Ludwig von Gress
Already in 1911 Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson said – “being girth by sea and having no inland frontiers to protect, Australia is compelled to regard the sea itself as her first and last line of defense”. Even today anybody interested in the defense of Australia ought to look at least at the map, but preferably on the globe with a pair of dividers. Adjusting the same, at the extremely conservative speed of 20 knots per hour. i.e. about 800 nautical miles per day and guessing the original points of departure of our potential enemies, one gets somewhat depressed. It is perhaps unnecessary to remind readers that fleet oilers and other supply ships can be prepositioned without anybody taking much notice. I would not recommend doing the divider exercise for the fighter bombers Sukhoi Su-30 recently acquired by Indonesia, because that is particularly depressing. Not just depressing, but horrifying. Some would call it strategic vulnerability.
If we assume that the hitherto successful Australian defense policy “she’ll be right, mate” will save us again in a future conflict, there is no need to do anything more than what Australia is doing now. A gaggle of planes, a clutch of tanks and a pod of ships, just enough to send a handful of military personnel here or there as our current allies may from time to time for propaganda purposes ask. An occasional humanitarian mission reminds the media that we have some non civilian structure and we have young people (hopefully not all) joining the Navy believing the greatest danger they would be facing would be delivering cornflakes to flood victims. No worries, America will provide.
She may not. After decades of abuse in our media, Fortress America may prove to be as useful for the defense of Australia as Fortress Singapore of unblessed memory. Firstly, US and Australian interests do not coincide. What does Australia have that USA couldn’t be without or get somewhere else? Pine Gap? Tindal Air base? Secondly, in the case of larger conflict the United States would have other worries, primarily their own defense, then Middle East oil, then Europe, then … who knows. Australia might come to be considered in the context of denial of our resources to the enemy, but the time honoured tactic of burnt land may not be exactly our preferred option. Even this assumes a friendly, long term vision, democracy defending US administration. Should it turn isolationist, appeasenik or otherwise morally bankrupt, we would be truly alone. In that context it could be useful to remember that following an ordinary, democratic election Australia within two weeks of the Whitlam / Barnard duocracy approved annexation of the Baltic republics by the USSR, recognised the murderous regimes of communist China and of aggressive, expansionist North Vietnam.
A self-absorbed, politically correct United States would be obviously bad, but not necessarily the worst scenario, and I would like to say emphatically that it is my fervent wish it will remain only hypothetical.
However, with the US out of the equation, its satellites also would be out of the equation. As it is, we rely on the goodwill of America to pass on to us whatever information they may think we could need. We also depend on the good will of China and Russia in not shooting the satellites down. Otherwise, as far as I am aware, a couple of forty year old F-111 patrols either over 8,148,250 km2 of our Exclusive Economic Zone or, more likely just the Gulf of Carpentaria in order to save fuel for afterburner fly passes on Australia Day. I realise that the RAAF is doing the best it can with the resources available in a situation when no serious military danger exists at least in a foreseeable year or so.
It may well be that our naval and other intelligence monitors every junk between Hobart and Vladivostok and nothing flying, submerged or floating can surprise us. Somehow I do not think so, and if there is anything to learn from history, it is that politicians do not wish to believe bad news. Even the best intelligence would be ignored, further reducing our response time.
Enemies ? What enemies? Great Southern Quarry Inc, formerly known as Australia would not have any enemies and the brave Australian lamb will lie happily ever after next to the docile Chinese lion. That might be true after the Second coming, but let’s look at more realistic scenarios.
Dictatorships can rearm and militarise much faster than democracies. Regimes change, sometimes overnight and can became expansive and aggressive very quickly. Just a few examples – Napoleon’ France in 1793, Lenin’s Russia in 1920, Hitler’s Germany in 1938 and Sukarno’s Indonesia in 1963. Friends can become enemies. Japanese sailors were happily protecting our troop ships on the way to the Middle East and Europe during WWI yet a few years later equally happily were sinking them, including those marked with a red cross.
During the Cold War we often heard from appeaseniks that the peaceful people of the Soviet Union, who lost so many during WWII, do not wish war. That was not of much help to Hungarians or Afghanis. Germany, with its total military WWI casualties (including POW) approaching 7 million, ought to have remained peaceful forever. True, in June 1945 hardly any German believed that attacking Poland was such a good idea. Simply, peace loving Indonesians or Chinese would have very little say should their rulers decide that Australia is a feasible target.
Great hypocrite Mao, who murdered 80 million of his brethren, still has his overblown picture reverently hanging at Tienanmen Square and, in the way reminiscent of the democracies dismissing a clear war blueprint in the Mein Kampf, unmistakable and openly stated belligerent intentions of the Chinese politburo are ignored. In whichever way left-wing commentators may turn it, China is a potential enemy of Australia. Not the Chinese people, but the faceless, spineless apparatchiks of the current governing clique. Of course, as long as we sell uranium ore, iron ore, bauxite, coal and natural gas at the prices China considers benign and allow Chinese Army geologists to prospect for anything else useful we may have overlooked underground, why would China bother? Well, perhaps for ideological reasons.
Indonesia is, to put it mildly, not very stable politically and is busily rearming and modernising its armed forces. To be fair, an Indonesian watching our foreign politicking could be forgiven for not trusting us. There does not necessarily need to be a great divergence in ideology or religion, though the fact that Indonesia is a very large Muslim state and Australia not yet lingers in the mind.
The future Soviet Re-Union will be busily expanding its “near and not so near abroad” for some time yet. Still, the opportunity to pre-empt Chinese expansion into an America-less vacuum may prove to her too tempting to dismiss her as a potential enemy.
I do not believe that a proper reaction to the forthcoming unpleasant geopolitical situation is to learn Mandarin and sew (sorry, buy Chinese made) white flags. I believe that Australia, even with its faults, is worth preserving and thus fighting for.
Australia’s hitherto successful “she’ll be right” defense policy just will not do. At the present time, Australia has neither an option of the Swiss defense policy – “leave us alone or you will never see your money again”, nor of Israel defense policy – “leave us alone or you will never see anything ever again”. Australia has no banks of consequence and no nuclear weapons.
Credible defense obviously requires close integration and cooperation of all three parts of well equipped and trained armed forces. The army ought to be cable of a rapid and decisive response, i.e. be able to get to any part of Australia before the enemy does and in numbers likely to make a difference, for whatever our enemies might lack, it is unlikely they would lack manpower. The Royal Australian Air Force ought to have dispersed and defensible airbases, enough pilots and planes outclassing those of the enemy and the Royal Australian Navy ought to… Let’s stop dreaming. For various and complex reasons, mostly relating to the size and mentality of our population, Australia’s ability to create and maintain a serious defense capability is limited.
I believe a new approach is needed. That a fight on somebody else’s territory is much preferable is known at least from the Carthaginian Wars and at least from that time it is known how essential sea power is. Napoleon, Hitler and the USSR never learned. Even better is not to have to fight at all. That state of affairs is achieved not by weakness, but by strength, sufficient to make the opponent think thrice. Wars start when one side is convinced it would win. Optimism, feelings of invulnerability, of assured victory, not the arms race, leads to aggression.
We can not compete militarily with China, and not even with Indonesia. Australia has to acquire a credible deterrent force, such as is represented by nothing else but nuclear powered and nuclear armed submarines. There is no need for ballistic missiles, cruise missiles such as Tomahawk Block IV would do. I believe it is unnecessary to discuss the disadvantages of land based or aircraft carried nuclear weapons, the superiority of submarines in that regard is obvious. Admittedly, the lease of two or three second hand nuclear submarines by the USA to us would be a rather tough test of the friendship and stretching of the trust somewhat, but the United Kingdom, as far as I am aware, has none to spare. After all, if the United States could be assured they would not be used against them and that the blueprints would not be sold to our main trading partner, it would be to their benefit.
For some people anything nuclear, or for that matter anything above 4th grade science, is frightening. They would not allow H2O pass their lips, they trust only organic, free range water. However, even ex-PM Keating, never noted for any sensible thinking, said in his brighter moment recently (24.08.08) that there is no reason for non-nuclear states not to acquire nuclear capability, as long as those already possessing it show no inclination to disarm themselves.
If the biggest bullies on the block, armed to the teeth, were to get together and say nobody else ought to have means of self-defence, because it could be dangerous, any sensible person would laugh. Yet when such a pact is called The Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, some believe it has got something to do with peace. China, with 1,330,044,605 people (last month), multi million men standing army, lifestyle only a Bangladeshi would envy and, at least according to their propaganda, with an overabundant supply of everything under the sun, is so scared of attack it builds atomic weapons at an unprecedented rate. Yet Australia is expected to cross its fingers.
I realise that submarines require high technology communications, which Australia is unlikely to possess and in the “alone” scenario, unlikely to have access to. Nevertheless, the lack of proper communication might make our nuclear response more unpredictable, thus greater deterrent. A little bit of irrationality works wonders with bullies.
Annoying a nuclear tipped echidna would not be worth the hassle.
If the news that some of our six conventional Collins class submarines, needing about 40 submariners each, have to be partially manned by US Navy personnel are true, then there is something seriously and drastically wrong with our approach to defense. (A nuclear submarine would need approximately triple that number.) The defense of Australia is too important to leave to the experts and politicians who believe the greatest danger to Australia would be their non-election.
RAN seems to suffer the most. Though the TV series Patrol Boat certainly helped and the occasional media excitement as e.g. when HMAS Sydney (II) was found, does no harm, the public generally is hardly aware of the Navy’s existence and an average young man can’t see beyond the tip of his surfboard. In order to create an Australian maritime mentality it would help if the Government stopped treating sailing and boating generally as a luxurious pastime to be taxed. It would help, if the government actively and generously supported Navy cadets. It would help, if the government actively and generously supported an Australian merchant navy, now practically nonexistent, by, for example, tax relief for Australian companies owning Australian manned commercial ships. It ought to ignore the so called level playing field myth, to which everybody but Australia pays just a lip service. After all, I think it had been proven quite conclusively some time ago that the earth is not level, but round.
Of course, it would also help if the government diametrically changed its treatment of veterans. The current practice simply is to wait until all but a handful dies, and the survivors then provide photo opportunities for politicians on the Anzac Day. However, in the meantime the might of the Defence Department is employed to drag the veterans through every conceivable administrative obstacle, perhaps in order to save money for feel good recruiting advertisements. In fact, I would be surprised if anybody would want to join the Navy after reading of the Veterans’ Struggle for Recognition in chapter 7 of Mr. Pfennigwerth’s book. Our treatment of defense personnel is shamefull.
The only alternative to the manpower scarcity is obviously conscription. It is difficult to comprehend why anybody, enjoying the undoubted benefits of living in Australia, could object to young men and women devoting one year of their lives ( slightly over 1%) to preparation of the defence of the lifestyle, so far secured for them by their fathers and grandfathers. Naturally, those who would like to improve our lifestyle to reach the level of communist China or democratic Zimbabwe, would object. The Defence department bureaucrats may be frightened of additional work and so may a few defense forces officers, who definitely would have to work harder. Media would be against, unless convinced that this is in order to defend ourselves against USA. But the Australian people would be in favour.
Would China finance Australia’s rearmament? Hardly. We would have to pay ourselves. The costs would be painful, but the costs of fighting the chimera of global warming would be far greater, not to mention that it would enfeeble Australia, perhaps irretrievably.
Despite the annual “no foreseeable danger” defense budget dance, when it, i.e. that not foreseen danger hits the fan, money are either found or printed. In the past, Australians were dying for lack of training and proper equipment and I am afraid it would be the same today.
In the very short term sea transport would not be absolutely essential (we could tighten our belts for a few months) but whilst we could import i-pods and similar necessities by air, we could hardly continue exporting our iron ore, wheat or coal. Almost 100% of our exports ( by volume) goes by sea and only a minuscule proportion of that under the Australian flag. A shameful situation indeed, of which our various Transport Ministers seem to be totally oblivious. The length of any conflict is always a great unknown, but they usually last much longer than anticipated. The Royal Australian Navy, even if it were to get all the promised surface vessels on schedule, would not be able to protect our sea lanes without being backed by an underwater threat of disproportionate retaliation. The costs of leasing, manning and maintaining a nuclear deterrent would represent a fraction of lost trade.
XXI century Australia, with its vast mineral resources, seems to be emulating XVII century Spain with its South American gold – wealth in, wealth out, not much to show for it. For the opposite, positive example we can look at Singapore. India, with US$2,700 Gross Domestic Product per capita is currently building its own nuclear submarine. Our GDP per capita is US$36,300 (2007 CIA estimates). India’s GDP of course dwarfs ours, $2,989 trillion opposed to $761 billion, but still – we would not need other defense equipment in such large quantities. We have much to lose.
USN Rear Admiral J.C. Wyllie once said, “the ultimate objective of all military operations is the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces and his will to fight” . Cynics could say that our politicians are doing the first and our media the second.
Long term considerations, such as the strategy of our defense undoubtedly is, are mostly beyond the attention span of our elected representatives. Pleasing the media and pleasing, or at least bamboozling, the electorate is of paramount importance. Allocating money for defense produces few votes. Even those with an interest in defense matters realise that the election probably will come before any military conflict and their self interest takes precedence. For every Churchill is there is a full legislative chamber of Chamberlains.
With the exception of our sporting achievements, our media take malicious delight in denigrating anything they don’t understand. With a few honourable exceptions, our journalists, whose IQ is insufficient to comprehend the difference between carbon and carbon dioxide, can’t be expected to know the difference between a submarine and a submachine gun. Unfortunately, there is tremendous gap between the will of the people and the wishful thinking of elites or rather a group of semi educated simpletons, calling themselves elites, simply because they are able to manipulate the media. Nevertheless, I believe that in a democratic society sooner or later the will of the people will prevail. It would need significant effort on the part of all, who remember history and are able to see consequences of the current sorry state of the Australian Defence Forces. I do not think there is much time left.
I am painfully aware that in stating the sequence: no will – no maritime defense – no defense – no survival, I am saying nothing new. All that had been said and written before. It is obvious to all from pram tacticians (even a baby knows that loud scream produces milk) to wheelchair strategists, including, I venture to say, even to the defense bureaucrats in front of their computers. If only it was obvious to our politicians.
© Ludwig von Gress / 28-08-2008
Geoffrey Blainey – The Causes of War, Sun Books Pty Ltd 1977
David Stevens – Maritime Power in the 20th Century The Australian Experience, Allen & Unwin 1998
Peng Guangqian – China’s National Defense, China Intercontinental Press 2004
Ian Pfennigwerth – Tiger Territory – The Untold Story of RAN in SE Asia, Rosenberg Publishing Pty Ltd 2008
CDRE Lee Corder AM – Australia A Maritime Nation?, The Navy, July-September 2008
Greg Sheridan – Anzac spirit but not battle ready. The Australian, 14.08.08
This article was written in August, 2008, prior to the publication of the Defense White Paper – Defending Australia in Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030. However, no changes were needed when it was published in July/September 2009 issue of The Navy, the magazine of the Navy League of Australia and later, in March 2010 as “Will and Vision” in Headmark, the journal of The Australian Naval Institute.