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Thursday, 20 November 1986
Page: 2598

Senator HARRADINE(1.11) —I take this opportunity to address the fallacies in strategic thinking which are contained in the post-Budget statement of 14 October of the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley). I do this because it is the only available chance I will have, and in the knowledge that there is a re-write going on of the Defence White Paper.

There is much that is good in the Minister's statement. I applaud almost all of it. I say `almost all', because only very little of the document touches on substantial defence issues; these are strategic. As for the nuts and bolts which so much arouse the Minister's enthusiasm, I have no quarrel. In this field I am happy for him to take the laurels. For this Minister the defence forces are the ultimate meccano set and he pieces together bits more deftly and to greater effect than his coalition predecessors. This achievement I acclaim.

Where the Minister is at his weakest, however, is in strategic thinking. It is a weakness that is potentially fatal for Australia. In his statement Mr Beazley reiterated the Government's belief. I quote:

Unlike many countries we can say with confidence that it would take years for a potential enemy to develop the military capability-

and this is the important part-

to mount an attack on us of sufficient magnitude to destroy our society.

As I have said before, this is true but beside the point. It is beside the point because Australia is vulnerable, not so much to direct but to indirect threats. In our case, this means a threat to our sea lines of communication. The Minister and his advisers are fond of looking at the map and waxing sanguine about Australia's `strategic isolation'. Because of this, they tell us that only a country with maritime resources of a super-power could contemplate invading us, and even then it would be confronted with formidable logistic problems. Add to this a `sea-air gap' as quoted, stoutly manned by our airmen and submariners, and the cost of invasion becomes too horrific for an enemy to contemplate. Conclusion: Australia is safe as houses; safe from invasion possibly, but not safe from being strategically outmanoeuvred.

It is true that our isolation is an advantage. The art of generalship, however, turns on the ability to convert an opponent's strengths into weaknesses. Our strengths are so obvious that we cannot see the weaknesses they conceal. We may think that Australia is so remote that the big problem for an enemy would be getting its forces to us. Far from it. Australia is so isolated that an enemy needs to advance no forces at all against the Australian continent. The wise enemy commander would ask himself this question: `Why face the risk of invading this faraway place when I stand a good chance of gaining my end by isolating Australia further by cutting, or at least interrupting, the long slender lines of communications which are attached precariously to the rest of the world?'.

The history of military strategy would suggest to a commander that the defeat of Australia could be achieved most elegantly by the indirect approach. Detach Australia from her markets and from her sources of supply and she will wither like fruit on the uprooted vine. The only way that Australia can defend herself against this kind of move, the one to which she is most susceptible, is by pursuing foreign and defence policies designed primarily to secure our sea lines of communication. This is exactly what this Government so far refuses to do.

I want to comment now, in the light of the strategic principle just outlined, on two of the most important points made though briefly by the Defence Minister. First, I note the remark to the effect that we have regional responsibilities. I quote:

. . . responsibilities that must be addressed after we have assigned first priority to our own needs.

Is this statement, perhaps, a signal that the Government is beginning gradually to distance itself from aspects of the Dibb report? After all, this report made it perfectly clear that Australia has no `regional responsibilities'. All that we ought to have, according to Mr Dibb, is a concern about developments in what he terms our area of primary strategic interest. Since this falls outside our area of `direct military interest', Mr Dibb counselled a concern almost purely academic in character, an attitude which maybe fits the armchair intelligence officer but one which makes the job harder in the extreme for those who will have to fight a future enemy.

The Minister, however, is now talking about `regional responsibilities' which will be met after we have made adequate preparations for the defence of the Australian continent. What are these responsibilities and how will they be met? What does `after' mean? Has the Minister inwardly admitted to himself the isolationist drift implicit in Mr Dibb's strategic proposal? I look forward to seeing how these questions are answered in the Defence White Paper. But even after putting the best gloss on these particular words they are still beset with problems. The point remains that Government defence thinking is dominated by two inadequate and thus dangerous principles. One is that we should concentrate on defending the continent, the other is that an attack on it is unlikely and, in any event, readily foreseen.

The chief problem with these principles is that a defence focused on the continent does not provide Australia with the means of countering the most plausible kind of threat, namely, an indirect threat in the form of a move against our sea lines of communication. Jindalee, Tindal, FA18s, new helicopters, Harpoons and all the things that give such joy to the Minister will be of little use as crowded on the ramparts we watch helplessly whilst an enemy begins far away to choke us off from the rest of the world.

I am happy to see attention being given to the defence of the mainland. I am glad that the Dibb report has outlined how, in part, this can be done. Between them, Mr Dibb and the Minister have proposed repairing a weakness in Australia's defences which scandalously has been long neglected. But as important as it is to prepare the defence of the continent itself, continental defence does not address the more probable dangers facing Australia.

The centrepiece of our defence policy should be, therefore, a sea lane defence policy. In such a policy, continental defence has a role. This is to provide us with a prepared line of defence on to which we can fall back if all else fails. Mr Beazley and Mr Dibb are patriotic men, and thus they value the security of this country. But they are so patriotic that they overvalue the strategic importance of our own lands and waters and undervalue those of our neighbours. Consequently, I wish here to reiterate the points that I made in my initial response to the Dibb report.

Because Australia depends on sea lanes for economic survival and for military resupply, the areas of greatest strategic importance to Australia are the following: First, our trade routes to Japan; secondly, the Persian Gulf and our sea communications to that area; thirdly, the narrow waterways between the Pacific and Indian Oceans; fourthly, the lands adjacent to these waters; and fifthly, Australia's sea and air links with the United States. If these waters or the lands adjacent to them are controlled by hostile forces-for example, the Soviet Union or its regional clients-and if our resupply routes to the United States could be severed, this would amount to an indirect threat to Australia of strategic proportions. If such a development occurred the enemy, who had this advantage over us, would not need to threaten our mainland. In such circumstances Australia could lose its power of self determination without firing a shot.

As for the second point, I note that the Minister in his post-Budget statement makes the following remark:

Capabilities for low level threat, both to our national interest and to those of our friends and neighbours, do exist within the region. In this case the emergence of such threats is a product not of capability but politics. A political situation can change rapidly and this Government accepts that there is a requirement for it to be able to counter such challenges should they emerge.

I entirely agree. But what had Mr Dibb in mind by what he termed `credible contingencies'? Is it two bearded gorillas in a motor boat or a Lilliputian kingdom led by a regional King Seth of Azania who declares the Daly River liberated territory and proclaims the peoples' republic? Those comic book scenarios cooked up in recent times to exercise the armed forces would be laughable if they had not assumed a life of their own. Their images seem now to fill the minds of otherwise sober and intelligent men.

Yes, it is true that there are already `capabilities in our region' which need only political change to activate them; capabilities which could express themselves suddenly as a threat to us, but not as `a lower level threat' directly against Australia. The potential is already there for sudden strikes against our sea lines of communications. Such strikes, in a sustained way, but kept to a level short of all-out war, would have a devastating effect on Australia.

I explained the implications of this kind of genuinely `credible contingency' to a meeting of the Australian Defence Association in July. It is a pity that more honourable senators were not there to hear what I said, so I will make the key points again. I seek leave to incorporate the key points.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

In time of all-out war and national mobilisation . . . trade losses (in order of a 75% interdiction of our exports to Japan) would not be critical. However, under conditions of sustained but limited warfare, in which the community and the government would expect to deal with an enemy without putting the whole of national life on a war footing, the pressure generated by attacks on merchant shipping would pose a serious threat to the government's freedom of action.

The limited war, moreover, is an option with a lot of appeal, especially for a totalitarian enemy. Controlled and circumscribed military action, taken to focus maximum force on an opponent without provoking a full-scale reaction, is a tempting strategy for a totalitarian regime. It offers an opportunity to use to advantage the political control which such governments ordinarily have over their human and material resources, but which democratic governments cannot exercise except in conditions of total war.

Small wars waged to exploit the natural political divisions within a liberal democracy, can be an highly effective way for totalitarian governments to achieve their objectives. This is one of the great lessons of this century; but it is one which the Dibb Report has failed to consider.

Limited military action taken against our trade, which was calculated to energise the centripetal political tendencies of liberal democracy, but was not sufficiently potent clearly to threaten our national existence, would place the government in a serious dilemma.

Given the direction taken by our current strategic thinking and military planning, Australia would be in no position to defend effectively with peace-time armed forces against this sort of attack. The government, therefore, would be faced with three alternatives, each of them untenable: to accept unchecked trade losses and a gradual erosion of living standards; to attempt, without full public support, to mobilise for a higher level of armed conflict; or to meet the demands of the enemy.''

Senator HARRADINE —The Government has yet to apply its mind to these issues; that it has not is understandable. Australia does not have a tradition of thinking about grand strategy. Defence thinking in this country has been limited to guns and allies. With enough of both we have thought Australia will be safe. Little attention has been given to the diverse combinations of means by which Australia's safety might be destroyed, with or without guns and allies. Perhaps the Dibb report will prove to be the beginning of the end of Australia's intellectual immaturity and strategic thought. By giving us at least a strategy for last ditch defence of Australia, Mr Dibb has served as a stimulus for thinking about what might constitute a complete national security policy.

As I have indicated today, a complete national security policy must address Australia's grave susceptibility to attack on her sea lines of communication. I want also to draw attention to the fact that the joint communique issued on 12 August from the Australian-American ministerial talks in San Francisco represented the alliance between us as a Pacific area alliance. One cannot play a credible role in a Pacific area alliance by adopting a strategy which strictly limits Australian military activity in time of conflict to a 1,000-nautical mile rim of sea around the continent. Let us hope that this Government's reaffirmation of what our alliance with the United States really means indicates that the Government's romance with Mr Dibb's inadequate strategy will soon end with the rewrite of its White Paper now being undertaken.

Sitting suspended from 1.25 to 2 p.m.