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Analyst gives PM mixed report card -

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Analyst gives PM mixed report card

The World Today - Thursday, 4 December , 2008 12:22:00

Reporter: Eleanor Hall

ELEANOR HALL: One of Australia's top strategic specialists, Hugh White, has been listening to the
Prime Minister's statement.

Hugh White is professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University and a visiting
fellow at the Lowy Institute and he joins us now with his analysis.

Professor White thanks for joining us.

HUGH WHITE: It's my pleasure.

ELEANOR HALL: Now the Prime Minister says this is a major national security statement, he's
appointed Australia's first national security adviser how significant are the policies he's
announced today?

HUGH WHITE: Well Eleanor I think it'd be fair to say he hasn't announced much in the way of
policies, as Alex said, what he's done is reaffirm a whole lot of policies which have already been
in place and really which have been in place for, not just throughout the Rudd Government but for
many years before that.

The main focus of today's statement is to establish a whole lot of more administrative procedures
and a whole lot more reviews and if committees can make us safe, then we're going to be a very
secure country indeed.

ELEANOR HALL: And what about this national security adviser position though?

HUGH WHITE: I don't think the changes there are very significant, Duncan Lewis is an outstanding
public servant and has been doing a great job as a deputy secretary in the Prime Minister's
Department looking after all these issues, I think it's just really a relabelling of the job that
Duncan's already been doing.

ELEANOR HALL: Well the Prime Minister's announced a counter-terrorism white paper as you say
another review, but he's not going to set up a department of homeland security does this signal a
shift at all in concern about the threat of terrorism?

HUGH WHITE: No I think it reflects the realisation that the idea of a department of homeland
security which found its way into Labor policies way back in 2002 and 2003, was always a dumb idea.

The Americans showed us that however else you respond to the threat of terrorism a department of
homeland security is not a smart idea and I think Ric Smith's review, I think Ric would have gone
through that issue with great care and made it quite clear that setting up a whole new bureaucracy
on top of the structure we've already got would not make a lot of sense.

And there were some coordinating processes including I think some of those that have been announced
today which do make much more sense than building a whole new department.

So I think that was a very sensible response.

ELEANOR HALL: What's your sense of the Prime Minister's approach to terrorism as a security threat?

HUGH WHITE: Well Eleanor, one of the most interesting things about today's statement is the way in
which, the language used to describe terrorism, because he was I think surprisingly and if I can
put it this way impressively modest.

For a long time we've been used to politicians really since 9/11, describing terrorism in
apocalyptic terms as a challenge to our whole way of life, the whole international order and so on.

By contrast I thought Kevin Rudd's words talking about it as a serious ongoing threat were
accurate, correctly expressed the fact that it is a serious ongoing threat but didn't overstate the
nature of a terrorism challenge. And to do that particularly in the week after the Mumbai attacks I
think showed a commendable sense of, of balance.

One of the big challenges we've all had in the last few years is recognising that terrorism is a
serious challenge but not letting it take over, have a bigger place in our overall national
security thinking than it deserves and I think that's one balance that the statement today got just
about right.

ELEANOR HALL: Interestingly overnight in Washington a bipartisan commission has warned that the
incoming Obama administration should prepare for a nuclear or biological terrorism attack sometime
in the next five years. Do you think we are we likely to see any shift in the approach to terrorism
in the US?

HUGH WHITE: Well I'd certainly put it this way that one of the most, there's no doubt that nuclear
terrorism especially is the most serious issue on the terrorism agenda.

And one of the peculiarities of the Bush administration's approach to terrorism since 9/11 is
because it put so much effort and energy into operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and so on, it's
done less than the threat deserves to respond to that threat of nuclear terrorism in particular.

So I think it's a very good idea as the Obama administration moves into office that it really
focuses on that nuclear and to a certain extent biological terrorism threat as in some ways the
most important thing to address.

Now when you look at that though it's pretty hard to deal with in particular because by far and
away the most serious threat of nuclear terrorism comes from the risk that Pakistani nuclear
weapons could find their way into the hands of al-Qaeda and that draws you into the whole terrible
maelstrom of Pakistan which is such a vexed issue.

ELEANOR HALL: Hugh White thanks very much for joining us.

HUGH WHITE: It's my pleasure.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Hugh White the professor of strategic studies at the Australian National
University.