – saw the beginning of a new era of stability.

Governments were looking to take a peace dividend.

My theme on that occasion, however, was that the post cold war world was likely to be a lot more difficult than that. The bipolar stand-off had meant that, on and off over four decades, the world teetered on the edge of the nuclear abyss. But ironically the fact that the stakes were so high had imposed its own discipline. Australia was a member of one of the two opposing alliance blocs, but we predominantly a supportive role. With the end of the cold war, however, I anticipated that Australia would face a more demanding strategic environment and that more would be expected of us in terms of a primary role.

To a large extent this has occurred.

You are studying strategic issues at a fascinating and challenging time. The jury is still out as to whether 11 September will prove to be a transformational event for the international system like the Treaty of Westphalia or the Second World War.

What seems certain, however, is that its effects have already been profound and will continue to shape the global security agenda and the security environment for Australia and this region.

That means it will affect the work each of you do here on this course, and even more importantly when you rejoin your units after the course and carry out your tasks as military officers.

The strategic significance of 11 September

The first point I would make about the strategic significance of 11 September is that it seems to have drawn a line under the cold war.

Of course it is now over a decade since the Berlin wall come down and the Soviet Union collapsed – and with it the bipolar global order. Many of the trends which culminated in 11 September were already apparent during the 1990s:

  • Globalisation and with it a remarkable freeing-up of the flow of people, ideas, technology – and unfortunately threats – around the world.
  • An upsurge in ethnic, religious and separatist conflict in many continents.
  • The emergence of a range of transnational issues, often interlinked, such as organised drug smuggling, money laundering, people smuggling and terrorism.
  • Partly a cause, and partly a symptom of these developments, the failure to cope, and in some cases the collapse, of a range of institutions, principally but not only at the national level. Graphic scenes from the Balkans and Africa come to mind, but few parts of the globe have escaped this phenomenon.
  • The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the emergence of a number of states prepared to flout international norms.

Significant as many of these developments are, it has taken the tragic events of 11 September to reveal starkly the new contours and fault-lines of a very different strategic landscape.

Some elements of the landscape are not new. Nation states remain the basic building-blocks of the international system, and competition between them remains an underlying reality. In our own region, longstanding historical and political differences remain unresolved, and the potential for ‘traditional’ military confrontation and conflict is obvious in places like Kashmir, the Korean peninsula, the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea.

Modern, capable armed forces trained and equipped for ‘high-end’ warfare remain indispensable. This is the reason for the Australian Government’s commitment to fund the Defence Capability Plan, which includes airborne early warning aircraft, replacements for our air warfare destroyers, air-to-air refuelling aircraft, and the Air 6000 fighter/strike project – among others.

Nor have bilateral alliances lost their importance. The US presence in Asia – underpinned by its alliances with Japan, the Republic of Korea and Australia – remains vital to regional stability and prosperity. Australia has welcomed the strengthening of the US-Japan alliance in recent years, and we continue to seek further ways to build on our own very close defence relationship with the United States – for example in the crucial area of interoperability – and ensure it retains its relevance and vitality.

Instability or at least uncertainty in what is often referred to as the inner arc – the Indonesian archipelago, Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific – also predates 11 September, as does Australia’s commitment of forces to East Timor and Bougainville.

So in many respects the strategic and policy framework established in our 2000 Defence White Paper remains valid. That document pointed to most of these key trends and identified the implications for Defence.

Implications of 11 September for the US

But it would be a mistake to underestimate the impact of 11 September, and its implications for Australia.

In particular, it is hard to underestimate the effect on the American people and therefore on US policy and strategy. The United States was obviously a target for terrorists before 11 September and was already reorienting its military, which had been structured and equipped predominantly to meet the Soviet threat. But the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington have both shocked and galvanised the United States.

We are seeing the emergence of a new resolve, a clear sense of purpose in US strategy – coalescing around a very real threat – that has arguably not been evident since the cold war. Commentators are talking about the emergence of a new US doctrine, one which some suggest emphasises pre-emption over diplomacy and deterrence.

This applies in particular where the stakes are raised – as they are in Iraq – by the frightening possibility of terrorists gaining access to weapons of mass destruction.

The United States is clearly no longer going to allow problems to fester and threats to remain unresolved. The need to act swiftly and firmly before threats become attacks is perhaps the clearest lesson of 11 September, and is one that is clearly driving US policy and strategy. It is a position which we share, in principle.

It is clear also that whilst the United States would prefer to carry the international community – or at least its closest friends and allies – it will not allow a lack of support to constrain its options. But the United States is not fighting on its own.

Many countries are either participating in or supporting military operations in and around Afghanistan.

The international community was quick to recognise that this was not only an attack on the United States or an attack on the West but an attack on basic values shared across borders, across cultures and across faiths. The perception that countries across the globe face a shared or similar threat has drawn countries together.

It remains to be seen how long the effects will last, but international revulsion against terrorism has seen a remarkable improvement in great-power relations – most obviously between the United States and Russia, but also US relations with China and India. This can only be positive for Australia and for our region.

Likewise, it has given much-needed impetus to international cooperation in areas such as transnational crime and efforts to counter proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The structure and methods of national law enforcement, security and other institutions have not necessarily kept pace with the implications of globalisation – in particular the need for information sharing or ‘data fusion’, both among national agencies and among nations.

Cooperation in fields such as law enforcement, financial and export controls, intelligence and border control are indispensable elements of a comprehensive strategy to combat terrorism.

But the events of 11 September have also forced strategists around the globe to cast aside their preconceptions about threats to security and to embrace a broader, more comprehensive definition of security.

Some military planners paid lip-service to the new, non-traditional ‘challenges’ to security – or ‘soft security’ issues as they are sometimes labelled. But there was often a sense that people in the military regarded these issues as something of a side-show, a distraction from their core business of preparing for and conducting ‘high-end’ war-fighting. Even peace operations were often considered in this light.

Recent events have highlighted, however, that terrorism and associated transnational phenomena such as money laundering and smuggling in drugs, guns and people have moved to the centre of the international security agenda. The terrorists who carried out the attacks in the United States were part of a network reaching into every part of the globe. They drew on training, financing and other forms of support from a vast range of countries. They unleashed extraordinary death and destruction, and in doing so transformed asymmetric threat from an academic abstraction to an appalling reality.

While conventional war is still possible and must remain a central assumption of our defence planning, today’s military forces are much more likely to be used to conduct counter-terrorism operations, humanitarian interventions, evacuations or peace operations than in traditional combat. Moreover, they are much more likely to do so as part of a ‘coalition of the willing’ than on their own.

Finally, in terms of this general discourse it is also clear that poverty, lack of education and the opportunities it brings, lawlessness and intolerance create fertile ground for terrorists to exploit. In Afghanistan it means the combat effort must be matched by a broader civilian effort to give the Afghan people a chance to rebuild their lives and to ensure that the country does not again become a haven for extremists and terrorists. This is also one of the reasons why Australia has provided more than $41 million in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.

Implications for Australia

This is evident from a quick survey of the ADF’s recent activities. We have peace-keepers and monitors in East Timor and Bougainville. We have ground, air and naval forces in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and the Persian Gulf engaged in coalition operations against terrorism. Our warships are involved in surveillance and protection of Australia’s borders, intercepting boats carrying would-be illegal entrants in our northern waters and illegal fishing vessels in the storm-tossed Southern Ocean. RAAF fighter aircraft flew combat air patrol over the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting near Brisbane.

The geographical spread of these deployments highlights what might be called the globalisation of security. Now, more than ever before, security is indivisible.

Threats transcend borders and cannot be met by any one country acting alone.

For Australia, it demonstrates again that defence of Australia and its interests does not stop at the edge of the air-sea gap. It probably never made sense to conceptualise our security interests as a series of diminishing concentric circles around our coastline, but it certainly does not do so now. We are seeing a fundamental change to the notion that our security responsibilities are confined largely to our own region. The ADF is both more likely to be deployed and increasingly likely to be deployed well beyond Australia. This will require greater emphasis on strategic lift in our planning.

The co-existence of longstanding conventional military competition with new transnational threats means today’s – and tomorrow’s – ADF must be capable of responding to a broader spectrum of threats and tasks – from high-intensity conventional war-fighting through to peace operations, maritime surveillance and border protection.

This places a premium on flexibility in our assets and our doctrine, and demands a capability-based rather than threat-based approach to planning. We can no longer count on generous lead-times to allow us to remedy deficiencies and correct mistakes.

It means the ADF must be able to operate in coalition with other forces, often with minimal lead times. Interoperability will be critical, particularly with the United States but increasingly with a range of other partners, especially in our region. The recent meeting of Asia-Pacific defence ministers in Singapore was a welcome step towards closer regional defence cooperation, but much more needs to be done, bilaterally and multilaterally.

As elsewhere our institutions are still struggling to come to grips with these challenges and to mount the sort of holistic, inter-agency responses required to meet them. Energetic and concerted diplomacy, law enforcement and intelligence cooperation and aid are fundamental to these efforts. But governments – including the Australian Government – are increasingly turning to the military to provide solutions to an ever expanding range of problems close to home and far away.

Conclusion: the Annual Strategic Review

As I have indicated, the 2000 Defence White Paper set many of these directions, and significant progress has been made in implementing its commitments. The White Paper did point to the increasing importance of coalition operations, operations in the inner arc and non-traditional threats to security and the need for the ADF to be ready to conduct these tasks.

As I have emphasised today, however, our strategic environment remains unsettled. It is always the case and thus the Government committed itself to conduct an annual update of the Strategic Review – which underpinned the White Paper.

We have commenced work on the first of these reviews, which is due to be completed before the end of the year. It will assess the impact of 11 September on our strategic environment, consider the nature and scope of any changes necessary in strategic guidance and review the balance of priorities in the ADF’s roles and tasks.

This will involve re-examining the validity of our key planning principles, the priorities and challenges that face our international defence relationships, and how well our defence capabilities equip Defence to undertake the major tasks set by Government.

The difficult issue of whether we are striking the right balance between maintaining near-term preparedness and longer-term capability will be a particular focus.

The task is not easy. Even with additional resources, the ADF cannot do everything.

Difficult choices must be made. We need to make sure that habit and tradition do not blind us to the need for change.

The review will synchronise with the Budget cycle and flow into an assessment of our investment priorities and the implications for our Defence Capability Plan and for readiness and sustainability. It will provide us with advice on how we can ensure the ADF continues to have the capabilities appropriate to the tasks it faces.

Thank you for your attention. I would be happy to attempt to answer any questions, as I think debate on these issues is important not only in a specialist course such as this, but in the broader Australian and international community.

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