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Address to the ASPI 'Global Forces 2007' Conference, Canberra.

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Prime Minister of Australia | John Howard

Speech Transcript

05 July 2007

Address to the ASPI 'Global Forces 2007' Conference Hyatt Hotel, Canberra


Thank you very much Mr Stianos, Dr Nelson, Minister for Defence, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the Chief of the Defence Force, Chief of the Navy, Chief of the Army, Mr Abigail General Clunies-Ross, ladies and gentlemen. I thank ASPI for the opportunity of presenting an overview of the Government's take on our strategic look and also congratulate the organisation on the contribution it has made to a better informed debate on strategic policy since its formation three years ago. My main message today at the outset is a simple one, although the challenges I talk about are anything but. Well that message is that we do face a complex and challenging strategic environment but one that we believe we can face with confidence as the result of the Government's national security policies.

The recent Budget provided $22 billion for defence - an increase of 10.6 per cent on the previous year and a 47 per cent increase in real terms over the levels of more than ten years ago. As a result we will have a larger, better-protected, more mobile and harder-hitting army which can be deployed more readily. A navy capable of establishing sea control in key areas and operating confidently within our region and an air combat capability, second to none, in our region.

The task is, however, a continuing one. We have committed to a 3 per cent real increase in annual defence spending out to the year 2016. These are very large sums of money and represent serious, long-term decisions about capability. But based on the latest strategic assessment of our intelligence agencies and the advice of our military experts, they are necessary.

I recently remarked to the Defence leadership group that the ADF's current operational tempo is greater than at any time since the Vietnam war, but also that the complexity and global character of the security challenges we face, make them even more serious. No-one would claim to know precisely what our strategic future holds. But based on what we know now and on the analytical work of our intelligence community we can perhaps sketch some of its outlines.

Nation states will be challenged by terrorist organisations and other non-state entities. Most conflicts now involve non-state groups, which are becoming more and more adept at using and you foresaw it Tom, ‘asymmetric' methods of attack - exploiting the openness of our societies, our technologies and our values to attack us where we are most vulnerable. There will be no holiday from the long struggle against terrorism, a different type of war against a different type of enemy. There is nothing in the assessments I have seen or in the declared strategic intent of the terrorists to encourage the belief that this is not a major political and military struggle that will go on for many years. Islamist terrorism will remain a threat to Australia, to Australian interests, and to our allies, globally, and in Southeast Asia.

The recent thwarted attacks in London and the attack in Glasgow - with a possible connection to Australia - show that societies like ours also face this danger at home. While terrorism represents an attack on our values and our way of life, others are not immune. Bombings throughout the Islamic world - whether in Indonesia, Afghanistan, Iraq or this week's deadly bombing in Yemen - remind us that all communities that stand for moderation and tolerance are at risk. It is equally clear that appeasing terrorists - and allowing them to dictate the policy choices our nations make - does not offer protection. These realities underline the importance of countries that represent these values standing together. Australia and other Western nations need to support not only each other but moderate Islamic governments, leaders and communities throughout the world. Leaders such as Indonesia's President Yudhoyono are key to ultimately denying the terrorists their strategic objectives.

While terrorist networks will remain a major threat, nation states will remain the most important international actors; and the global balance of power will remain the most important determinant of Australia's security. Power relativities, as always, will go on changing with the continuing emergence of China and India as major powers reshaping our regional landscape, and tilting the global centre of gravity away from the Atlantic towards Asia. China's rise is good for China and good for the world. However, US-China relations, China-Japan tensions and longstanding flashpoints in Taiwan and the Korean peninsula will require continuing careful management. Australia has an enormous stake in the maintenance of stability in Northeast Asia.

But we are unlikely to see the emergence of a serious rival to liberal, market-based democracy as an organising principle. Nor will the United States lose its predominant position globally or in our region. There is no doubt that the United States is under strain, at home and abroad, as a result of its current commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. But both history and demography suggest it would be a major mistake to underestimate America's resilience, regenerative capacity and moral authority.

Over the period in question and possibly well beyond, the United States will maintain its clear conventional military advantage over all potential adversaries. US interests as well as values and strategic culture will ensure that the United States continues to take an active global leadership role. It is unlikely to wind back the vital stabilising role it plays in East Asia. Australia's security will continue to be shaped by global trends, as it always has been. Australians have always understood intuitively that our security can be deeply affected by distant events.

As a result of globalisation, however, the range and number of events affecting Australia's strategic circumstances and potentially requiring military responses will continue to grow; the lead-times available to us in which to respond will continue to shrink. Globalisation will continue to facilitate not only terrorism and other forms of transnational crime, but the proliferation of the technology and materials necessary to acquire weapons of mass destruction. It could also spur a resurgence of protectionism and increasing rivalry over globally traded resources, particularly oil. Combined with globalisation, profound technological and demographic changes will magnify the strategic impact of some future events, including distant ones. It will remain the case that, because of our size and location, Australia cannot afford to wait until security threats reach our shores before we do anything about them.

Events in the Middle East have long been important to Australia's security and broader interests, and this will remain the case. Many of the key strategic trends I have mentioned - including terrorism and extremism, challenging demographics, WMD aspirations, energy demand and great-power competition - converge in the Middle East. Our major ally and our most important economic partners have crucial interests there. The region will see further turbulence, and Iran's nuclear and wider regional ambitions remain a point of particular concern. In these circumstances it is all the more critical that the coalition succeed in establishing a stable, democratic Iraq that is capable of defending itself against Al Qaeda and the internal enemies that wish to tear it apart, and against potential external adversaries.

There will be further adjustments to coalition strategy and force profiles as progress is made and the enemy adapts. The US ‘surge' in and around Baghdad has only recently reached full strength; General Petraeus will make an interim report on progress to the Congress in September. But despite the dreadful continuing violence and our frustration and that of our coalition partners at the rate of political progress, the Government remains committed to staying in Iraq with coalition partners until the Iraqi security forces no longer require our support. We all tend to be sickened and perhaps over time numbed by the horrific TV images of the latest car bombing. But the consequences of Western failure and defeat in Iraq are too serious to allow our policy to be dictated by weariness, frustration or political convenience.

Steadfast support for an ally under pressure is not blind loyalty. Rather it shows that genuine friendship is for the difficult times, as well as the good. Moreover, Australia's national interest will demonstrably not be served by an American disengagement from Iraq in circumstances of perceived defeat. Similarly in Afghanistan we must be prepared for the reality of a long-term commitment. As in Iraq, the choice is simple - between supporting those forces that represent modernity, tolerance and hope, or abandoning them to the dark, calculating nihilism of the extremists. Because of the openness of our society, our opponents understand us much better than we understand them. They know that we sanctify human life, and in particular the life of innocents. They know we accept and value dissent. And they know we have elections. They exploit their base insights - on the battlefields of Baghdad and Uruzgan province and in the battlefield of international opinion. Whether in Afghanistan or Iraq, it would not only run counter to our national interests but also to our national character to let them prevail.

Closer to home, terrorism remains a threat, but one against which good progress is being made - as demonstrated by recent arrests in Indonesia of senior JI figures. Australian agencies have very good counter-terrorism links with their counterparts in Indonesia and other regional countries, and we will continue to build on this cooperation. We will also continue to work with our partners to strengthen governance in our immediate region. Many states in our region are vulnerable because for a combination of social, political and economic reasons they cannot provide adequate services and opportunities for their peoples. Weak institutions, corruption and transnational crime can, if left unchecked, lead to state failure.

Instability in the South Pacific is harmful to the societies affected. It also undermines our interests. It reduces our ability to protect the approaches to Australia; it undermines our development assistance efforts; and it feeds people smuggling, illegal immigration, drug trafficking and money laundering that can jeopardise all Australians. In addition to our national interests, our relative size and prosperity give us a moral responsibility to help our neighbours. And our international allies and partners rightly expect it of us. For all these reasons my government decided in early 2003 on a major shift to a more active, robust and where necessary interventionist policy approach in our region. In doing so we consciously put aside the rather disinterested - and failed - policy of earlier years.

We had helped to bring peace on Bougainville; Australian troops remain in East Timor to provide stability as that country continues the transition to sustainable independence and democracy; the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) is producing results welcomed by the local community, including assistance following the recent earthquake and tsunami; we dispatched personnel to restore order after violence broke out in Tonga; and in Papua New Guinea the Enhanced Cooperation Programme continues. Together these commitments represent a very serious

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investment. The work is often difficult and dangerous; it requires skill, perseverance and tact - and close cooperation between a range of government agencies and with our regional partners.

We recognise that long-term stability in our immediate region will ultimately depend on the establishment of effective governance frameworks. But we also recognise that many countries will not get there on their own, and that this must be a very long-term commitment on Australia's part. Let me emphasise that unless governance is strengthened, corruption reduced and basic security provided, increased economic aid risks being a wasted investment - and indeed feeding the

underlying problem. The current picture of our overseas deployments and commitments tells us something about what we can reasonably anticipate over the next two decades. Our intelligence community assesses that Australia is most likely to be called on to take the lead in a range of possible missions in our immediate region. These include humanitarian relief and stabilisation tasks, and potentially evacuations and support for counter-terrorist operations. Reflecting the complexity of such challenges, these activities will require a combination of advanced military capability and ‘soft power'. They will therefore involve the ADF, but increasingly also other agencies such as the AFP, DFAT, AusAID and the Treasury.

Operations in East Timor, Bougainville and the Solomon Islands have seen these agencies work together in unprecedented and unanticipated ways. Defence has had to adapt to working closely alongside civilian agencies, which for their part have had to develop the training and systems to support previously uncustomary overseas operations, often for protracted periods. We will see more of this over the coming decades. There will probably be times in the decades ahead - as now - when the ADF will face concurrent contingencies far apart geographically and very different in nature. And the experience of the last 10 years and the considered view of our experts both underline one key reality: strategic surprises are certain.

Whether wars, pandemics or natural disasters, we can be certain there will be events that cause major dislocation. We have to be ready for them. This requires two key things - a flexible, responsive, highly capable and more expeditionary Australian Defence Force; and a set of robust international security partnerships. The sort of ADF we will need over the next 20 years and beyond is very different from the one the government inherited when it came to office in 1996. The facts speak for themselves. When the Leader of the Opposition gave his Budget reply speech, he didn't mention defence once. But this shouldn't come as a surprise. Labor has a long record of neglect on defence. According to ASPI's Australian Defence Almanac, over Labor's last 11 Budgets defence outlays decreased by 2 per cent in real terms, measured in 2004-05 dollars.

In 1991 the Labor government decided to cut two battalions from the Army. The Australian Defence Association said at the time that as a result Australia would be seen by foreign neighbours as weak and irrelevant. The costs could have been even more serious, however. In 1999 the current government decided it had no option but to lead a military coalition to

intervene to stop the violence in East Timor. The ADF responded magnificently. But the operation exposed significant deficiencies - particularly in strategic lift capability, logistics, mobility and the ability to sustain a sizeable ground force even close to Australia.

The government took these lessons seriously to heart. We had already resolved that Defence should be quarantined from the substantial Budget cuts we had to make in 1996. We have increased defence outlays by 48 per cent in real terms. We have restored one infantry battalion and will have added a further two battalions by 2010, bringing the total to eight. And we have abandoned the narrow, misguided and ultimately self-defeating nostrum that our force structure should be determined only or even mostly for the defence of Australia narrowly defined - our coastline and its near approaches.

Instead we are building the balanced, versatile ADF that we will need to confront the challenges that we can foresee now but also the unexpected. The ADF will need the flexibility to adapt not only to a growing range of non-military tasks and increasingly sophisticated and lethal asymmetric attacks but also changes on the conventional battlefield. It needs to be able to defend our mainland and approaches in the unlikely event that these ever come under direct military threat. But it must also be capable of conducting substantial operations in our immediate region - whether alone or as the leader of a

coalition - and of making meaningful military contributions as a member of coalitions further abroad.

Our technology edge - particularly in precision strike, stealth, speed and information networks - will be critical. The current Defence Capability Plan outlines $51 billion of new acquisitions over the next 10 years to ensure we continue building this force. We will have a larger, stronger Army, with better equipment, mobility, combat weight and networked capabilities, including new M1 Abrams tanks, Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopters and MTH90 troop helicopters.

Our Navy, built around two new amphibious ships and three air warfare destroyers, our upgraded Anzac frigates and the now world-class Collins-class submarines will be capable of operating throughout our region and beyond - and of deploying and supporting ground forces offshore. We will maintain regional air superiority with an air force based around the new generation Joint Strike Fighter, airborne early warning aircraft and new air-to-air refuelling aircraft. Our acquisition of 24 Super Hornets will ensure there is no capability gap during the transition to the JSF. The acquisition of C-17 heavy lift aircraft and our planned investment in unmanned aerial vehicles will give the RAAF unprecedented capabilities, reach and operational flexibility. Overall our military will be more deployable, more versatile, more networked and more highly skilled.

Attracting sufficient skilled personnel will remain a major challenge for Defence - particularly in an era of high employment and when our military will increasingly need not only more specialised personnel, but also individuals with impressive skills across the board. No one country can prevail on its own in the face of the complex challenges of the 21st Century. Strong bilateral strategic relationships can be a force for stability in a fluid environment - and a potent force multiplier for our own

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efforts. As the world becomes more interconnected, security becomes more and more indivisible. Our security rests on the security of our partners, and vice versa.

Our alliance with the United States has never been stronger, broader or deeper. It will remain our most important strategic relationship for the indefinite future. The benefits to Australia, both tangible and intangible, are extensive - whether in terms of strategic reassurance, intelligence, defence technology or training. Moreover, Australia pulls its weight in the alliance. Our forces are highly capable and operate seamlessly with their US counterparts. We bring a different regional perspective and our own insights to the table.

Many of our critics said a closer relationship with the United States would come at a cost to our relationships in Asia. Nothing could be further from the case. Relationships are not a zero sum game. Our relationship with China has flourished at the same time as we have strengthened the US alliance. We have also strengthened our relationships with Indonesia, Japan, India, Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia - to name but a few.

Contrary to what some might claim, this is not just a fortunate coincidence. The strength of our alliance adds value that is our alliance with the United States, to our dealings in the region and represents an asset rather than a liability. The alliance is complemented by a growing web of other ties. In 2006 the government signed the Lombok Treaty with Indonesia, the world's largest Islamic nation, our nearest neighbour and third-largest democracy - a key country in our region and in the broader global fight against extremism.

In March, The Japanese Prime Minister and I signed an historic Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation. Our Trilateral Security Dialogue with Japan and the United States is developing into new areas of cooperation, to the benefit of the region as a whole. At the same time we are pursuing a Free Trade Agreement with China and working together in a number of areas to promote regional prosperity and stability. Defence links with India are growing and will become closer, reflecting India's growing strategic weight and engagement with East Asia. In May during President Arroyo's visit Australia

and the Philippines signed a Status of Visiting Forces Agreement that will facilitate joint training and exercising. We also value our very close defence relationships of a long standing character with both Singapore and Malaysia. Our intelligence community assesses that there is currently no foreseeable conventional military threat to Australian territory, and we are likely to maintain a capability edge in our own immediate region.

Tensions between the major powers of our region are likely to be managed short of military conflict, and we can expect a fair measure of cooperation among major and smaller powers. The emergence of a global middle class, increasingly in Asia, could strengthen forces of cooperation and convergence. US paramountcy and engagement, in Asia and globally, will remain a major force for stability. US relationships with Japan, India, China and the countries of Southeast Asia are in good order. That is good for Australia and good for our region.

These factors, along with the decisions the Government has made over the last decade on defence and the strength of our own regional relationships, gives me every expectation that Australians can face our strategic future with great confidence.

But above all else, my confidence rests on the inherent strengths of Australia - a talented people; a strong economy; a robust democracy underpinned by tested national institutions; and a greater sense of national self-confidence about who we are and what we stand for.

Thank you.


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