Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 00:53 | SYDNEY
Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 00:53 | SYDNEY

Defence White Paper debate: Round 4

23 September 2008 17:42

Guest blogger: Marc Gugliotta is participating in our student blog debate on the Defence White Paper. Marc is completing his Masters at GSSD.

In response to Sam, if we are worried about being provocative, we should cancel the Air Warfare Destroyers (AWD) and the Amphibious Landing Helicopter Docks (LHD). From the perspective of South-East Asia any capability to project power in tandem with the ability (ideally) to hold and seize territory is unsettling, and I would argue more provocative than advanced air and maritime assets that are excellent at destroying things but are incapable of holding territory.

Neighbours will inevitably view any military capability purchases with interest. Thus, concerted efforts to build trust and understanding are always vital. This is easier to achieve with capabilities that do not threaten territorial integrity. Granted, submarines, land-attack missiles and high performance combat aircraft are not exactly designed for a tea party. However, as Lachlan points out, these capabilities might be welcomed in the region because they are logically aimed at resisting a major regional power. The obvious question is whether you believe a major regional power will interject itself into the South-East Asian region. Nevertheless, in terms of not appearing provocative, the AWDs and LHDs are more disconcerting than any offensive strike capabilities.

I would like to see in the Defence White Paper a refocussed conception of what a defence force is for. As Sam points out, military capability is of marginal relevance in many situations. Taking a lead from the 'Masters of Resilience', Singapore, dealing with these problems is not done at the expense of the military. Rather, it involves the establishment of forces such as Singapore’s Civil Defence Force, which bolster national resilience for things like pandemics or evolved forms of terrorism. This is outside the purview of the White Paper, but a realisation that the military should not be the 'first responder' in certain situations would be welcome. This only works if the Government is also on the same page, but signs are encouraging. 

Lastly, as new aspects of Australia’s national interest the Government must respond appropriately, which may mean new Government outlays. As an aside, DFAT should be better resourced regardless of your opinion to any of these issues. That we aim to be a creative middle power with such limited resources is parlous. But in a world where both major regional war and non-traditional threats cannot be ruled out, some hard decisions need to be made, and unfortunately hard decisions often mean money.