Saturday 30 May 2020 | 07:03 | SYDNEY
Saturday 30 May 2020 | 07:03 | SYDNEY

Counter-insurgency: Our military future


Mark O'Neill

10 December 2009 09:31

Whenever I read a piece by Paul Kelly, it reminds me how rare good writing seems to have become among the contemporary Australian broadsheet newspapers. Kelly has the ability to cut through opinion, spin and the conventional wisdom to succinctly present the essential elements of an argument or position.  

His piece in yesterday's Australian regarding Prime Minister Rudd's management of the US-Australia relationship and his Government's response to President Obama's Afghanistan 'surge' is an example. Kelly's discussion of the Government's Afghanistan position offers little hope to those who argue for an increased Australian military commitment to the counter-insurgency conflict in Afghanistan.

There are, however, several reasons we should not assume that Australia can soon go back to studiously ignoring the problems associated with counter-insurgency. 

First, in Afghanistan there remains a large gap between our desired military end-state – a capable and self-sufficient Afghan National Army  – and the present reality. Australian troops in Oruzgan Province are doing a great job, but any reasonable assessment of the timeline for the task ahead would not be counted in weeks and months. 

The second reason goes beyond Afghanistan, and will be more problematic in the longer term. It comes from this line in Kelly's article:

Beneath this policy lies Labor's abiding strategic preference for military operations closer to home, not in coalitions beyond the region.

While the idea of a 'strategic' preference for where one may like to fight future wars merits detailed comment, I'll focus on the issue of conflicts 'closer to home'. These, and most of the violent security challenges within our immediate region, are insurgency-related.

Consider the ASEAN states. Nine out of ten have had at least one insurgency within their borders during the last century; many of them have had two or more, some of which are still going. From Irian Jaya to Mindanao and Songkhla to southeastern Myanmar, insurgency is endemic. In the globalised era, there is no guarantee that the problem of insurgency within states will not affect their bilateral and regional relationships. 

The immediate by-products of insurgency are diverse and serious. They can include terrorism, human insecurity (encapsulating issues such as poverty, hunger, ethnic cleansing and refugee flows) and the conditions for transnational crime. In the longer term, nothing less than state failure and regional destabilisation are possibilities. 

This is the environment in which the ADF will conduct such 'military operations closer to home'. It suggests that our eventual exit from Afghanistan will not be the end of our association with counterinsurgency, but a preview of our future.

Photo by Flickr user isafmedia, used under a Creative Commons license.