Force 2030 might sound like the title of a GI Joe episode, one which aims to provoke the imagination of 13-year-old boys who get all hot and sweaty over the idea of war. It is, in fact, the title given to our national defence strategy for the next two decades. The GI Joe fans have grown up and regrouped into platoons of bloggers who are currently grappling with the detail of the 2009 Defence White Paper.
Many bloggers are less worried about who we’ll fire our new weapons at than how the hell we’ll pay for them.
What is immediately remarkable about the Force 2030 vision is just how much military hardware Australia will purchase in the coming years. Luckily for us, the international one-stop web-shop for information about military purchases, the Defense Industry Daily, has already summarised the big spending highlights for their readers. According to the folks at DID, the most under-rated feature of the White Paper is this: "Fixed indexation of 2.5 per cent for the defence budget from 2009/10 to 2030. If inflation returns, as several trends threaten, that one clause will shred every plan in the White Paper."
Worldwide War Pigs blog is authored by ELP, a former USAF photographer and current Australian resident. He dubs this report "a magical mystery tour adventure that suggests that Australian taxpayers should back a troubled Defence establishment that is prepared to take on several ‘reckless’ procurements".
He identifies some interesting contradictions in the presentation of the report. Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon’s preface reads:
"The 2009 White Paper was developed in the midst of a global recession. The Government has demonstrated the premium it puts on our national security by not allowing the financial impact of the global recession on its Budget to affect its commitment to our Defence needs."
On the other hand, the Executive Summary of the report states, "It would be reckless to commit substantial new resources to Defence while uncertainty surrounding the crisis remains."
Reasonably enough, ELP wonders which version will apply to future defence spending, observing that "The hit politicians might take on altering a defence budget will be less than the hit taken for not propping up other parts of government programs (especially entitlements). Even the opening comments by Defence Minister Fitzgibbon make one wonder if he knows anything about what is obtainable for Defence."
ELP goes on to deliver a series of body blows to Fitzgibbon’s White Paper and it is on the issue of procurement that his criticism is sharpest, "When the topic of military hardware is brought up in the White Paper, the result seems to be that the authors are masturbating at their crucifixion. The list of war toys is so extensive that it defies any way to pay for it."
As both ELP and Defense Industry Daily point out, the Royal Australian Navy can only man three of our six submarines at the moment, perhaps because being a crewman on a submarine has to be one of the least attractive careers in the world. Until the Navy can demonstrate that it can actually man six submarines for an extended period of time, the idea of buying 12 is preposterous.
Submarine blogger Mike Burleson, on the other hand, has words of approval both about Australia’s six standing Collins class submarines and the Government’s plans to expand the fleet: "While maintaining such capable and not-inexpensive submersibles has not been easy… still the tiny South Pacific democracy has created an economical yet serious force to be reckoned with in a future war at sea."
The tiny South Pacific democracy? Yes, that’s Australia. Mike’s a Yank.
ELP also slams the White Paper’s proposals on air power as both "unworkable" and "hugely expensive". His post refutes the claim that a beefed up navy will enable more independence from the United States military, on the grounds that without air cover from a US carrier fleet, our new frigates and troop carriers will be no more than death traps. The final verdict? It’s "a business plan for trying to make a poorly run hamburger joint into a five star restaurant. Dead on arrival."
In his speech launching the White Paper, Kevin Rudd said:
"One of the great mistakes of military strategy throughout history has been to prepare to fight the last war. The Australian Government is determined not to repeat that error. We need to ensure that our defence forces are shaped in the geo-political realities of the century ahead."
In keeping with Rudd’s desire to be ready to fight the right war and his core commitment to review processes, the White Paper proposes "an annual review of the threat posed by ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction in the greater Asian region to provide better guidance on whether it needs to develop a national defence capability."
This is one of the most potentially controversial aspects of the White Paper, yet it passed without comment in the broadsheets, what with the excitement about submarines and strike fighters. In reality TV-land, they term this manoeuvre "going under the radar". A number of bloggers picked up on this comment from a faceless defence spokesperson:
"We would be especially concerned at developments that might undercut the deterrent value of the strategic nuclear forces of the major nuclear powers, and especially the viability of their second-strike capabilities."
Confused about why there’s a fuss? The headline at NZ website Scoopit is helpfully pithy: "Australian Defence White Paper gives US a Rocket".
The US has long harboured ambitions for a missile defence shield in the Asia Pacific to mirror the proposed development of a European defence shield. Australia’s "location and radar-systems are considered by many experts to be essential in helping the United States monitor and shoot down any potential ballistic missile launch in the region", according to a Voice of America article from 2003 in which Alexander Downer pledged support for the system, and insisted regional powers had nothing to worry about; that this was not an "offensive weapon".
As open as Rudd is to reviews, the White Paper unequivocally states that Australia is "opposed to the development of a unilateral national missile defence system by any nation because such a system would be at odds with the maintenance of global nuclear deterrence".
McKittrick at Closing Velocity, a US-based blog which promises "missile defense insight" doesn’t just see this shift in policy as a raspberry directed towards the US, he sees it as a kiss blown to China. He writes, "While Australia will continue to pursue limited missile defense in the form of tactical systems like Aegis destroyers (it has ordered four), Rudd seems to have pre-emptively surrendered to China and Russia."
At Hotair (dauntingly self-described as the "world’s first full-service conservative Internet broadcast network"), much is made of the implications of the defence White Paper for American naval policy:
"For almost 20 years, through three successive administrations, the US has neglected its blue-water navy, at least in relation to the emerging threat from China. We have gone lighter and flexible, gearing ourselves not for primacy against a large opponent but for rapid response to smaller threats. If we continue in that direction, Australia has good reason to worry about Chinese control of the waters and isolation from the rest of the West."
And so onto China, the nation who really wears the sheriff’s badge round here. Another big talking point — and rightfully so — of the White Paper has been that it pinpoints the rise of China as the primary concern for Australia’s defence policy. The White Paper reads:
"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."
Rudd and Fitzgibbon have been trotting out the line that the paper is not accusing China of having aggressive designs on Australia, and that its rise is an indirect threat; that it could create some undefined conflict between Australia and a mystery nation that will get into a war with us once the United States is no longer a regional hegemon.
Yeah, right. That doesn’t represent what Australian defence planners believe at all, says Information Dissemination, a blog for naval experts and "armchair admirals":
"Reports in Australia have not been able to resist discussing the gap between the US and Australia regarding the future strategic environment of the Pacific. First it was reported that Australia’s military planners asked the US to reconsider their dove-like assessment of China, and also rejected the broader "Gates View" that unconventional non-state conflicts being the primary strategic threat over the next 20–30 years. The rebuff was mutual, as two days later The Australian reported the CIA and Pentagon rejected the hawkish arguments made by Australia’s Defense leaders about the threat posed by China.
"It is noteworthy that Australia is calling China the ‘next cold war’ and when they came to Washington earlier this month, the Australian military leaders had expectations to recruit the US towards this view. On the contrary, the US rejected this assessment, and agreed with opinions of Australia’s Defense Intelligence Organization and the Office of National Assessments, also known as Australia’s spy agencies, which suggest China’s military build-up is defensive in nature and unlikely to pose a long-term threat to Australia’s security."
Australia has a long history of trying to entangle America in Asia. What the White Paper doesn’t tell its readers is that China is woefully exposed to military aggression and the increase in military funding has been defensive in nature. On-Message, a blog run by private military specialists argues this point:
"’We are not that capable. There is no need to fear us.’ These are the remarkably frank words of General Chen Bingde, the chief of the General Staff Department of the People’s Liberation Army, given during an interview with ABC News in January 2008. Cynics would suggest this is mere propaganda, aimed to lull the West into a false sense of security. But indeed, China’s capability — or more accurately, its lack of capability — is the key argument that exposes the ‘Chinese threat’ as little more than a myth. A vibrant, sexy geopolitical myth, but a myth nonetheless."
For the last word, we turn to Rick Rozoff from The One All Blog who sums it up nicely. This White Paper adds up to "$72 billion in new military spending for an island nation of barely 20 million inhabitants with no adversaries except those it chooses to make for itself."
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