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Issue #1593      May 15, 2013

Defence White Paper

Toning down the rhetoric while still preparing for war

Part 1

The Gillard government released a new Defence White Paper on May 3, one year ahead of schedule. The main reason for bringing forward the Paper is to adjust Australia’s military operations in line with the US’s “pivot” to Asia, now referred to as “rebalancing”. The basic thrust of Labor’s policy remains unchanged – serving the US war machine in its pursuit of global domination, in particular in the Asia-Pacific region. The main target remains China whose economy looks set to become larger than the US’s in the coming decade.

Australian and US forces on joint exercises during Talisman Sabre 2011.

“China’s continued rise as a global power, the increasing economic and strategic weight of East Asia and the emergence over time of India as a global power are key trends influencing the Indian Ocean’s development as an area of increasing strategic significance. In aggregate, these trends are shaping the emergence of the Indo-Pacific as a single strategic arc.”

The White Paper outlines Australia’s rebalancing to meet these new challenges to US economic and military domination. The Indo-Pacific arc is a new concept replacing the Asia-Pacific region as an area of focus.

The 2013 Paper also seeks to tone down the aggressive and arrogant attitude towards the People’s Republic of China in the Rudd government’s 2009 Defence White Paper which had raised concerns in China and in Australia. After all, China is our largest trading partner and the largest source of new foreign investment. The mining corporations, in particular, have no interest in waging war against China.

The Rudd government’s 2009 Defence White Paper hardly hid Labor’s intentions, saying the government’s strategy “does not necessarily entail a purely defensive or reactive approach … we will need to be prepared to undertake proactive combat operations against an adversary’s military bases and staging areas ...” (Emphasis added) (See Preparing for war – Defence White Paper, Guardian 13-05-2009)

The 2013 Paper claims that the government “does not approach China as an adversary. Rather, its policy is aimed at encouraging China’s peaceful rise and ensuring that strategic competition in the region does not lead to conflict.”

The 2009 Paper said, “A major power of China’s stature can be expected to develop a globally significant military capability befitting its size. But the pace, scope and structure of China’s military modernisation have the potential to give its neighbours cause for concern if not carefully explained, and if China does not reach out to others to build confidence regarding its military plans.” (Emphasis added)

The 2009 Paper continued in the same arrogant tone, “China has begun to do this in recent years, but needs to do more. If it does not, there is likely to be a question in the minds of regional states about the long-term strategic purpose of its force development plans, particularly as the modernisation appears potentially to be beyond the scope of what would be required for a conflict over Taiwan.”

In effect, Australia was telling China it was only allowed to have the capacity to handle a conflict over Taiwan! With the US’s build-up off its coast and encirclement by the US with its bases along its land borders, China would be irresponsible not to establish a modern military capable of defending its territory against the threat posed by the US and its allies. There is no evidence that China has done more than build its capability to defend its territory. The same cannot be said for the US or Australia.

Again, the 2013 Paper attempts to undo the damage: “China’s defence capabilities are growing and its military is modernising, as a natural and legitimate outcome of its economic growth.”

Then in another thinly veiled reference to China, the 2009 Paper stated, “… we would be concerned about the emergence of a security environment dominated by any regional power, or powers, not committed to the same shared goals.”

In this instance it is not just China’s military and economic power but its socialist goals that are being challenged.

Not surprisingly, China did not take warmly to the 2009 Defence White Paper.

US President Obama during his visit to Australia in November 2011 confirmed China’s fears.

US alliance “unbreakable”

He described the Alliance with Australia as “unbreakable”, echoing the remarks made by Julia Gillard when in Washington in 2008, “That alliance is enduring and indispensable.”

Obama said he had made “a deliberate and strategic decision – as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future, by upholding core principles and in close partnership with our allies and friends.”

Never mind the sovereignty of nations or the role of the United Nations. The US is global cop, and Australia its deputy.

“Our enduring interests in the region demand our enduring presence in the region. The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay,” Obama warned. Obama was not very convincing in his claims that the establishment of a permanent force of 2,500 US marines and expansion of other bases in Australia were not aimed at China.

Paul Kelly from The Australian summed it up at the time: “The US will keep its ‘unique ability to project power’. Nations are expected to abide by the rules, largely America’s. China needs to change its ways and its policies.”

The Sydney Morning Herald weekend editorial (19/20-11-2011) urged caution: “Australia would have had much to gain from keeping to its middle course between two great powers. Having taken sides early, though, we have taken a risk. We will find out in coming years how much was at stake in that premature decision.”

Their words of caution have not been heeded but the spin doctors have changed the tone of the 2013 White Paper as illustrated by comparison with the earlier quotes from the 2009 document.

The US’s strategic decision to pivot to Asia – its “rebalancing” – places new demands on Australia which are laid out in the 2013 White Paper.

Having conceded that China has a right to build its military, the 2013 White Paper notes that this “will inevitably affect the strategic calculations and posture of regional countries and is changing the balance of military power in the western Pacific.”

Maintaining US hegemony

“The United States will continue to be the world’s strongest military power and the most influential strategic actor in our region for the foreseeable future,” the 2013 Paper notes. In other words, the aim is US hegemony.

Attempting to justify the role of the US (geographically positioned thousands of kilometres to the east of China and India), the White Paper goes on to say, “The role of the United States in the Indo-Pacific has been central to maintaining a stable Asian region for more than 60 years.”

The people of Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia and Pakistan and elsewhere in the region might have a different opinion on that. The US also stood by and watched the slaughter of the East Timorese and today does nothing about Indonesia’s treatment of West Papuans.

The White Paper correctly points to a number of “flashpoints” in the region – the Korean Peninsula, the Taiwan Strait, the East China Sea and the South China Sea where there are conflicting claims over islands. It omits mentioning that the US is doing its utmost to build tensions, carrying out provocative military exercises off the coast of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and encouraging Japan, South Korea and other states to assert their claims over disputed islands.

“Australia also has a real strategic interest in the broader Indo-Pacific region and in a peaceful, rules-based international order.”

But, it must be the US’s rules, under US domination. It is not referring to a region where relations are based on equality, mutual respect, independence and co-operation, despite numerous references to “co-operation” and the use of the word “peaceful”. The role of the United Nations is overlooked, with a few token mentions that at best equate it with the US. Instead, Australia is increasingly turning to NATO as well as the US for “global governance” and enforcing the “rule of law”. It is noteworthy that Australian troops served under NATO in Afghanistan.

“The United States is likely to remain the strongest maritime power and security guarantor in the Indian Ocean, but over the next two decades we can certainly expect to see an increased presence from the maritime forces of China and India.”

Next week: The Indo-Pacific arc   

Next article – Funding stand-off hits legal service

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