Defending the national tuckshop (again): Defence White Paper miscellany

Update 1 April 2016: four pieces on the South China Sea from former diplomats Broinowski, Miller and Woodward, published in Pearls and Irritations.



The title of this piece is pinched shamelessly from that of Michael Cathcart’s excellent book on Australian secret armies of the 1930s. The general principle is the same except the tuckshop this time around is seen to be under threat – and increasing threat – from beyond our shores. Going back a bit further than the 1930s Anglo-Celtic Australians perceived threats from the Chinese within our shores. Now decisions are being made that are driven by perceived threats to a multicultural Australia from Chinese beyond our shores.

A White Paper for the ages – or at least for this one

Honest History has already canvassed issues associated with the recent Defence White Paper. We have wondered previously whether increased arms spending leads to war; we reposted our analysis of that question and the earlier post included links to the prime minister’s speech and to a study of previous Defence White Papers.

More recently, John Blaxland of the ANU has spoken on American radio about the White Paper and there has been a set of papers on John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations blog on issues surrounding the document and its assumptions. (John Menadue is one of Honest History’s distinguished supporters.) Hugh White, also from the ANU, reckons the White Paper displays a ‘hidebound’ view of the future of Asia. Richard Woolcott, former secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, says Australia should not be more active in the South China Sea. ‘China, as a major trading nation, now has the same rights as the US to protect its maritime and air approaches to its mainland’, he says. ‘Australia should avoid provocative statements and actions at sea or in the air.’ John Menadue and Merriden Varrall make contributions and there is a long lecture dated April 2015 from Kishore Mahbubani from Singapore.

Two more recent items are Sam Bateman’s piece on the White Paper (reposted on Pearls and Irritations from ANU East Asia Forum). Bateman reckons Australia is heading in the wrong direction in the South China Sea. Then there is the piece from Honest History vice president Alison Broinowski, also in Pearls and Irritations.

As a result of this White Paper [says Broinowski] – one which the ALP could itself equally have written – Australia has become even more strategically dependent on the United States and has postponed even further the prospect of regaining some form of sovereign control of our defence and foreign policy.

Former senior diplomats Cavan Hogue and Richard Butler have also made contributions on Pearls and Irritations. This blog provides opinion that is often not available in the mainstream media. Among Butler’s prescriptions is the injunction that ‘we must reassess with a clear, not a blind eye, and not simply as a matter of faith, our alliance relationship with the US’.

That magic two per cent number

We have also published a note from Paddy Gourley on the question of whether spending two per cent of GDP on defence makes more sense than spending 1.9 per cent or 4.6 per cent or indeed any nominated figure, rather than spending an amount that takes account of needs and threats as they rise and fall. Gourley is a former senior Defence bureaucrat who says ‘the 2 per cent school moves the burden of defence policy from a careful, detailed analysis of strategic threats and risks to spending a pre-determined bucket of money on equipment and personnel that may or may not be warranted’.

Who fights for Australia?

David Stephens wrote a piece for Pearls and Irritations on how the prime minister rolled the defence forces into his vision of an agile, innovative Australian workforce and economy. ‘So innovation and agility is not just for start-ups and science graduates but for men and women in uniform as well.’ The prime minister makes only a perfunctory mention of the Anzac legend as it applies to the ADF and Stephens agrees that, if push does come to shove, ‘a nimble, technologically advanced defence force will be much more desirable than one with Anzac stars in its eyes’.

Flying high, wide and handsome (eventually) with the Joint Strike Fighter

Finally, it is worth looking at the Joint Strike Fighter. (Honest History always likes to take the long view, although we have not entered the lists on the question of how long it takes to build a batch of submarines; but others do, see below.) We posted this last year on how various factories in Australian suburbs and towns are building bits of the JSF. This is part of the JSF builders’ strategy of locking buyer countries in; Canada’s involvement in the build is part of the reason for its ambivalence about the project.

In Australia’s case the commitment to the American Alliance and the prospect of joint operations reinforces the tendency to buy the same kit as the United States uses. (Meanwhile, we are likely to be hosting US kit here, as talks get under way about basing B1 bombers in Darwin.) While the defence force end-users wait for delivery, JSF manufacturers Lockheed Martin and its associates around the world are the immediate beneficiaries. Love the Alliance, love Lockheed Martin.*

More recently, Sarah Dingle presented a painstaking Background Briefing on the ABC on the problems attending the JSF, including interviews with defence experts, some of them sounding rather grumpy. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a transcript. To make up for that lack, First Dog on the Moon’s take on the project is linked here without further editorial comment.

Submarines and the Yellow Peril

Jon Stanford has three articles on Pearls and Irritations, here, here and here on the submarine project, to which veteran journalist Brian Toohey has responded.

No government [says Toohey] has given convincing reasons why Australia needs much bigger subs than are currently available off-the shelf … In any event, it is absurd to spend $50 billion on the proposed big new subs when more versatile, highly capable combat aircraft cost a lot less.

Drones on the horizon

Air force types who fly aircraft while sitting in them have long been wary of drones. (Air Chief Marshal Binskin still refuses to call them that.) But drones (or remotely piloted vehicles or unmanned aerial vehicles or some other euphemism) have a higher profile in this White Paper. Alex Edney-Browne writes in New Matilda about the psychological and other effects of drones and Honest History’s David Stephens’ comment includes some links to resources on drones, including a comprehensive bibliography up to mid 2013. Most of the issues are covered.

The military-industrial-commemoration complex

Lest we forget, Lockheed Martin, massive arms manufacturer with world-wide presence and, as noted above, builder of the JSF, has become an important donor to the Australian War Memorial in recent years, giving more than $A50 000 in 2014-15 and being listed as a major sponsor in 2013-14, as is shown in the Memorial’s annual reports. The firm’s generosity is noted in annual report entries by the Memorial’s Chair and Director. Lockheed Martin’s logo has also featured in a continuous loop display of sponsors’ logoes installed in August 2014 next to the reception desk at the Memorial.

The donations of arms companies to commemorative institutions are small change compared with their turnover – Lockheed Martin world-wide sales in 2014 were worth $US45.6 billion – but they are clearly welcomed by the Memorial. The connection between arms donors and war memorials is a worthy subject for research.

David Stephens

10 March 2016 updated (and augmented 17 March, 1 April)

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