The Guardian 1 March, 2006

Military plans for war without end

Peter Symon

Ruling circles in Australia have established a number of so-called "independent think-tanks" to advise governments and corporations (but not the ordinary people) on a range of issues including defence, foreign, economic and social policies. The Kokoda Foundation is one of the newest of these "tanks" to appear on the radar. Its chairman is Professor Ross Babbage, who is the Managing Director of Strategy International (ACT) Pty Ltd, a defence consultancy firm. He is Head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University and has held senior positions in the Australian Public Service, including head of Strategic Analysis in the Federal Government’s Office of National Assessments and head of the ANZUS policy branch in the Department of Defence.


With such experience and connections it is not surprising that he is regarded as one of the Howard Government’s main advisers. In fact the Government, through the Defence Department, is one of the Kokoda Foundation’s principal sponsors. There are strong reasons for taking Babbage’s work at the Foundation seriously. The other major sponsor, is military logistics and high tech services supplier Jacobs Sverdrup Australia. Its US parent provides a range of services to the US military.

Professor Babbage recently published a booklet entitled Preparing Australia’s Defence for 2020. In preparing the report, the Kokoda Foundation held 16 closed workshops with senior defence officers, officials and researchers.

Using corporate language, the report calls for a restructuring of Australia’s Defence Organisation "so as to align management prerogatives with production outputs". Defence education programs should become "thriving centres of intellectual discourse on matters relevant to the profession of arms and international and national security planning and administration". This suggests that the "profession" of killing "the enemy" quickly and on a mass scale should become a matter of "thriving intellectual discourse".

Needless to say Professor Babbage wants ever larger defence budgets. He welcomes the Federal Government’s decision to increase defence spending by three percent per annum but declares this is not enough: "there is an urgent need for defence expenditure to be increased [by even more than the three percent] in order to permit the essential elements of Defence modernisation to proceed".

There is an element of panic in the worthy professor’s conclusions. He reveals that there is a consensus among senior defence experts that many parts of the Australian Defence Organisation are under severe stress and will be "unsustainable in the long term". They are also "inappropriate" he says. Furthermore, "the maintenance of current numbers of ADF [Australian Defence Forces] and broader Defence personnel looks very doubtful and would prove extremely expensive". Behind this conclusion is the idea that conscription should be re-introduced and the number of Reserves increased. Conscription has already been raised by one senior member of the defence establishment.

Transformation

A new concept of war is being pushed — one where the USA and its allies, including Australia, presume they have the right to intervene anywhere in the world in the name of the "war on terrorism" or intervening in alleged "failed states". Behind the ideas and calls for the transformation of the ADF is the view that future wars will not be so much a matter of nation against nation and the clash of armies on a battlefield but wars that know no boundaries or borders.

This view is contained in another recently released document — the Quadrennial Defense Review Report put out by the US Defense Department. It says that the transformation of the US Defense Department means a shift "From conducting war against nations — to conducting war in countries we are not at war with", and "In many cases, actions must occur on many continents in countries with which the United States is not at war." The US has armed forces in approximately 130 countries says the Review.

Babbage claims that the US "is already advancing the transformation of its armed forces and national security architecture" and says that Australian "Defence has strong incentives to consider ways of following suit in a manner that is scalable and affordable".

He quotes the former Defence Minister, Robert Hill, saying: "… maintaining interoperability with the US as its military undergoes transformation is a massive challenge for the ADF. It will require significant investment and energy. It will also require the courage to re-examine entrenched assumptions and develop new concepts". These "new concepts" are dealt with later in this article.

Unsustainable

Professor Babbage lists five factors that he claims make the current defence organisation "unsustainable".

The very first is China! We are told that, "By 2020, China will likely have an economy that will be close to that of the United States. India’s economy will also approach that of the United States in the following decade." Japan is also listed "as an important strategic player in East Asia"; although Professor Babbage does not appear to be sure that they will remain "on our side".

The Professor runs through other SE Asian countries. Even Singapore "will be able to win rapidly any conventional conflict with its immediate neighbours". Then there are the "failing states" of Papua New Guinea and other South Pacific countries.

Rather intriguingly, the professor suggests that "by 2020 Australia’s defence industry may look rather like a branch office of the United States’ defence industry, with serious consequences for Australian sovereignty". It is not clear whether the loss of "Australian sovereignty" is a matter of concern or just an acceptable price that has to be paid for globalisation.

But what is really on the mind of the Professor is made clear in the statement: "Major war in East Asia will be a serious possibility in the 2020 timeframe". So that’s it! East Asia is made up of China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia — perhaps even the Korean peninsular. This is what the increased military expenditure is all about — a major war on the Asian mainland within the next 15-20 years.

But that is not all. In addition to his fear of the Chinese dragon, Professor Babbage lists "weak [i.e. failed] states in Australia’s immediate approaches" and then there is "Islamic radicalism". Taken together that provides quite an agenda for Australia’s militarist "defence" planners.

The planners in their secret discussions decided that Australia must have "the ability to lead stabilisation operations in Australia’s immediate region" and "the capacity to deploy ‘niche capabilities’ for operations further afield [such as Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, even Latin America, perhaps?] alongside major allies, including for intense conventional operations, potentially against the forces of major powers."

Doubts

But again the doubts creep in. Professor Babbage writes: "In the 2020 timeframe, there is a serious risk of the ADF becoming engaged in a major war in Asia for which very few elements of the Australian defence structure are likely to be adequately prepared."

Does this mean that the Australian Government is preparing to throw Australia into a major war on the Asian mainland against China and a number of other countries knowing that the ADF is unprepared?

It is truly said that those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad!

It is in this context that the Professor speaks of the "loss of analytical capability" in defence circles in the last decade. This is a consequence of the defence top brass and government leaders not understanding what is happening in the world and how to respond to the rapid changes taking place which, in their blindness, they fear, oppose and reject.

Space does not permit coverage of many other aspects of the Professor’s conclusions except to comment on a section which puts forward "more and better options for government" which should be included into the "Australian government’s national security ‘toolbox’".

Toolbox of dirty tricks

Alexander Downer’s diplomatic "toolbox" should contain "negotiations, consultations, informal persuasive activities and might escalate to include warnings, bribery, or threats". These latter tools are already familiar to the present government as revealed in the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) bribery scandal and were used mercilessly when Alexander Downer "negotiated" with the government of East Timor over its Timor Gap oil rights.

In responding to the AWB bribery allegations, Alexander Downer declared on ABC TV that the Howard Government "abhors bribery" but here it is set down by the Kokoda Foundation as one of the "tools" to be used by governments.

At this stage torture is not openly listed but then, neither is it listed by the US military as one of its options. They just do it!

Under the heading of "Infor­mation" goes "the overt or covert modification or manipulation of information flows to Australia’s advantage. Key information may be inserted, spurious information may be inserted, or complicating information may be supplied." In simple terms this means lying and not just to one’s supposed "enemies" but also to the Australian people as well. It could also mean blocking or tampering with other people’s communications.

Under the heading of "Military" we are told that military forces can and are used not only to conduct combat operations, but also "to impress, to attract, to assure, to deter and to undertake a very wide range of military-diplomatic operations … including signaling indirect messages."

Economic manipulation

Economic manipulation is one of the main weapons being recommended. "Strong economies can employ a wide range of open and covert economic pressures. Trade facilitation or obstruction, aid provision or denial and investment facilitation or discouragement are some of the primary overt tools. However, in some situations, the covert closure or manipulation of bank accounts, investment holdings, financial or foreign investment flows and other measures may have a place."

Then comes "Social". Under this heading we are told that "opposing decision-makers may be vulnerable to the disruption of their domestic social, religious and cultural frameworks in ways that can exert substantial pressures on them … to isolate such individuals and groups from their support bases by portraying them as social or religious pariahs."

So, into the tool-box goes not only legitimate diplomatic activities but also an abundance of dirty tricks which may not only be used in war-time, but also in peace-time and just as much against the individual citizens of Australia as against supposed enemies.

We are told, "Successive governments have developed considerable experience in the use of diplomatic and military instruments", thereby confirming that these "tools" are used by both Liberal and Labor governments against other nations, even in peace-time.

Professsor Babbage reports that there was a suggestion to establish a new Department of National Effects (a Department of Dirty Tricks would be a better name) while others suggested it should go to the Department of the Prime Minister. The present Prime Minister, John Howard, has already proven himself to be devoid of morality and a past-master at obscuring the truth, suggesting that dirty tricks will come naturally.

Change mindset

For all this to happen there needs to be "a change in the mindsets of key decision-makers", says the Professor. "This would permit decision-makers to discard much and increasingly counter-productive thinking, such as focusing on issues relating to ships, aircraft and armoured vehicles."

Given the program now outlined and being put into effect by the Australian Government, it was a gratuitous insult that a senior United States official, John Hillen, the US State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Political and Military Affairs, told an audience at the Australian National University that Australia was a global power with an expeditionary mindset.

One participant in what was yet another secret discussion on military affairs told the media that "If a senior US official can misread Australia so badly, you have to wonder about their ability to read much more different countries."

Hillen’s remark is yet another example of US arrogance and a presumption that Australia will forever be a willing "deputy sheriff" whose beat is to cover the whole world at US orders. It is also another reason why the US Government is so widely despised in the minds of many Australians and is steadily losing respect elsewhere in the world.

It is more important for Australia, its people and governments, to think about Australia’s national sovereignty and independence and establish good relations with our neighbours. In that way we could make a positive contribution to international affairs and avoid the disasters that await our country if we blindly follow US dictates and the sort of policies outlined by Professor Babbage.

Peter Symon is General Secretary of the Communist Party of Australia.

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