Monday, April 20, 2009

Debate on Australian Defence White Paper

I'm going to keep linking to discussions of the Australian Defence White Paper, largely because there will be a New Zealand Defence White Paper ramping up later in the year.

Hugh White's Lowy Institute paper, which I blogged about earlier, has now been released in full.

There have been a series of interesting and apparently well-informed comments on this in the Interpreter blog. Take a look here and work backwards.

I'm particularly sympathetic to Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan's concerns that money be spent so that actual defence capabilities are consistent with the rhetoric of defence strategy as described in the White Paper and elsewhere.

The immediate priority for the government is not to be subverted by images of heroic strategic leadership (which do not have to be funded for many years) but to the serious but less sexy duty of repairing the current defence force.

Of course there is no show without Punch, and it was only a matter of time before Greg Sheridan got stuck into White in the pages of the Australian.

White is a very faithful lover. Many decades ago he fell in love with the idea of maritime denial as Australia's strategic lodestar and from that he deduced that the force structure for the ADF should focus overwhelmingly on submarines and fighter aircraft.

In his preposterous paper, which so far has escaped critical scrutiny, White calls for 200 JSFs and 18 submarines, and an enlarged but lightweight army, deliberately not equipped to fight even in medium-intensity theatres such as Afghanistan, configured as a gendarmerie for use in policing roles in the South Pacific.

I'd been puzzling over the exact role of White's Lowy paper in relation to Government debates about the official White paper. Particularly since White was responsible for drafting the previous Australian Defence White Paper in 2000.

Graeme Dobell is very enlightening on this point, and very entertaining on Army views on White.

Hugh spent enough years in Parliament House to know how the political wheels turn. Thus, I read his Lowy paper as not just a wonk prescription.

Don’t see the paper as a faux Defence White Paper. Consider it, instead, as a particularly well written and explicit Cabinet submission. It is the sort of policy paper that goes to Ministers as the White Paper is prepared. And in the final White Paper, much of the meaty stuff — such as the tough discussion of China — gets watered down or cut out.

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