Wednesday 13 Oct 2021 | 19:08 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 13 Oct 2021 | 19:08 | SYDNEY

We should be very polite to the Americans

24 May 2011 08:53

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq.

The Interpreter's Wednesday Linkage of 18 May reported an article from Ross Babbage, who points out that cuts to Defence in the latest budget have crippled 'Australia's capacity to cope with a serious security crisis during the next quarter of a century'. This has occurred because of underspending ($1.1 billion), deferral and cancellation of programs ($1.3 billion), and breaking promises to sustain 3% real growth in the defence budget and to reinvest all savings back into priority defence capabilities.

Babbage concludes that: 'The government has made a deliberate decision in this budget that Australia will not have the key defence capabilities required to defend the country in a serious crisis until about 2035', and points out the impact of this decision, particularly on the submarine program.

In the Interpreter on 13 May, Lowy's James Brown pointed out the duplicity in the Treasurer's words in relation to Defence, cited the same cuts as Ross Babbage and concluded that the initials 'ADF' now stand for 'Aspirational Defence Force'.

That the Government is, in an underhanded and duplicitous way, shredding the previously announced 2009 defence plan should not surprise any of us. Governments have done this to Defence White Papers since 1976. But this Government has done it faster and more deeply than even Kim Christian Beazley did, which is saying something.

A few things should worry us deeply. The first is that not much in Defence actually works anyhow. By 'works', I mean that, within a reasonable period of time (today measured in no more than weeks or months at the outside), a capability is able to fight an enemy and win. We can run through delays to new procurement programs or problems with in-service capabilities, but it might save time if we listed what actually works in Defence now: special forces, one or two headquarters, air transport, patrol boats, one frigate at any one time, one submarine sometimes, a few others.

ASPI's Andrew Davies points out in his Policy Analysis that another iconic Defence program, the Joint Strike Fighter, is likely to be way over budget and very late indeed. Sadly, we have come to expect that any significant Defence project that is not purchased through the Foreign Military Sales program is going to be over budget and late. But the real problem with the JSF is that it may not be effective in future air combat; that is, it may not be able to win against likely enemy aircraft. Late, over budget and it may not work — the trifecta!

So, we seem to have gutted the future potential of a Defence Force that was hardly working to begin with. And as usual, the silence in Australia is deafening, which is the second aspect of all of this that should worry us deeply.

The Minister was absent, looking after the gender issues that he sees as needing six inquiries while the fact that the ADF does not work obviously does not need even one inquiry. The Opposition seemed to be running dead on these issues, although I may have missed something as I have been traveling in the US for the last few weeks. Defence uniformed leadership is not allowed to speak, the retired community is deathly silent, and Defence Media is back talking about parades and graduations. 

Most of what passes for defence-oriented media in this country would not recognise a crisis in the ADF unless it had something to do with sex and ADFA, so they said not much. And of course, the strategy and security industry (including those that support The Interpreter) maintained its normal inability to see the impact on strategy of a lack of military capability.

If what Babbage, Brown and others say is even marginally correct, and we are now into a sustained program of running down the ADF, then surely there is some impact on our strategic situation that should be commented on by those that support a reputable blog such as The Interpreter? The importance of readiness in a military force is what gives a military force meaning. Just having ships and planes and tanks is nothing. Remember, there is more than a passing connection between what a military can actually do ('tactics' in some parlance) and strategy.

While I am in the US, as a duty to Australia and our future security, I intend to be extra polite to every American I meet, because there is no indication that we Australians will be able to defend ourselves for the next quarter century. Are we a serious country or not?

Photo courtesy of the Australian Defence Force.