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Tuesday, 2 December 1986
Page: 3123


Senator HARRADINE(10.43) —I rise to address myself to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty Bill 1986. I wish to escape the crude pro-American and anti-American sloganeering into which much of this debate outside this chamber has degenerated. Like some other senators who have spoken on this debate, I too wish to examine the foreign policy context into which the Bill fits and to raise the question whether it fits well or ill. The problem is that there is little serious debate in the electorate about foreign policy and its relation to defence policy. Clearly Australia cannot have a credible foreign policy until it has decided the national security interests which should mould the shape of key foreign policy goals. Therefore, before addressing the merits of this Bill, one must consider first the national security objectives which a Bill such as this should support.

In my response to the Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities, I have critically examined the strategic presuppositions on which this review was based. By analysing the nature of our geography and the structure of our economy from the perspective of our proneness to indirect attack, I drew the conclusion that the key to Australia's defence is the security of our sea lines of communication. I made the further point that, although defence of Australia means sea-lane defence, we could not attempt this successfully on our own. We would need to act in co-ordination with neighbours and allies. This means that we need not only a military capacity to contribute to sea-lane defence, but also a foreign policy which would enable us to deploy our forces and to co-ordinate them with friendly forces at points far from the Australian mainland.

What I want to do today, instead of dangerously tinkering at the edges of foreign and defence policy as this Bill does, is to consider what kind of foreign policy would support a defence of the sea-lanes and whether this Bill would help or hinder this project. It is clear that the precondition for a sea-lane defence policy is a foreign policy aimed at deeply engaging Australia in the international relations of the region through which pass the sea-lanes vital to us. Some would argue that we have already met this condition by pointing to Australia's abiding diplomatic interests in our northern and Pacific neighbours. That diplomacy is precisely the point. From the point of view of some in our region, our interest seems like nothing more than diplomacy-that is, words, words, words-and, all too commonly, a cranky, individualistic style of expression at that. So, rather than shoring up friends for the future, Australia has begun to develop a fund of suspicion and contempt in countries whose geographical location and good will bear heavily on our ability to defend this country. The retreat from the region advised by the Dibb report confirms the growing impression among our neighbours that Australia finds it distasteful to have to live in this corner of the world. But even if a natural sense of being culturally unique in the region disposes Australians-quite rightly, in my view-to think of themselves as belonging to the world of European culture, rather than to that of Asian and Pacific cultures, common sense demands that we face facts-namely, that our security is bound up with that of our Asian and Pacific neighbours. This is because a threat to them poses a threat to our vulnerable sea lines of communication.

Sea-lane defence means, therefore, something more fundamental than deploying naval and air forces on or over the relevant waterways. Because control of the lands adjacent to these waters gives a high degree of leverage over them, sea-lane defence entails defending the lands proximate to seas most important to us. Consequently, it is in the interests of our country that our neighbours should be both strong and on close terms with Australia. They should be so close, in fact, that these relations should entail Australia giving concrete expression to the belief that their national security is a component of our national security; for their part, they should come to regard practical Australian support as an important element in their own defence planning.

The contribution, then, of foreign policy to Australian national security ought to be to establish a substantial reciprocal commitment to defending the strategic interests we share with our neighbours. As for defence policy, its contribution should be to provide armed forces capable of conducting independent operations, though in co-ordination with those of our neighbours, in strategically forward areas. The object of this military activity should be to assert some control over waters which are mutually vital to us and to defend those territories whose loss would endanger sea lane security. This kind of `regional deterrence' policy is just plain common sense. It is ridiculous to argue that it is better to fight one's enemies on one's own doorstep than on someone else's. It is absurd to claim that it is superior to delay engaging the enemy until he is in the front yard than to meet him while he is still far off. In any case, an enemy who attacks our sea lanes strikes home indirectly. By hitting the sea lanes an enemy can make us bleed, even fatally, without making an expensive and dangerous direct assault on the Australian continent. Our geography and our reliance on overseas trade make a policy of regional deterrence a strategic imperative. As Professor T. B. Millar recently put it:

The most elementary concepts of defence require that Australia does everything possible to avoid fighting on its own territory except in the last resort.

Critics often made the mistake of confusing this kind of regional deterrence with the old doctrine of `forward defence'. Forward defence meant that Australian forces played the role of a tiny, dependent cog in a great military machine operated by a powerful ally in its own interests. This is not what I am talking about when I speak of `regional deterrence'. What I am proposing is that we employ the `forward' element of the old doctrine, but in a new way. What is new in this proposal is that Australia should have a real defence force of its own, one which by its mere existence would provide Australian governments with a previously unattainable degree of freedom in the conduct of national security policy. Also, `freedom of action' here means a Federal government released from the two major alternative limitations which still circumscribe its power to conduct an integrated national security policy. One is our historical tendency to base defence policy on the fortuitous conjunction of Australia's strategic interests with those of a great and powerful ally. The other arises from the laudable attempt to escape this fatalistic trust in the international constellation of powers. But it ends, alas, in isolationism. Both policies are dangerous for Australia. The former relies on an agreement of interests which might never develop. The latter, which issues logically in a Fortress Australia strategy, commits us to fighting an enemy when it is already too late. My proposal, then, contains a second new element, which is that Australia should have the power and the determination to influence events and not merely to react to them.

Our foreign policy, therefore, should forge links which, in times of danger, will provide the Federal Government with a means of making a co-operative defence of the sea lanes and of providing the opportunity, if need be, of meeting an enemy on the lands which adjoin our sea lines of communication. To make such a foreign policy plausible, Australia needs military forces capable of exploiting the opportunities opened up by diplomacy. Without armed forces able to give effect to regional deterrence, and without the demonstrated political will to use these forces in a forward mode, any foreign policy designed to enhance Australia's real security interests is doomed from the outset to fail. So, while a regional deterrence policy is impossible unless foreign policy paves the way, diplomacy can achieve nothing towards this end if our neighbours see that Australia lacks both the means and the will to defend the strategic interests common to those who live in the region.

Assuming, then, the resolution to develop the right sort of armed forces, what kind of foreign policy objectives will enable those forces effectively to be deployed and, if necessary, to fight on strategically advantageous ground of our own choosing? Australia does not need a lot of new alliances. Those which she has-especially our alliance with the United States and the Five Power Defence Pact-already form a springboard from which to launch a regional deterrence policy. Even the forgotten commitment to Thailand and the Philippines under the South East Asia Collective Defence Treaty could be of service. The Five Power Defence Arrangement and our contribution to its integrated air defence system provide for Australia the most convenient stepping stones into a regional deterrence posture. These structures already provide us with a means of contributing to the defence of the Malacca Straits and of that vital sea-lane which passes through that area into the South China Sea and from thence north-east to Taiwan, Japan and Korea. This route is important to Australia because it carries the oil supplies which fuel the economies of Australia's chief northern Pacific trading partners. Interdiction of these lines would play havoc not only with their economies but also with our own.

Secondly, the Five Power Defence Pact and the bases at Butterworth and Singapore provide Australia-assuming it has the right kind of military forces-with the option of going to the defence of our northern neighbours should they be attacked by some power whose expansion could threaten sea-lane security. Australia could, of course, do nothing about adverse changes in our strategic environment. But since our security depends on the lands and waters to our north not falling under hostile influence or control, it is in Australia's interests to be able to contribute in a forceful way to their defence. Consequently, one object of our foreign policy should be to preserve Australia's capacity for forward basing and forward operation in and around the Malay peninsula. Because the Australian contribution to sea-lane defence in the region is insufficient by itself to preserve our strategic interests, the next objective of our foreign policy should be to develop among the nations of south-east and north-east Asia and the Pacific arrangements which would reinforce sea-lane defence. This would seem to require a series of agreements which would draw Japan, Taiwan and Indonesia together with Five Power Defence Pact members to plan for and to practise sea control operations in the South China Sea and the Malacca Straits. A similar arrangement between Australia and Indonesia ought to be worked out to control the Lombok and Sunda straits and the seas around Australia's north-west.

None of these arrangements requires a treaty or a specific commitment to dispatch forces in time of war to defend any particular stretch of land or water. Rather, we need to set up machinery, perhaps at the chiefs-of-staff level, for conducting joint maritime operations and the routine exercising of the forces and skills required to defend the sea-lanes. This practical co-operation and planning for the defence of common interest should provide as effectively as a formal agreement the kind of mutual confidence and reliance which will dispose regional powers naturally to look for one another's support when confronted by a threat to their mutual strategy interests. The unformulated disposition toward military co-operation which such arrangements would promote is the sine qua non of Australia's new regional deterrence strategy. Unless foreign policy and peacetime military co-operation develop a reasonable expectation of mutual support in time of conflict, an effective defence of Australia's real strategic interests can never be made. Without such expectations, Australia will be deprived of the opportunity to meet our enemies at a distance from our shores and at points strategically most significant to us.

Defence in the South East Asian region should not, however, be our only concern. South East Asia is Australia's outer defence perimeter. Our second line of defence is the stretch of islands which reaches over the roof of Australia from West Irian to Vanuatu and beyond. These command the approaches to eastern Australia and our chief line of communication with the North Pacific and with the United States. As I pointed out in my earlier observations on sea-lane defence, the most important points in this island chain are the passages between the Solomon and Bismarck Seas. To secure the lines of communication passing through this area, friendship with Papua New Guinea is essential. Indeed, given the decision of the Hawke Government not to replace HMAS Melbourne, Papua New Guinea territory assumes an added importance to the defence of Australia. These nearby islands need to serve as our replacement aircraft carrier. Their role should be to make possible effective Australian maritime operations to defend the choke points between the Bismarck and Solomon seas. What Australia, therefore, needs are naval and air bases in Papua New Guinea. To obtain and to preserve a base on Manus Island, as well as access for the Royal Australian Air Force to Port Moresby and Rabaul, should be the major goal of Australian security relations with Papua New Guinea. Australia needs these facilities, not only to exercise control over the Bismarck Sea and the nearby narrow waters, but also to pre-empt the possibility of these bases, and Manus above all, falling into the hands of an unfriendly power.

Given the strategic importance of Papua New Guinea to Australia, the recent decision by the Federal Government to cut our aid to that country is fraught with dangers for Australia's security. On the aid issue, the Hawke Government has made a capital error of judgment. I do not deny the importance of cutting back on government expenditure, particularly in this moment of economic crisis. However, cuts should not be made which have the potential to put our national security at risk. Certainly, cuts in our aid to Papua New Guinea fall into this category, apart from the altruistic questions involved. No excuse or opportunity should ever be given to a Papua New Guinea government to turn away from its close friendship with Australia. More to the point, no foreign power should replace Australia in the interests or the affections of Papua New Guinea. In particular, no power, apart from Australia, should be able to use Papua New Guinea territory for any military purpose.

To achieve these objectives Australia needs to rethink its policy toward Papua New Guinea. A revamped policy toward this country should include, as matter of the highest priority, a generous aid program which will exercise a compelling pro-Australian influence on Papua New Guinea governments and peoples alike. Papua New Guinea needs to be persuaded by our actions that its national security and national development will be best supported by an especially close relationship with Australia. This relationship should include the hosting of Australian bases. Moreover, because Papua New Guinea is vital to Australia, our mutual security interests should be formulated in a defence treaty. This ought to be the primary security goal of Australian foreign policy towards Papua New Guinea. If, however, our foreign policy towards South East Asia and the Pacific, Papua New Guinea particularly, should fail, if our defence efforts in those areas should meet with defeat and if a direct threat to Australia should develop as a result, we would still have a third line of defence. This is where the Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities comes into play. The document provides a realistic strategy for the defence of the Australian mainland should all else fail. In this case, our objective will be to defeat the enemy in the sea-air gap.

Let us have done with the Dibb fiction that defence of the `sea-air gap' is a `layered defence': It is a single layer defence. According to the Dibb theory, the enemy must be defeated in its attempt to cross a moat 1,000 nautical miles wide; nor is there any plan to fall back into the continent should our attackers succeed in landing significant forces-not at all. The plan is for the Army to conduct what amounts to a mopping up operation in the vicinity of the coastline against those of the enemy who manage to make it through the moat. The way Dibb proposes for the Army to be deployed does not constitute a second line of defence, it is merely the rear sector of his first. The concept of the `layered defence' as expounded in the Dibb report is little more than a cheap political slogan decked out in scholarly finery or a theatrical costume designed for a Minister for Defence who postures on the national stage as a latter day Australian von Clausewitz. It is a pity that Mr Dibb's considerable learning should have been made use of in this ephemeral and intellectually slippery way.

What I am proposing, though-I hope the Government is able to take this on board-is a real `layered defence', one four layers deep. As I have indicated, the first is in South East Asia, the second is on the line of islands stretching from West Irian to Vanuatu and beyond and the third is in the `sea-air gap'. The fourth line of defence is on the Australian continent itself. Here we can make use of the country's strategic depth to manoeuvre against the invader. With the Dibb strategy, Australia gets one throw of the dice and we cannot afford to lose. With my proposal Australia will have four chances to defeat its enemies and fall-back options should its preferred strategy fail. Australia has nothing to fall back on if the Dibb strategy miscarries-nothing except defeat.

Finally, I turn to the question of our relations with the United States of America. As I have said in earlier comments on this matter, Australia should not seek to rely on the United States to the same degree that it has in the past. Our defence planning should be conducted as if, for all practical purposes, there were no Australia-United States alliance. We must think of having to defend our interests without American help. This means that we cannot assume that the Americans can be relied on to counter strategic imbalances in the approaches to Australia before they mature into threats to our country. The inevitable result of relying thus on others is that Australia must suffer without resistance indirect threats and hostile military action in the area of major strategic value to us. In addition, it means that Australia will defend itself only by fighting on its own ground and hence in circumstances hugely to its disadvantage. Defence planning of this kind is an invitation to our enemies to use armed force against Australia.

The only rational alternative policy is for Australia to conduct an offensive defence strategy in which, in combination with our neighbours and regional trading partners, we will attempt to forestall or foil the development of indirect threats before they mature against our sea lines of communication. If in the end we receive US help, well and good. This will make our forward dispositions all the more powerful. Indeed, though we must not depend on American aid, Australia's preparations for regional deterrence will attract American support more powerfully because these preparations have the further advantages of contributing both to regional defence and to the security of the Western interest in the region. This is because the American defence role in our zone of strategic interest is, in part, a function of the commitment of America's closest regional allies to the defence of mutual regional interests.

On the other hand, if Australia is not prepared to become militarily engaged in the area which embraces its most important strategic assets, the Americans have a disincentive to engage themselves there. This is a point that Association of South East Asian Nations countries well appreciate and it is why they want Australia to be effectively and actively involved militarily in the region. They know that a forward role for Australia in the region acts as a powerful magnet to US engagement. This is a point that Australian planners should better understand, especially in view of re-emerging popular isolationist instincts in the United States. With regard to the Americans then, our rule ought to be: Plan as if everything depends on ourselves and we shall have allies, plan as if everything depends on allies and we shall end up fighting on our own ground and alone. In the light of this axiom, the role of Australian foreign policy should be to pave the way into our South East Asian and Pacific front line.

These considerations should lead the Government and the Parliament to ask these questions about the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty Bill. Does the Government want to have its cake and eat it too? Does the Government want the kudos of being nuclear free while playing host to the nuclear Navy of the United States and other elements supportive of US strategic nuclear forces? Is this not irrational and dangerous? Does this danger not lie in the fact that the Government, having made an emotive issue of the term `nuclear free zone', has established a springboard from which groups can launch an actual and premature nuclear free zone which would debar both nuclear armed and nuclear powered vessels from Australian and other Pacific ports? In the absence of any realistic policy to defend our interests in the region by regional deterrence or conventional means, does the Bill not promote the possibility of an actual and premature nuclear free zone and would this not destroy Australia's connection with the United States, whose support in times of crisis we ought not to deny ourselves? Would it not also disturb security in the Pacific and Asian region to the detriment of multilateral and verifiable disarmament, include nuclear disarmament, and world peace?