Sunday, May 3, 2009

Australian Defence White Paper released

So the Australian Defence White paper has finally been released, on a Saturday.

It's available here.

There will be a significant build up in Australian defence spending.

The Government says it will keep its pledge to have 3 per cent real growth in defence spending until 2018. It says there will then be 2.2 per cent real growth in spending from 2018 to 2030 as well as 2.5 per cent fixed indexation to the defence budget during this period.

The Australian's account gives a summary of the conclusions in terms of future capabilities.

It seeks to defend the nation by creating a navy by 2030 with the teeth to deny even a sizeable enemy from dominating the northern air-sea approaches to Australia. This new navy will cost many tens of billions of dollars, easily the largest single investment since Federation. Yet it does so without broad agreement inside Canberra's defence establishment about the strategic rationale underpinning this build-up and with grave doubts hanging over the Government's ability to fund and manage this vast project or find enough crew to sail its new armada.

It also requires Australians to accept permanent real growth in defence spending for the next two decades regardless of economic circumstances. This amounts to a fundamental long-term shift in Australia's public spending priorities, a difficult proposition for any government to sell to voters, much less at a time of global recession.

The plan to double the submarine fleet from six to 12, acquire three powerful new air warfare destroyers, eight new well-armed and larger frigates, 24 new naval combat helicopters, a bigger fleet of more muscular patrol craft and to develop a serious anti-submarine warfare capability, represents a quantum leap in naval power for a mid-sized country such as Australia.

This, coupled with plans to purchase 100, rather than a smaller number, of the Joint Strike Fighters will create a formidable deterrent to any aggressor and will allow Australia to project power more deeply into the region than ever.

Of course I immediately searched for all references to New Zealand, here is the key paragraph.

As the ADF incorporates new systems and capabilities, maintaining the current level of interoperability between our separate defence forces will require a concerted effort on the part of both countries. With this in mind, Australia and New Zealand should look for opportunities to rebuild our historical capacity to integrate Australian and New Zealand force elements in the Anzac tradition. This operational integration would of course be without prejudice to our respective policy choices. It could be as modest as integrating our air transport logistics support to operations, or as ambitious as an Anzac task force capable of deploying seamlessly at short notice into our immediate region. To be effective, any integrated force elements would need to exercise regularly together as a unified capability.

There is also a mention of working with New Zealand on issues like Fiji and East Timor.

As foreshadowed by the Australian, there are indeed some sharp comments on the stategic consequences of China's rise, and more particularly its military buildup.

This from Rudd at the launch

"It's as plain as day that there is a significant military and naval build-up across the Asia-Pacific region - that's a reality, it's a truth, it's there.

"Either you can simply choose to ignore that fact, or to incorporate that into a realistic component of Australia's strategic assumptions about what this region will look like over the next two decades."

So for example this on China from the White Paper

China will also be the strongest Asian military power, by a considerable margin. Its military modernisation will be increasingly characterised by the development of power projection capabilities. 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.

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.

On the question of Taiwan there are two interesting comments. This in the White Paper

Taiwan will remain a source of potential strategic miscalculation, and all parties will need to work hard to ensure that developments in relation to Taiwan over the years ahead are peaceful ones. The Government reaffirms Australia's longstanding 'One China' policy.

Secondly, at the press conference Rudd was asked about Taiwan and replied with a strong emphasis on the importance of the US alliance. I've looked online for a transcript of these remarks with no success, but they were commented on by Gerard Henderson on Insiders this morning.

Updated: Here is the exchange in question, I can't for the life of me see it as anything other than a reiteration of the status quo.

JOURANLIST: Prime Minister if China attacks Taiwan in any way, will Australia help defend it?

PM: Thank you for that question. Australia’s policy in relation to the Taiwan Straits has been one of a bipartisan consensus going back a long, long time and will be into the future. It contains two elements. One is that we do not speculate on any future contingencies concerning what may or may not happen in the Taiwan Strait. The second part of my response to your question is that Australia takes seriously its alliance responsibilities to the United States.

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