Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Speech to the ANU Conference on the Australia-Japan Security Relationship and New Regional Security Architectures: opportunities and challenges.

Download PDFDownload PDF

THE HON. JOEL FITZGIBBON MP Minister for Defence

Tuesday, 10 March 2009



Check against delivery


Introduction Good evening and thank you for inviting me to speak here this evening.

You are all undoubtedly aware that we are sitting at the dawn of the Asia-Pacific century; a dawn driven by huge shifts in economic wealth, rising levels of prosperity, and burgeoning populations.

But at this dawn we face enormous challenges. New challenges: like the worst global financial crisis in a generation and the re-emergence of piracy as an immediate threat; and more enduring ones like violence in the Middle East, terrorism, tension in South Asia, and nuclear and missile challenges on the Korean Peninsula.

The forthcoming Defence White Paper will set out comprehensively how the Government will address these challenges with the resources available, through a robust and active role for Defence as part of a whole-of-Government effort.

Without pre-empting the White Paper, this evening I want to outline the important role that a well-tailored Defence policy plays in fostering regional security and stability and meet the challenges we and the region face.

In that context, I would like to address two broad but inter-related themes. First, I will examine cooperative and consultative security in North and East Asia, and what Australia is doing is doing to further security in such a vital region.

Second, I will look more broadly to the significant role Australia is playing in support of global security, through our support to global operations and our commitment to global institutions.

Cooperative and Consultative Security in North and East Asia Deeper engagement with our region is a fundamental pillar of the Government’s foreign policy. We are committed to further developing our individual bilateral relationships, and to greater involvement with the institutions which contribute to the security of our region.

We seek to do this not only to be a good neighbour and global citizen, but also because we acknowledge the reality that the region is home to three of the worlds’ largest military forces, a number with nuclear capability, three of Australia’s top four export markets, and two of our top three sources of imports.

Australia’s security and prosperity will be tied to the stability of our region during this time of great change. Statistics rarely tell the whole story, but the changes we are facing in Asia are stark. In just over ten years, Asia will account for 45 per cent of global GDP, and one-third of global trade. It will be home to well over half the world’s population, and its growth will account for more than half of the increase in global energy consumption.1 How the region manages this change, and how it deals with its security challenges, are critical concerns for Australia.

Of course, Australia’s efforts will be constrained in part by the limits of our influence. So, we must work creatively with our friends, and through the development of regional institutions to build a more secure and stable region.

I want to reinforce that our alliance with the United States will remain a bedrock of our foreign and defence policies, and that it is fundamental to our national security interests. Our alliance is steeped in history. It remains integral to Australia’s security posture, and enjoys support across the Australian political spectrum.

As has been repeated often, our alliance with the United States helps us to foster stability in the region. Like many countries, we believe that the presence of the United States as a “resident Asian power”2 in our region is a stabilising influence; now even more so given the strategic uncertainty generated by the global economic crisis. As such, we look to encourage US defence engagement through our extensive range of dialogues, exercises, and exchanges.

Increasingly, we are looking to expand upon our engagement with the US and to Japan, a country which is not only a close friend, but also a key partner and a major power in North Asia. We are pursuing this trilateral engagement through two key mechanisms: the foreign-affairs led “Trilateral Strategic

1 Prime Minister’s Singapore Lecture. 2 Secretary Gates described the US as a ‘resident power’ in Asia at his speech to the 2008 Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore.

Dialogue”, and the defence-focused “Security and Defence Cooperation Forum”. These mechanisms provide unique opportunities to discuss the evolving security environment and prospects for trilateral cooperation in areas

such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, non-proliferation and peace operations.

Our cooperation with Japan is not, of course, limited to efforts in the trilateral context and our shared perspectives and interests have formed the basis of a deepening security relationship - indeed it is Australia’s most active defence and security relationship in North Asia.

This strong relationship is the product of a long history of cooperation and collaboration on security issues, and during my visit to Japan last December I reiterated to Minister Hamada the Government’s commitment - both to further develop and strengthen our engagement, and also to find ways by which we can increase practical cooperation.

In North Asia we also have a growing relationship with the Republic of Korea, which is also a robust democracy, an economic success story and a country with which Australia has deep historical and defence ties. The recent visit to Australia by the President of the Republic of Korea only served to highlight that we share a range of strategic interests and hold common perspectives on many global and regional security issues, including counter-terrorism and non-proliferation. The Joint Statement on Enhanced Global Security Cooperation, announced by Prime Minister Rudd and President Lee, will lay the foundation for greater practical security and defence cooperation between our countries.

An important, but often overlooked component of Australia’s engagement in North Asia is our contribution to the United Nations Command (UNC) which has played an important role in maintaining stability on the Korean Peninsula for over half a century. Australia intends to continue our support as the UNC transfers operational control to the Republic of Korea in 2012. This will give South Korea the lead role in responding to a conflict on the Peninsula for the first time in over 50 years, and is an important evolution for security in North Asia.

Much has been written and said about the “rise of China” and what this means for Australia, and for the region. China’s economy has experienced incredible expansion in recent years, and notwithstanding the current financial crisis, it will continue to do so. As would be expected, as China’s economic capacity increases, it is investing in its military capacity, and is exercising the influence which comes with its growing strategic weight.

However, as China continues on this path, it will face increasing pressure to be more open and transparent with the region and the world. For our part, it will be vital that Australia, and others in the region, develop a deeper understanding of China’s strategic intentions to avoid misunderstandings and to ensure that together we can all share in the benefits of China’s growth.

Toward this end, China and Australia have upgraded our bilateral defence Strategic Dialogue to Secretary and Chief of Defence Force level in order to better understand each other’s intentions and to seek greater cooperation in areas of shared interest. I intend to add to this engagement by visiting Beijing later this year to discuss these shared interests with my counterparts.

While, given the subject of this evening’s discussion, I am necessarily focusing on North Asia, it would be remiss of me not to note that our engagement in the region is also underpinned by the very strong relationships with our nearer neighbours, including our historical Defence ties with Malaysia and Singapore, and our partnership with Indonesia which is in excellent shape.

Our bilateral relationships are important, but as I noted before, in an increasingly regionalised and globalised world, a collective and cooperative approach to our common security is essential. No one country, no matter how powerful, is capable of acting alone to deliver the security and stability we all desire.

Australia’s strategic circumstances have always been dictated by relations between bigger players. What is new, however, is that over the coming years Australia’s security will depend increasingly on the proper management of tensions between the big powers within our region. When set against the changes and challenges I noted in my opening, this will be an increasingly complex task - We all know that!

Despite the many robust fora which currently comprise the emerging regional security architecture, we cannot become complacent. In looking to the future we must develop a durable framework through which all countries in the region can manage their differences and resolve their disputes.

In looking to the future we recognise the strengths of the institutions which have contributed to, and will continue to contribute to, security and stability in our region. However, we also need to acknowledge that each of those

institutions has its limitations.

The East Asia Summit (EAS) is a regional Leaders’ forum for strategic dialogue and action on key challenges facing East Asia, and is a significant regional grouping with an important role to play in advancing closer regional integration and cooperation, at a time of particular dynamism in East Asia.

Membership of the EAS comprises the ten ASEAN countries, as well as Australia, China, Japan, India, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea. Critically, however, the EAS excludes the United States which, as I noted before, is not only an important contributor to regional stability, but also a regional power with important interests of its own. The recent comments by Secretary of State Clinton, that the US will pursue the process of acceding to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in South East Asia is a welcome move, and we hope that this will eventually see the US seeking to join the EAS.

APEC, which has one of the broadest memberships of any regional mechanism, has demonstrated that it is capable of being a forum for cooperation and dialogue, while also delivering practical results. It has a proven track record in fostering practical cooperation and acting as a catalyst for reform, whilst its annual leaders meetings are a key event on the regional calendar.

However APEC was formed looking north and east and as such excludes India, a country which is a critical player in Asian security. Further, despite efforts to increase its work on security issues, APEC is likely to remain primarily focused on the eponymous economic cooperation it was created to promote.

For over forty years ASEAN has had great success in building a sense of regional identity and community, and for almost 15 years3 it has leveraged that success through successful engagement with a broader regional audience in the ASEAN Regional Forum. Defence remains committed to the ARF, which continues to provide a valuable mechanism for countries to engage with ASEAN and build confidence and commitment to regional security outcomes.

While there have been notable recent successes in the area of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief and Maritime Security - the ARF remains largely a forum for confidence building rather than practical security outcomes. This is due, in part, to its large and diverse membership.

We remain committed to supporting the Six-Party Talks and working closely with the United States, Japan, South Korea and the other Six-Party members to encourage North Korea to denuclearise. More than just supporting this process with our voices, we have been discussing with the United States, Japan and South Korea ways in which Australia can materially help the Six-Party Talks process. This includes an in-principle offer to contribute heavy fuel oil assistance to the DPRK - although a final decision has not yet been made.

Although Australia would welcome the evolution of the talks into a wider regional body to discuss confidence and security building measures in North and East Asia, the Six-Party Talks remain limited as a single-issue forum.

Indeed, against the backdrop of a possible North Korea missile test, we believe that that the Six-Party Talks have to focus on this single issue before considering its evolution into a broader security mechanism.

I would like to emphasise that these comments should not be seen as in any way a criticism of these existing mechanisms - as I have said, each is important. In the Prime Minister’s words: “each has its own positive role to play”4, and for that reason Australia remains committed to strong engagement in all of the multilateral security institutions which promote security and stability in our region.

3 First meeting of the ARF was July 1994. 4 Address to the Asia Society Australasia Centre, Sydney: It’s time to build an Asia Pacific Community. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, 4 June, 2008.

However as I also noted earlier, we must look to the future and determine the architecture we want and need to ensure stability and security in the face of a rapidly changing world. It is for this reason, that the Prime Minister has initiated a discussion on the development of an Asia-Pacific Community with the capacity to help forge a more stable Asia-Pacific regional security order.

Australia’s long-term goal is to have an Asia Pacific Community in which all of the region’s major and emerging powers are engaged. Such a Community would provide the framework to develop new and existing institutions to promote an open, peaceful, prosperous and sustainable region.

Australia’s vision for the Asia Pacific Community is one that spans the entire Asia-Pacific region, including the United States, Japan, China, India, Indonesia and the other states of the region. It should also encompass the full spectrum of dialogue and cooperation on economic, political and emerging security matters. I am optimistic about the role such a community could play in the region and I welcome South Korea’s President Lee’s supportive comments on the issue during his visit last week.

Australia’s Contribution to Global Security But it is not just across the region that Australia is seeking to promote security and stability. In a globalised world our security and stability requires us to be comprehensively engaged on a global scale, rather than just within our own neck of the woods.

A middle-power like Australia needs to work alongside friends and partners to respond to challenges that are too large, too unconventional, or too costly for one state to meet alone. This reality underlines the Government’s commitment to a more effective rules-based international system and our ongoing strong support of the United Nations.

Commitment to the United Nations The Government believes the United Nations makes a critical contribution to global stability and prosperity. The ADF has been actively involved in UN peacekeeping for over fifty years. Four ADF officers were arguably the world’s first UN peacekeepers when they deployed to the Dutch East Indies under the UN Commission in Indonesia in 1947. Since then, at least 30,000 Australians have served on over 50 operations around the world, and today we have around 45 personnel deployed across six UN missions in East Timor, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East, plus a major contribution to the non-UN peacekeeping operation in the Sinai. 5

These operational deployments are complemented by our efforts to strengthen UN peacekeeping capability through the secondment of officers to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and contributions to

5 6 actual UN Operations (UN Mission in Sudan, UN Truce Supervision, UN and African Union Mission in Darfur, UN Assistance Mission in Timor Leste, UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) as well as UN-approved operations and at UN Headquarters.

Peacekeeping Doctrine reform and development. Australia is also the 12th largest contributor to UN peacekeeping budgets.

The strength of our commitment to multilateral approaches to global security is reflected in the Prime Minister’s announcement in March 2008 that Australia would seek a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2013-2014 term. The opportunity to serve on the Security Council would add a further dimension to Australia’s contribution to the development of a robust international rules-based order that enhances security and economic well-being worldwide.

Other Multilateral Efforts Australia is also deeply engaged in other efforts to promote global stability and security. We are committed to the Proliferation Security Initiative, which seeks to promote practical cooperation between states to stop global trafficking in Weapons of Mass Destruction (and associated technologies). Under the framework provided by the Initiative, we have hosted and participated in numerous interdiction exercises, and consider it an important component in our broader, multi-dimensional approach towards counter-proliferation.

We’re also looking toward new initiatives and working with new partners. I’ve recently returned from a visit to Ethiopia as part of the Government’s commitment to deepen and broaden engagement with the African continent. As part of this commitment we will be looking to establish a new Africa-based Defence Attaché post, and have offered training to African Union officers as a practical representation of this.

Australia’s Contribution to Afghanistan I recently met a number of my counterparts from NATO countries to discuss our cooperative efforts in Afghanistan - efforts which are the most significant manifestation of our commitment to promoting global security.

I have spoken often of the importance that the Government places on this military commitment. It represents our largest current deployment. At around 1,100 personnel it is the largest non-NATO contribution to the ISAF coalition. Our deployment includes combat forces, training and mentoring teams, and engineers. Through the work of the ISAF coalition, we are seeking to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a base for the export of international terrorism.

Australia’s military efforts in Afghanistan are focused on building the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces, as well as disrupting the Taliban-led insurgency. The resulting improvement in security conditions provides space for development and training activities to continue - in support of the three key principles of NATO’s comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan: security, development, and governance.

The efforts of our Operational and Mentoring Liaison Team (or OMLT), the Special Operations Task Group, and the Australian Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force (MRTF) have all been exceptional.

Australian OMLT activities have already resulted in increased Afghan National Army capacity within Oruzgan, with Australian-mentored ANA elements assuming responsibility for sectors within the Tarin Kowt bowl, and extending their influence ever farther from their patrol bases.

Meanwhile, the Special Operations Task Group remains focused on reducing the influence of the Taliban-led insurgency by targeting the Taliban leadership and bomb makers throughout Oruzgan. These actions disrupt Taliban activities, reduce their freedom of movement, and decrease their influence in the province.

The MRTF construction element has conducted extensive operations to improve security infrastructure within Oruzgan province. In recent months, MRTF engineers have completed maintenance tasks at patrol bases to provide increased services for ANA and ISAF personnel during the harsh Afghan winter. They have also assisted Dutch engineers in the design and construction of select patrol bases, providing significantly improved force protection for their ANA and coalition users.

The MRTF is also working on a number of major construction projects to improve essential civil infrastructure. The MRTF has undertaken work to re-open major roads, redevelop the Tarin Kowt Provincial Hospital, and build a Provincial Health Training Centre.

Of course, Australia’s military contribution is only one part of the Government’s commitment. Afghanistan is a current and cogent example of the whole-of-nation effort required for success in modern security operations, and in this mission Defence is supported by agencies like DFAT, AusAID, and the Australian Federal Police who work to support our mission to promote security and stability.

Moreover, we remember that Australia is not working alone in Oruzgan Province. Above all, our efforts are coordinated with our senior coalition partner, the Netherlands, but we are also working with other partners, such as Singapore which deployed a medical detachment to Tarin Kowt in support of the ADF in late 2008.

This deployment is a clear sign of the vitality of our bilateral relationship and highlights the common strategic interests our nations share - even on a global scale. Indeed, it is a practical boost to global security and stability as the result of our solid regional relationships. A strong representation of what I have been talking about tonight.


Underpinning everything I have said tonight about the Government’s approach to security policy is the concept of “creative middle-power diplomacy”. While I have not used the term, that is the approach I have outlined this evening.

This approach recognises that Australia is a remote country, with global interests, which lacks the resources to have a truly global reach. We have to be creative in working with and engaging our region, and the world to multiply

the effect of our actions. We will achieve this through a more engaged security policy, which involves working closely with our allies and friends.

Our approach is based not only on strong bilateral linkages, but also on seizing the opportunities and challenges in the emerging regional security architecture. An architecture which we believe is essential to the continued security and stability of our region.

Thank you.

Media contacts: Christian Taubenschlag (Joel Fitzgibbon): 02 6277 7800 or 0438 595 567 Defence Media Liaison: 02 6265 3343 or 0408 498 664