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Offensive defence

By Sue Wareham - posted Friday, 15 May 2009

We can be grateful at least that the Defence Review White Paper found that Australia is one of the most secure countries in the world. Goodness only knows what it would have come up with if we were at any risk of attack.

A dozen new submarines, cruise missiles, eight new frigates, and 100 new F35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft for starters - and all in a “relatively benign” security environment.

Of course things can change for the worse, as the White Paper points out. However, it’s one thing to be prepared for change, and quite another to appear so militaristic that we help bring about a more hostile environment. Regional arms races then become a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Given our relative security from invasion for the foreseeable future, one would have thought the time is right to declare a break from the offensive rhetoric and actions of the previous government, with a new defence policy that is just that: defence. The projected expenditure of possibly hundreds of billions of dollars on military acquisitions is hardly the way to do it.

Nor is the language of the White Paper reassuring for the region. While the phrase “pre-emptive strike” does not rear its ugly head again, the reference to “proactive combat operations … as far from Australia as possible” is hardly any less threatening.

The paper recognises that Australia cannot be secure in an insecure world or neighbourhood, and states that not all responses to security challenges should be military ones. The logical next step, however, of examining current global insecurities and ways to address them, is lacking. Major factors that are shaping our world, such as environmental degradation, resource depletion and climate change (all of which are aggravated by military activity), and the increasing problem of millions of displaced people throughout the world, are listed but then appear to be ignored.

Instead the White Paper appears stuck in a Cold War style time warp, where military spending takes priority no matter what the problem is.

Perhaps we should not be surprised. If you want a weapons-focused outcome, it’s just a matter of asking the right people. The Defence Review Community “Consultation” Panel, in addition to its open forums, conducted around three dozen private meetings with chosen groups and individuals around the country, the vast majority of them industry representatives.

Very few among those consulted were people with expertise in peaceful conflict resolution, diplomacy, the root causes of terrorism and other threats, ways in which Australia can strengthen the role of the UN, and appropriate responses to the major threats of climate change and nuclear weapons.


In addition, the chair of the Community Consultation Panel, Stephen Loosley, is a Board member of Thales Australia, one of Australia’s largest arms manufacturers and subsidiary of a major global arms company.

To put the Defence Review in context, it’s of interest and concern to note another process that was happening concurrently last year, and the Government’s response to it. The Asia-Pacific Defence and Security Exhibition (APDSE) planned an arms fair for Adelaide, which was due to open on Armistice Day, November 11, 2008.

APDSE’s website boasted that the Asia-Pacific region was “the significant growth market” for arms sales, and went so far as to list regional tensions as a guide to the best markets. Defence Minister Fitzgibbon wrote a glowing recommendation of APDSE, stating that the event would provide “a valuable opportunity for interaction between Defence and Security industries and professionals wanting to expand their business within the Asia Pacific region”. A nice euphemism for re-arming the region.

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About the Author

Dr Sue Wareham is a Canberra GP who joined the Medical Association for Prevention of War out of a "horror at the destructive capacity of a single nuclear weapon". She has many interests and fields of expertise, including the contribution of peace to global sustainability. Sue believes that her work with MAPW is fundamental to her commitment to the protection of human life and the improvement of human well-being. She is Vice-President of the Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia); and on the Australian Management Committee of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

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