Monday 23 Nov 2020 | 23:30 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Nov 2020 | 23:30 | SYDNEY

Rudd first crisis: A clumsy response


Hugh White

13 February 2008 07:36

How are we to judge the Rudd Government’s swift decision to send more troops and police to East Timor following the attacks on Jose Ramos Horta and Xanana Gusmao?  I’m inclined to be a bit sceptical. It looks to me as if the government decided that it needed to do something to show concern, and sending more troops and police seemed an easy way of convincing the electorate that it was doing something.

I say this because the Government has been able to give no coherent explanation of what in practical operational terms the extra forces are supposed to do in East Timor, and in particular what they are supposed to do that could not be done by the 900-odd troops already on the ground there.  In the absence of such an explanation, it seems most likely that the troops have been sent just to show our concern. This is a poor way to use armed force. 

I have always regarded it as a key principle that military deployments should not be made unless there are very clear operational objectives in view, which the forces have a good chance of achieving, and which would help promote our long-term strategic interests if they succeeded. Deploying forces just to show concern does not meet that test. For a start, it is inefficient: Australia can show its concern much more cheaply and just as effectively by sending the PM on a visit – which is happening on Thursday. But more significantly, it perpetuates the idea that became such a hallmark of John Howard’s regional diplomacy, that the first and often the major Australian response to any regional crisis is to send in the ADF. If only it was that easy.

These are early days for the Rudd Government, and perhaps we should not judge too harshly. But in this, its first strategic crisis, one might have hoped that they would have played a cooler and better-considered hand.