Sunday, May 3, 2009

Reaction to Australian Defence White Paper

Early reaction to the White Paper seems to be positive, the main criticism is with regard to the lack of budget planning. Budgetary questions are covered in one and a half pages of 140 or so.

The Minister says that more details of future funding will be in the budget the week after next.

But really, you can rely on Greg Sheridan to have the most entertaining account.

THE defence white paper is an almost incoherent blancmange of oddly unharmonised flavours.

It reads like a biblical commentary in which 50 Talmudic scholars, each representing an alternative school of thought, have been allowed to write alternative sentences.

The internal contradictions in the document are so staggering it looks like sentences have been bolted on almost at random, like pieces in a Meccano set manipulated by a two-year-old.

And yet, even he seems largely to agree with the decisions

For all that, the Government has mostly come up with the right decisions: 100 Joint Strike Fighters, 12 new submarines, the continuation of the army expansion program, new, big surface ships and so on.

In defence, to some extent equipment and budget are real policy, the rest window-dressing. Australia's neighbours in the Asia-Pacific will look at the equipment commitments more than anything else. They will see the air force, the navy and the army getting bigger and more capable. That's all that really counts. The white paper will reinforce Australia's reputation as a formidable defence power.

In New Zealand Defence Minister Wayne Mapp is not anticipating a matching increase in New Zealand funding.

Dr Mapp believes New Zealand's current defence budget is about right, and is confident the two countries will continue working closely together.

Neither does he seem to believe that Chinese growth poses much danger to the regional order.

Dr Mapp says China's military capacity has increased as its economic capacity has grown, but over the past 30 years the country has focused on trade and good relationships with its neighbours.

I hope a more considered response will emerge over the next few months. Not just Australia but also Japan have now announced significant increases in military spending in response to growing Chinese military capabilities. The point of a strategic review like our White Paper process would be to give this at least some thought, and to allow a public discussion that goes some way beyond just questions of trade.

Oh and there is an interesting discussion of the Australian White paper here, with an even more intriguing discussion of the possibilities for an invasion of New Zealand here. (Hint: still not very likely.)

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