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Brand Rudd's fantasy Defence White Paper

By Marko Beljac and Mark Dempster - posted Thursday, 21 May 2009

The Rudd Government appears to lack substance. Many grand pronouncements are made but these are like the arguments that scholastic philosophers and theologians made for the existence of God; they somehow seem fishy and unreal.

This is a government, it might be said, that is largely driven by spin and the media cycle. It was but a few weeks ago that on ABC Lateline an entire episode was devoted to political communication, which featured an extensive interview with two representatives from the advertising industry.

One of those guests kept on harking about the Rudd "brand". The persona of the Prime Minister in itself has become a kind of fantasy fashioned by the public relations industry. We can say that Brand Rudd leads a fantasy government. Just consider some of the main emerging, and contradictory, policy themes of the Rudd Government.


The government promises to fund a raft of large spending programs, all of which are packaged under a brand. The "education revolution" promises to massively increase funding for higher education. The government claims it seeks to spend big on infrastructure as a part of a vast "nation building" project. At the same time the government pledges to maintain a budget surplus over the economic cycle and to deliver its promised tax cuts, which are skewed towards the well off. The Henry tax review promises further tax "relief" for big business and investors while equity and fairness in the tax system nowhere to be heard of. Despite that Brand Rudd insists he opposes "neoliberalism" and seeks a new "philosophical" theory that underpins the role of the state in a social democracy.

It is only appropriate therefore that Brand Rudd's fantasy government has just handed down a largely fantasy Defence White Paper. Hugh White has argued, correctly, that the Paper is "muddled". In fact, so was Brand Rudd's national security statement. This muddle, it might be argued, is a good measure of the role that the Prime Minister's Office played in the creation of this White Paper.

The underlying conceptual framework of the White Paper is of fundamental importance, and much can be said and will be said on the topic. We can question the analysis on China, as does our intelligence agencies, the idea that there is an arms race in the region or that the system of interlocking US alliances is the best security construct to ensure regional stability.

An argument could be made that this construct is the leading source of regional instability, which would be similar to the situation in Europe where the exclusion of Russia through the primacy of NATO invites instability.

The security architecture of both Europe and East Asia needs to move beyond cold war era structures. Washington forms the leading obstacle to this. This is one of the most important factors that underpins the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Of the current major centres of global power it is only the United States that reserves the right to use large scale military force, a reservation reflected in planning, when, where and how it chooses. Brand Rudd frequently speaks of a "rules based world order", but by retaining the option of engaging in joint operations with the US the government demonstrates the hollow nature of such declarations.


The centrepiece of this Paper is the beefing up of strategic strike deterrence.

The strategic strike mission of the Australian Defence Force is meant to deter aggression against Australia or its interests. Hitherto this has been achieved by the F-111 aircraft. Although the government has announced it will purchase 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, a Howard era program, this White Paper sees a relative shift towards the delivery of strategic strike by cruise missiles launched from new naval assets. In particular, by larger submarines able to conduct sustained patrols far from home shore.

This has been presented as providing Canberra a capability to project "strategic" power independently into North-East Asia. This is widely interpreted as a reference to China.

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About the Authors

Mark Beljac teaches at Swinburne University of Technology, is a board member of the New International Bookshop, and is involved with the Industrial Workers of the World, National Tertiary Education Union, National Union of Workers (community) and Friends of the Earth.

Mark Dempster is especially interested in history and the role of military power in international relations. He is currently studying at the University of Melbourne.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Marko Beljac
All articles by Mark Dempster

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