Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Speech to the Brookings Institution, Washington DC.

Download PDFDownload PDF


Wednesday, 16 July 2008 080716/2008



15 JULY 2008


E &OE……………………………………………………………………..

It is a pleasure to be addressing you today at one of the world’s most renowned think tanks on this, my first visit to the United States as Australia’s Defence Minister.

I thank John Thornton and Strobe Talbot for the opportunity to do so and express my appreciation to Australia’s own Michael Fullilove for his initial approach.

However the generous hospitality leaves me with somewhat of a dilemma. It was only four months ago that you heard from our Prime Minister, a speech I am of course, intricately familiar with - in politics that’s wise!

So my challenge is to avoid spending too much time on the topics he saw fit to cover.

Now, given his very strong interests in Defence and national security issues, that is a challenge indeed.

There are of course, some points which demand reinforcement every time a senior Australian Minister visits the United States. Not just because they are important to our two countries as friends and partners, but also because they are important to global peace, security and prosperity.

The first is the importance of our alliance.

Next month, it will be a hundred years since President Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet arrived in Australia announcing America’s arrival as a power in the Asia Pacific region. Australia took note, and saw in this new power many

common ideals and shared values. Almost immediately a close friendship and trust began to grow between our two nations.

Through the course of two World Wars that friendship matured into a formal alliance relationship. ANZUS reflects the mutual trust and respect we’ve developed fighting side-by-side.

I traveled here via Hawaii, where I saw a practical manifestation of that cooperation as our military forces exercised together as part of RIMPAC 08.

While there I also viewed a wonderful photo exhibition organised by our Consul - General in Honolulu. It reminds us that as early as 1918, our troops were fighting together on the Western Front. Of course, I cannot resist the temptation of pointing out that they were fighting under the command of Australia’s then Lieutenant General John Monash.

Post-WWII our relationship continued to grow and deepen. Australian and US forces have operated together in conflicts including Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. We’ve also worked together in peace operations in places like Somalia and East Timor.

I pay tribute today to those men and women from both countries who have been wounded or killed in these operations. They are great Australians and great Americans. They are the keepers of peace, a peace worth fighting for.

In this “Asian Century” and as we migrate back to a “multi-polar” world, our Alliance will be more important than it’s ever been.

And my visit to PACOM, provided an unnecessary but still important reminder of the importance of a continuing and strong US presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Let there be no mistake, the Australian Government will continue to view the United States as a force of good in the world. We also believe that the ongoing and responsible exercise of it’s economic, diplomatic and military power in the Asia-Pacific region will be crucial to the maintenance of peace and security both in that part of the world and globally.

As the new Australian Government begins its push to ensure the Region has a framework capable of bringing all players together in economic and strategic dialogue, we are more than conscious that that architecture will only prove

successful if the US is a major player and all counties are embraced, including of course, both China and India.

I want to talk about a topic which had the potential to put strains on the relationship between the new Government in Canberra and our friends here in Washington. I refer of course to our decision to withdraw our combat troops from Iraq.

There are three key points to be made about that decision. The first two - concurrency pressure and priorities - are closely related.

When I roll up to NATO meetings and alert our partners in Afghanistan to the fact that Australia has a sum total of six Army battalions I see surprise on the faces of those sitting around the table.

What also draws surprise is the fact that in recent years, around half of Australia’s infantry and cavalry has been simultaneously tied to a deployment - in East Timor, Iraq or Afghanistan. Of course this sustained period of high operational tempo has also put great strain on other parts of the Australian Defence Force, including capability.

But even more importantly, the weight of these obligations left us with insufficient ability to deal with contingencies in our own immediate region, where we need to be constantly in readiness to deal with issues which may arise amongst the fragile states of the South Pacific - the so-called Arc of Instability.

It is the new Government’s view, that restoring our capacity to play a lead role in maintaining peace and stability in Melanesia, is more important than an ‘overwatch’ role in Iraq where really, our work was done.

I very pleased that our friends in Washington understand and appreciate that logic which brings me to the third point.

Australia remains committed to the Iraq project. I use the word “project” very deliberately as I always do when referring to Afghanistan. I do so because success in both countries will only come through concerted efforts on both the military and non-military fronts, and the proper marrying of the two.

In Iraq, our P3 Orions will continue their aerial surveillance and our frigate will remain in the Gulf keeping the sea-lanes open and protecting Iraq’s oil infrastructure.

Our people will continue to play a role in command headquarters and our more than a 100 man strong Security Detachment will continue to protect diplomats and others in Baghdad.

Our economic aid is increasing and we’re finding new ways to provide practical ways of helping to improve governance and rebuild the Iraqi economy.

I’ve appreciated the fact that the Administration here understands our circumstances and position. We’ve been working through that issue without any strain on the relationship. Indeed, I would argue that the relationship has

never been better.

One challenge Secretary Gates and I have been talking about together is the need to make better progress in Afghanistan.

Australia’s contribution in Afghanistan is a substantial one. It includes a Reconstruction Task Force of some 400 personnel, a Special Operations Task Group of around 300 Special Forces soldiers, an Air Force Control and Reporting Centre, a Rotary Wing Group, logistics support and a national Command Element. More than 1000 personnel in all. This makes us the ninth largest troop contributor and the largest non-NATO force in Afghanistan.

But like Secretary Gates and other members of the Administration, the new Australian Government has been unimpressed by a number of things including a lack of a whole-of-country, whole-of-government, coherent strategy, and the shortcomings of the contributions of some NATO partners.

For my part, I’ve made our concerns known in typically blunt Australian terms and will continue to do so.

The Bucharest Summit in April produced some good outcomes and provided hope that many of the shortcomings in the Afghanistan project will be remedied. But of course, the final outcome will be all in the implementation of the plan embraced in the Romanian Capital.

Australia remains committed to the Afghanistan project. We believe it goes to the heart of our own national security at a time when we are all facing a changing strategic environment. We are committed to ensuring that a tyrannical regime which provides safe haven for terrorists cannot take hold in Afghanistan again. Quite apart from how we limit the capabilities of terrorists who wish to do harm to our citizens, we have delivered real benefits in terms of education, health care and employment to the people of Afghanistan. We have protected our own people, but made the lives of many ordinary Afghans better which is a cause worth continuing.

The complexity of that environment explains why one of my first acts as Defence Minister was the commissioning of a new Defence White Paper.

White Papers are a rare event - this paper will be only the fifth since the end of the Vietnam War.

A Defence White Paper and the strategic guidance it provides are critical to successful Defence policy formulation. In the absence of an up-to-date strategic document, Government decisions in the Defence portfolio can become ad hoc and misdirected.

The document the former Government was working from was developed in the late 1990s and released in the Year 2000.

The world has changed so much since then.

• September 11 and subsequent terror events in Bali, Jakarta, London and Madrid;

• The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan;

• Non-state actors, and weapons of mass destruction;

• The nuclear ambitions of rouge states like North Korea and Iran;

• Big shifts in the global distribution of power including the rise and rise of China;

• Failing states in the South Pacific: and,

• The emergence of Cyber-Warfare.

Given these changing circumstances, a review of Australia strategic outlook is well overdue and we hope to have that review complete by the end of this year.

The new White Paper will be unprecedented both in its broad scope and the demands it will place on my Department.

For the first time, the Australian Government will have a comprehensive picture across a range of Defence issues including:

• the current security environment;

• ADF force structure and the levels of preparedness required to meet Australia’s defence needs;

• Defence Capability;

• The overall Defence budget;

• The size and composition of our uniformed and civilian workforce;

• Force disposition

• Supplying and sustaining deployed ADF elements;

• Defence’s information technology needs; and, finally

• The requirements of our defence industry, and science and technology more generally.

The crucial starting point for the White Paper process will be a wide-ranging review of our security environment, our strategic interests and the roles and tasks which the Government will require the Australian Defence Force to be able to undertake over the next two decades.

Unless we start from this base, future decisions about the ADF's force structure and key defence capabilities will be neither rigorous or disciplined.

The Australian Department of Defence is currently undertaking this wide-ranging strategic review, in consultation with other agencies, including those in the Australian intelligence community, and the United States. There are

major issues to be considered during this phase.

For example: • What is the likely future role of force in the international system?

• What is that system going to look like in, say, 2030 - when a number of emerging major powers will have attained considerably more economic, strategic and raw military power than they currently have today, or have had in the past?

• Will the era of major state-on-state conflict in the international system have come to an end, superseded by an era of intra-state strife and conflict as well as threats from so-called non-state actors, such as terrorists and insurgent groups?

• What risks and threats will we face in the emerging strategic environment? Will changes in the planet's climate and environment create new sources of tension and conflict?

• What role should our armed forces - which are largely trained and geared for war - play in the future, as distinct from civilian agencies?

These are the big questions the Government will need to turn its mind to. We will need to "look through the data" as economists like to say, and discern enduring trends, risks and threats, as well as abiding interests.

Trying to "look through the data" and judge enduring trends, risks and threats is the hardest task for our defence planners.

Just think back twenty odd years: could anyone in this room honestly say that in 1986 they picked the collapse of the Soviet Union, or that NATO would be in Afghanistan confronting those who, in some cases at least, had fought the Soviets in the 1980s?

Who would have believed NATO meetings would be held in Romania or Lithuania. Indeed, the independent nation of Lithuania didn’t exist!

Trying to undertake defence planning on the basis of current pre-occupations is a fraught exercise.

Of course, today I have no intention of pre-empting the outcomes of the White Paper, but there are some things we can say with a degree of certainty.

First, Australia’s first priority will remain the ability to defend our continent without relying on the assistance of others.

Second, it will be necessary to maintain a capacity to take a lead in stabilisation efforts in our immediate region.

Third, we will also maintain the capacity to join in coalition efforts in the broader Asia-Pacific and beyond. This will of course, require a balanced force and some difficult capability and force structure decisions given our relative size and limited budget.

The Asia-Pacific represents both challenges and opportunities for both Australia and the United States.

The region is home to two of the most important powers of the next fifty years - China and India. Their unquenchable thirst for our commodities including oil, gas and iron ore has provided Australia with a long period of sustained

economic growth.

But in the coming decades their economic growth and military capability will shape both the region and the globe.

Managing this shift in the centre of gravity to the Asia-Pacific will be our great challenge of the first half of this century. That is why Prime Minister Rudd has begun the push for the new regional framework I spoke of earlier.

Regional dialogue which nurtures confidence and trust in one another will be critical in managing changes in the power balance both within and outside the region.

And as we attempt to look out thirty years and beyond, miscalculation in the Taiwan Straits or on the Korean Peninsular is not the only potential threat.

As the region continues to grow we could face energy resource challenges as nation-states seek to meet the needs and expectations of their people.

Water may become just as precious as population growth and pollution puts pressure on fresh water supplies.

Climate change could force large migrations of people, which brings me to topics closer to home, the South Pacific.

It’s a region of much promise and hope that has been faced with many challenges in the past few years.

Fiji's latest coup in 2006 was its fourth in 20 years. It has led to a worrying decline in standards of governance in Fiji and is also impacting upon the nation’s economic health as the country's economy responds to political

turmoil. We continue to reinforce our desire to see this important nation within the Pacific return to democracy, not only for reasons of principle, but also for sake of improving the quality of life of the average Fijian.

Australia and other nations have provided significant security assistance to East Timor's move to independence in 1999. We were called upon again in 2006 as the security situation deteriorated. East Timor continues to hold a special place in the hearts of Australians and we are committed to assisting the leadership of East Timor to move their nation forward.

Since 2003, Australia has also provided both security and governance support to the Government of the Solomon Islands, following on from a period when ethnic tensions boiled over and made the proper operation of government untenable. While we continue to maintain a small military presence in the Solomon Islands, Australia's main effort is now directed towards assisting the continuing development of a robust and effective national government.

Elsewhere, the riots in Vanuatu in 2007 and Tonga in 2006 highlight the sometimes fragile security situation in otherwise peaceful countries.

Australia's future and that of the South Pacific's are intertwined. Our Government recognises the importance of the Pacific and our approach is to work in partnership with our Pacific neighbours to unlock their potential.

Since coming into Government, we have sought to re-energise Australia’s engagement with Pacific nations and improve person-to-person links. In this endeavour, Australia is, of course, joined by the closest of all our Pacific friends, New Zealand, a nation that has for many years stood side-by-side with the United States.

In the future, regional security will be dependent upon us developing strong regional partnerships that can meet the challenges which are not apparent today.

Of course the key to any regional partnership or grouping is continuing strong US presence and engagement. This US presence and engagement is crucial to regional stability and, as a close friend and ally, we will continue to work with her towards common goals. Of course the security and stability of Indonesia is also of vital importance to Australia. It is quite amazing how far Indonesia has come both economically and politically in the last few years.

I’m pleased to be able to say that our relationship with Indonesia is going from strength to strength. We are already cooperating closely in a broad range of areas, including counter-terrorism, where Indonesia has made enormous strides following the horrific attacks in Bali in 2002, attacks which killed 202

innocent people, including 88 Australians and seven Americans.

Indonesia’s response to the threat of Islamic extremism and terrorism, both by its Government and its population, reflects its impressive evolution into a modern democracy. While Indonesia still faces all the challenges inherent in its status as an emerging democracy, its progress is impressive. As the

world’s largest Muslim country, success of Indonesian democracy sets an important example for the region, and the world.

We have recently concluded the Lombok Treaty with Indonesia to increase the depth of our bilateral security cooperation, and we hope this will be just a first step toward a deeper and broader security relationship.

I know that the US will work with Australia to support and encourage these positive developments in Indonesia and that all three nations can work cooperatively in the future to address our common security interests.

Japan is another key partner in the region. Both our countries already have strong bilateral relationships with Japan, but through trilateral cooperation there is the potential to leverage our considerable collective strengths.

Australia, the US and Japan are now linked through the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue, in which our three countries can discuss security challenges. We are keen to see this trilateral engagement progress, particularly with a view towards more practical security cooperation. Greater practical cooperation between our governments and Defence forces in areas such as humanitarian and disaster relief, peace keeping and maritime security has the potential to make a considerable contribution to regional peace and security.

At the Australia-US Ministerial Meeting (known as ‘AUSMIN’) this year we agreed to further enhance our bilateral defence relationship by: expanding our joint and combined training capability to improve the quality and value to

Australia and the US of training in Australia. We also agreed to explore how we can better cooperate to improve our collective ability to provide

humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the Asia pacific region. Finally we agreed to look at better sharing cooperation in the field of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance to allow both nations to operate more effectively together. These important agreements not only strengthen our alliance, but also support the activities and presence of US forces in the Asia Pacific region.

In Hawaii I got to see first hand as part of the RIMPAC Exercise just how closely our forces work together and how valuable our military collaboration is to both countries. Just as it has been for the last 57 years, I am convinced that the US-Australia alliance has a critical role to play in future peace and security in the Asia Pacific region.

As important as the future security and stability of the Asia Pacific region is to Australia, we cannot ignore boarder global problems and issues. The Asia Pacific will not develop in isolation. Instability and problems in the rest of the world will have repercussions in our region, which is why we see a need for a strong multilateral system. Australia has always been, and will continue to be, a great supporter of the United Nations and its vital work.

Australia was a founding member of the UN and a famous Australian politician and jurist, Dr H.V. (‘Doc’) Evatt, was President of the General Assembly in its Third Session from 1948-9.

Today, we maintain that vision and commitment.

Australia is the 13th largest contributor to the UN budget. We have a proud history of contributing to over 50 peacekeeping missions, five of which are ongoing. I have seen first hand the fine work that the men and women of the Australian Defence Force do while on peacekeeping operations. Their’s is a difficult, but rewarding task.

Australia has recently announced that it will stand as a candidate for a non-permanent Security Council seat in 2013. This bid reflects our strong desire to bring an experienced and constructive voice to the work of the Council.

It goes without saying that Australia’s strong support for the UN in no way devalues our bilateral relationships, particularly our relationship with the United States. Bilateral relationships are an important and necessary element of the international system and the way we do business.

But the problem and challenges we are facing today - terrorism, transnational crime, pandemics, global warming - do not respect national borders. The challenges they represent can only be met with a network of global responses. And the United Nations, along with other regional multilateral bodies, has an important role to play in developing effective global responses to these challenges.

We must invest in our multilateral systems so that they continue to work as a stabilising influence. They will not run themselves. They will require effort and patience, but our future prosperity and security are linked to our success in these endeavors.

It was only four months ago that the Prime Minister, addressing this institution, committed Australia to being more active in meeting global challenges through multilateral diplomacy. As a country with which we share many common

values and interests I know there will be many opportunities for Australia and the United States to work together in multilateral institutions, particularly the UN, to address the challenges we face.

It is my intention, and the intention of the Government, to not only maintain the Alliance relationship, but to seek to push our engagement to a new, deeper, level of cooperation. Already this year our two countries have made significant commitments at AUSMIN to enhancing our Defence relationship and we have worked closely to achieve important outcomes together on planning for Afghanistan. I look forward to doing more together and making sure the Alliance continues to grow ever closer and stronger.

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