Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 18:25 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 18:25 | SYDNEY

Defence White Paper debate: Round 8

25 September 2008 17:15

Guest blogger: Lachlan McGoldrick is participating in our student blog debate on the Defence White Paper.

Sam is right that we have Air Warfare Destroyers (AWDs) and amphibious ships (LHDs) on order, but if a strategic case can be made for more submarines, there is no reason why that should tie our hands. As Marc says, we can always cancel them. Or, to continue from my original post, defence spending is low by historical standards. There is every reason to keep it low if there is no strategic case for higher spending. However, if the strategic case is there, Australia should spend more.

Our AWDs and LHDs could not do expeditionary missions against significant adversaries on their own. So, a better idea is to redeploy the AWDs for missile defence and patrols. That part-answers Sam's question about missile defence. The other part is that the US, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea all either have, or are developing, missile defences. If China cannot find a way through them, but still wants to exert pressure on the US by menacing an ally, missile defence-free Australia is the biggest gap in the shield.

Australia's army is too small to make a significant contribution to any land campaign outside Australia. The one useful contribution we could make is special forces, where ours are among the best in the world. So weighting the army heavily towards special forces, with regular infantry as 'back-up', is a good idea. 

Peacekeeping missions that do not involve combat with irregular forces should be taken off the army. Stabilisation operations always have goals like 'creating social capital' and 'supporting democratic institutions', for which military force is unsuitable. The army has done fantastic work in providing security to failing states, but reaching those goals is a matter of applying all means available, including force, to unique and fluid circumstances. A new service, with light military training but also political, cultural, linguistic and development training, exclusively dedicated to stabilisation and peacekeeping, would work better.

To answer Sam's questions about the alliance: firstly, a special-forces oriented army is the most useful contribution Australia could make to the land part of a coalition operation. Australia's air and (especially) maritime contributions are more valuable. This, incidentally, is a strong argument for Australia to keep the AWDs and build more submarines. Secondly, Australia's contribution to the alliance cannot be seen only in terms of Iraq and Afghanistan. Given the valuable work we do shoring up the international order in our region, and the limited nature of our interests in the Middle East compared to the US, our alliance contribution is pretty good as it is.

One more suggestion. After the first few submarines or aircraft that are needed for patrols etc, much of Australia's capability is excess, until it is actually needed for combat. It should be put into the reserves. That would save nothing on capital costs, and very little on wages, but it would save on running costs and it would have personnel advantages, both in coping with worker shortfalls and, economically, in allowing those workers to continue contributing to the real economy.