More is implied than spelt out in the Government's A
Defence Update, issued last week by Defence Minister Robert Hill.
But all of it is good news, and gives hope of even better.
On the face of it, the document confirms rather than replaces the
strategic tasks identified in the white
paper Defence 2000. These are: defence of Australia (meaning
our territorial integrity); operations in our immediate neighbourhood (a
flexible term of varying definition); coalition operations further afield;
and peacetime national tasks.
That apparent affirmation of the continuing soundness of our strategic
priorities is nevertheless followed by recognition of the need for a
rebalancing of military capability, particularly an increased emphasis on
mobility, readiness, sustainability, and interoperability (basically with
US forces and equipment).
Exactly how these objectives are to be met is not revealed, though
reference is made to already announced (and in some cases implemented)
measures, such as increasing the size of our Special Forces and better
What justifies this rebalancing? The need to take account of three
developments new since Defence 2000: the rise of international terrorism,
the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and adverse trends in our
The Defence Update's analysis of these things is sober, sensible and
realistic. It carries conviction.
Whether the rebalancing these developments have prompted will actually
meet the need, and how it will be paid for (unfortunately, Senator Hill
reportedly lost his Cabinet bid for more money), remain to be seen.
The new developments make a case for lifting the proportion of national
resources allocated to defence from the pre-World War II levels to which
they have fallen. But what we already know is welcome.
Even more welcome are the indications that our changing strategic
environment and the consequent rebalancing, while said in the Update not
to call into question Defence's long-standing strategic tasks, do imply,
in fact and philosophy, a very considerable modification of those tasks.
No mention is made in Defence Update of the concentric circles theory,
from which our defence policy has suffered for so long by wrongly assuming
that Australia's national interests necessarily diminish with distance.
But the implication is strong that the theory no longer grips and distorts
the Department of Defence's thinking.
Thus the distant regions of North Asia (Canberra is more distant than
Dublin from Peking) and the Middle East are accorded "high strategic
significance to Australia"; and the heightened threat and long reach
of international terrorists and WMD are emphasised.
Likewise, the update does not openly displace the primacy in Defence's
thinking of the defence of Australia against invasion - long a contingency
of vanishingly small probability, with disproportionate effect on
Defence's force structure decisions. But it does acknowledge that the
threat of direct military attack on Australia is less than it was
in 2000; and the implication is strong that the Australian Defence Force
(ADF) needs to be sized and shaped for high-priority tasks other than
defence against invasion.
Likewise also, Defence Update does not mention the bogus doctrine of
self-reliance - the capability to defeat an invasion without calling in
aid from US combat forces. But again, the implication is strong that
Defence now realises the importance to Australia's security of our working
in with the USA in coalition operations far distant from Australia, and
realises also that those operations require different or enhanced
capabilities from the ADF, not least interoperability.
The recognition that many values and interests are shared with the USA
supports this approach.
Those, hitherto including Defence, with a narrow view of Australia's
needs have been dubbed regionalists; those with a wider view, who
recognise that security and defence, though different, are connected by
time, are called globalists. Senator Hill himself says it is not a
question of "or" but "and". It's a welcome recognition
of a new global reality.