AUSTRALIA: New approach on how to deal with regional crises

Last Updated 18/05/2007 4:48:42 PM

The Australian Defence Force says warning times about threats and possible crises in the region are getting shorter. It has released a guide to military operations in the 21st century, pointing to the way emergencies can arise with little or no warning.



Presenter/Interviewer: Graeme Dobell
Speakers: Chief of the Australian Defence Force, Air Chief Marshall, Angus Houston

DOBELL: As a nation that has its own continent, Australia has taken comfort from the idea that it'd take a long time for any nation to develop the capability to threaten Australia. In the era after the end of the Vietnam war, Australian planners assumed they've have a decade to respond to any emerging threat. The last formal Defence White paper, in 2000, repeated the idea that Australia is a secure country thanks to its geography and good relations with its neighbours. The idea of an attack on Australia was described as only a remote possibility. But the Asia Pacific was the region seeing the fastest growth of military capabilities. The new guidelines for joint operations by the Australian military go over the same ground, but warn that warning times for a threat are reducing.

HOUSTON: We cannot guarantee that Australia will remain free from threat to our national security in the longer term. While the international system can act to constrain the use of force, we cannot dismiss the possibility of major conflict between states.

DOBELL: The chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston, who released the guide on how Australia's military will fight in the 21st century.

It says a future enemy would able to acquire the weapons to threaten Australia or its national interests before Australia could develop a counter-capability. Recent history, it says, shows that a crisis can arise with little or no warning, and this trend is likely to worsen.

HOUSTON: Global factors such as terrorism, endemic disease, resource depletion and the security impacts of climate change and regional factors such as state fragility, poor governance and economic under-development may affect Australia's security interests, both directly and indirectly.

DOBELL: The tempo of Australian military deployments is a dramatic indicator of changing times. In the decade of the 1980s, Australia sent a total of only 1000 military personnel overseas on a range of small missions. So far this decade, Australia has sent 35-thousand of its military off shore.

Air Chief Marshall Houston says Australia's military is doing more than it was designed for.

HOUSTON: We've got a very sharp focus on a very demanding series of operations, operations that spread from Iraq, Afghanistan, Timor to the Solomon Islands, and of course a normal sort of contribution to UN operations. We as an organisation did not envisage that sort of operational commitment when we put the defence organisation together. So I guess what we've got is an organisation that was designed for a slightly different paradigm.

DOBELL: The Defence Force says Australia will support a regional security environment that promotes economic and political stability. The description of future operations assumes that countries in Southeast Asia will continue to look to Australia to help them build their own security capacity, and help them respond to major events beyond their individual abilities. Australia's emphasis will be on counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation, maritime and border security, and international governance.

The new doctrine puts a special emphasis on the need for Australia to be able to help stabilise fragile nations.

HOUSTON: These challenges include readily available low-tech capabilities, increasingly secure and sophisticated command control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, increasingly lethal survival and deployable conventional platforms, and increasingly available advanced conventional weapons. The increasing lethality and precision within certain battle spaces, particularly those principally suited for maritime and airforce elements, means that we will seek to reduce both a footprint and the vulnerability of deployed courses. At the same time the ADF should expect to be involved in more operations that are low-intensity, particularly stabilisation operations that require a demonstrably visible presence on the ground.

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Australia's current military deployments the most widely dispersed ever

The World Today - Tuesday, 24 April , 2007 12:55:00
Reporter: Tanya Nolan
ELEANOR HALL: As we've been hearing, more Australian soldiers will soon be heading to Afghanistan.

And as the nation prepares to commemorate ANZAC Day, tomorrow, the thoughts of many Australians will be with the more than 3,000 defence force personnel now serving overseas.

With 1,450 soldiers deployed in Iraq, more than a thousand in East Timor, nearly 500 in Afghanistan and hundreds more serving from the Solomon Islands to Sudan, Australia's military effort has been described as the most widely dispersed in history.

And despite its reputation for highly skilled and effective soldiers, the Australian Defence Force says it will struggle to meet its annual recruiting targets, to serve these overseas commitments, over the next decade, as Tanya Nolan reports.

TANYA NOLAN: Lieutenant Colonel Rowan Martin is part of the changing nature of Australia's defence forces.

As a commander for Australia's RAMSI mission in the Solomon Islands for the past four months, he's been leading the first large scale overseas deployment of army reservists since World War Two.

ROWAN MARTIN: As a consequence of their good effort a degree of stability has returned to the Solomon Islands.

It's very hard sometimes to measure the extent of that and how long it will last but it certainly has improved significantly in my time here.

TANYA NOLAN: As part of the Federal Government's commitment to RAMSI until 2008 Australia's military role in the Solomon Islands has been transferred to reservists.

And it's an example of the broader role reservists will play in future overseas operations.

The 2006-2007 defence budget reveals there will be as many as 3,000 reservists in high readiness to support Australia's frontline units.

It's also a sign of the difficult job the defence forces have in recruiting enough personnel to meet Australia's growing overseas commitments.

Emeritus Professor Peter Dennis is a historian with the University of New South Wales based at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.

PETER DENNIS: Defence is, I think, is fighting an uphill battle to get not just anybody, but long since given up that idea enough to get the sorts of people they want

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TANYA NOLAN: The ADF's latest bid to attract new recruits is being driven through an emotive ad campaign which it says has been designed to appeal to people's sense of patriotism.

And it says it's having success. It's provided figures to The World Today showing it's managed to recruit nearly 90 per cent of the 9,100 full time and reservist personnel it's targeted, for the financial year 2006-2007.

It admits the tougher challenge will be to recruit those with specialist skills - engineers, IT, electronics and health specialists - a symptom of the broader skills shortage in Australia.

Defence says it will need to recruit approximately 9,500 personnel each year for the next ten years to meet its capability requirements.

With 3,250 Australian military personnel deployed from the Middle East to Afghanistan, Africa and East Timor, Professor Dennis says the skills being employed by the ADF are far greater than at any other time in Australia's military history.

PETER DENNIS: I think it's a very different sort of deployment. It's much more diverse. We're serving in places really all over the world, much of which is not warfare, such as we had in the First and Second World Wars, but trying to bring about political stability, humanitarian efforts and the like.

And that's been one of the new things about the way in which our defence forces are deployed.

TANYA NOLAN: Lieutenant Colonel Rowan Martin says this ANZAC Day will be a very proud one for him and his reservists, as they prepare to march in ceremonies in their home towns, displaying their Australian service medals and reflecting on what they've achieved in serving their country.

ROWAN MARTIN: They get the greatest satisfaction from just getting the comments back from the local people and they will just say, thank you for being here, you being here has allowed us to go about our life in a more freer and safer manner. And for a lot of the soldiers, that is quite overwhelming, emotionally for them.

TANYA NOLAN: Historian Professor Peter Dennis says history is likely to view the nation's current military effort very favourably.

PETER DENNIS: In some cases, I think, with a sense of amazement that a small country did what it did.

I would hope that they would regard our involvement in both World Wars and particularly in the Second World War, as a truly noble cause. But you know again, every generation has its own take on these things and it's not for us to try and mandate a particular view.

ELEANOR HALL: Historian Peter Dennis from the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, speaking to Tanya Nolan.

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