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Beware this dangerous ‘intelligence’

The Office of National Assessments has got it all wrong on US Defence Policy.

The Age, 21st Feb 2002, published a slightly edited version of the following.


Australia stands in peril.  Not from the arms of a foreign foe, but from within itself:  from its own intelligence community.

At the head of that community stands the Office of National Assessments, which forms judgments on developments in the outside world that Australia's policy makers draw on in determining Australia's foreign and defence and (sometimes) domestic policies. The recent revelation of its policy views, quite apart from whether it provided erroneous advice to the Prime Minister on the children overboard issue, raises concerns about its capacities.

The ONA used to be outstandingly good in the Western world.  But judging by an evidently leaked secret assessment (reported in The Age, on February 5) issued last year on the USA's National Missile Defence (NMD) intentions, it should no longer be taken seriously; it is indeed a threat to the making of sensible Australian policies.

ONA judges that NMD "would not be in Australia's diplomatic or security interests" because it would be ineffective; would nevertheless have bad consequences; and was in any case unnecessary because the threat against which it was aimed could adequately be dealt with by diplomatic and political actions, not least the development of better diplomatic relations with the rogue states.

Ineffective, says ONA, because it is insufficient to cope with the spread of short and medium-range biological or chemical or nuclear missiles.  But that is a threat posed to US forces abroad, not to US territory.  Which is why part of the US scheme is Theatre Missile Defence (TMD).

Bad consequences, says ONA, because it would provoke Russia and China into building up their nuclear missile forces; that in turn, in Australia's region, would lead China's neighbours to seek "to acquire stronger military capabilities", and so "Australia's
regional security outlook would deteriorate"; and, lastly, developing NMD would require US withdrawal from the ABM treaty, which would be bad for Australia because "any weakening of international arms control regimes would have a negative impact on
Australia's security" as those regimes, particularly international non-proliferation agreements, remain the only real guarantee of Australia's long-term security interests.

But Russia already has more than enough missiles to overcome NMD – and indeed is talking to the USA about each reducing its missile numbers.  And China some years ago, well before NMD was proposed, began increasing its nuclear forces for its own reasons.

True, China's build-up might have knock-on effects on India and thence Pakistan.  But that would not make nuclear war between the two any more likely than it now is, nor increase the direct threat -- if any – from either of them.  And no other Asia Pacific country will feel compelled to go down the nuclear or chemical or biological road, or to increase its conventional forces, because of a Chinese or Indian or Pakistani missile
build-up.  So Australia's regional security outlook will not deteriorate because of NMD or TMD.

The third reason (above) ONA gives for its opposition to NMD is simply absurd, but dangerously absurd. 

For the various arms control regimes are of weak utility:  not every dangerous country is party to them, and some that are simply cheat.  In any case, ONA does not explain why US withdrawal from the ABM treaty would bring all those other treaties crashing down; and indeed no reason exists.

But above all dangerously absurd is to believe in particular, as ONA does, and to base Australia's security and defence policies on that belief, that international non-proliferation agreements remain the only real guarantee of Australia's long-term security interests.

For we can find our security salvation not by putting our trust in weak-kneed and legalistic arms control regimes but only in two other ways. First, by our own sensible policies and serious efforts.  Second, by helping the USA to maintain a favourable balance of power around the world. 

And that is best done by preserving the USA's strategic and military predominance; and by removing impediments (as NMD and TMD would do) to the USA's using that predominance where needed to support the security and defence of Australian territory and Australia's forces wherever deployed.

Finally, and dangerously fantastic, is ONA's judgment that NMD is unnecessary because the threat could be adequately dealt with by diplomacy and political compromise and by developing better diplomatic relations with rogue states. 

For these are states which by their nature and history are not to be trusted, states with WMD capabilities and programs in being, states with malign purposes, states that understand, as ONA does not, that "good relations" are not a cause but a result, the result of overlapping national interests -- which essentially they do not have with us.  Our believing that they can be adequately kept in check by our fair words and their false
promises is dangerously foolish.

Far more sensible for all of us for the USA to continue with NMD and TMD -- systems which remove the need to threaten massive retaliation and which will actually strengthen non- proliferation, by dissuading the rogue states from pursuing missile programs made useless by the blunting effect of NMD and TMD.   

Des Moore is Director, Institute for Private Enterprise and a board member of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The views are his.    



In an article published in yesterday’s Age (Beware this dangerous ‘intelligence’), I severely criticized the Office of National Assessments (ONA) for an analysis of Australia’s position on the US National Missile Defence (NMD) program as reported in The Age of February 5. That report quoted from a document, attributed to the ONA, suggesting various reasons why NMD would not be in Australia’s diplomatic or security interests. 

I have now been informed by the Director-General of the ONA that it did not circulate any such document to Ministers or senior policy officials and that its analysis of NMD is markedly different to that attributed to it. The Director also assured me that an intensive search within the office, following The Age report, could not locate any draft document with views resembling those supposedly held by it. 

I wish to apologise to the ONA for my criticism of it. 

Des Moore



The Age has recently carried two articles referring to what is claimed to be an Office of National Assessments report on the United States’ missile defence policy. These were "Warning to PM on missile shield" (5/2) and "Beware this dangerous intelligence" (21/2).

ONA provides reports to ministers on international issues that are of strategic, political or economic significance to Australia. The document quoted in the articles is not an ONA report. ONA’s analysis of the missile-defence issues differs markedly from the views alleged in the articles.

Kim Jones, director-general, Office of National Assessments.