Fortress Oz out of date

Terrorism will remain a serious threat justifying the use of our armed forces, especially in distant lands.

Herald Sun 30 December 2003

Yet some, wedded to old ways of thinking, will continue advocating the discredited concentric circles theory.

This says, wrongly and dangerously, that threats automatically diminish with distance. That only threats of invasion matter, and that these are best met on our beaches and in the nearby air-sea gap.

But Australia's defence is far better pursued by operations further out in space and time to prevent our security circumstances worsening to the point where invasion becomes an imminent possibility.

And invasion is not the only way Australia’s territorial integrity and political independence can be violated.

True, the terrorist threat in Australia is largely a matter for the police>and ASIO.

But the terrorist threat to Australia can require armed action overseas against rogue or failed states, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, which allow or encourage or arm or finance terrorist acts directed against us in Australia or overseas.

Four criticisms of this strategy by stick-in-the-mud commentators are misplaced.

First, we are not being led by the nose by America in adding our weight to international counter-terrorism efforts.

Plainly, our national interest is in reducing the terrorist threat, not in sitting irresponsibly by, waiting for it to be made manifest in Australia, or to be removed by others for us.

Second, we are not harming ourselves in Asia, in which nearly every country supported the coalition against Iraq.

Furthermore, Asia is not the only region of the world important to Australia.

Third, the Australian Government is not misguided in modestly rebalancing the Australian Defence Force’s capability the better to fight alongside US forces in the far abroad when that is in Australia’s interests.

The Government should have a variety of options, and not be constricted by a clanking machine designed for only one purpose - the close territorial defence of `Australia.

Finally, to suggest there will be "no more Iraqs" is much too premature.

True, America is most unlikely to try removing by force the regimes in Iran and North Korea. But that was so, each for its own reasons, even before the Iraq war.

And nobody can rule out a future need to deal by force with an emergent situation.

One frequent defence commentator, Hugh White (principal author of the 2000 Defence White Paper), says that the ADF rebalancing has gone the wrong way. This critic claims it favours "fewer and bigger" capabilities designed for higher-intensity conventional conflicts rather than lower-intensity unconventional operations.

But the true issue is the combat power available in conflict, not whether the conflict is of low or high intensity.

For example, tanks are not an encumbrance to our light forces - the lightest in the First World - but a necessary addition to their combat and protective strength.

Likewise, the new but fewer patrol boats will have greater capabilities, able to operate 300 days a year instead of the current 200. And the new bigger troopships will provide greater capabilities wherever deployed.

In the air, too, it is wrong to decry, as White does, improved helicopter capability as useful only for landing troops against stiff opposition.

In fact, helicopters are essential to any littoral operations wherever occurring, but heliborne movement would never be undertaken against stiff opposition.

One can only wonder when some self-concerned old stagers will catch up.