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To defend our homeland, our forces must be equipped to operate overseas

By Des Moore - posted Wednesday, 17 December 2003

Some commentators play down the terrorist challenge as not being an existential threat and so as not justifying the use of our armed forces, especially in distant lands.

Such people, wedded to old ways of thinking and to defending past stands, continue advocating the discredited concentric circles theory.

This says - wrongly and dangerously - that threat automatically diminishes with distance, that only threats of invasion matter, and that these are best left to be met on our beaches and in the nearby “air-sea gap”.


But the defence of Australia 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.

Moreover, invasion is not the only way in which Australia’s territorial integrity and political independence can be violated; terrorist acts in Australia, inspired or enabled or directed from outside, are equally violations.

True, coping with 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 were, which allow or encourage or arm or finance terrorist acts directed against us in Australia or overseas.

The stick-in-the-mud commentators criticise that on four grounds.

Australia is putting close ties to America above our national interest, which is Asia.

Asians believe fervently in the principle of “non-interference”, and so are put offside by Australia’s readiness to place above that principle the right to self-defence against Islamist terrorism.


So Australia should “hasten to reposition itself” alongside Asia, not America, and give up restructuring the ADF to make more effective our participation in future coalitions of the willing.

In any case, ADF rebalancing is pointless, as the world will see no more Iraqs. For America is being given a bloody nose there, is in barely disguised retreat, and in no shape to repeat the exercise.

All four criticisms are misplaced.

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This article was first published in The Canberra Times on 15 December 2003.

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About the Author

Des Moore is Director, Institute for Private Enterprise and a former Deputy Secretary, Treasury. He authored Schooling Victorians, 1992, Institute of Public Affairs as part of the Project Victoria series which contributed to the educational and other reforms instituted by the Kennett Government. The views are his own.

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