White, Hugh: importance of self-reliance in defence

White, Hugh

Principle of self-reliance more important now than it has ever been‘, Sydney Morning Herald, 24 November 2015

The article looks at the implications of the government announcement that the Defence White Paper will not now be released until 2016. White suggests the further work being done on the White Paper should start from ‘a very simple principle: Australia’s armed forces should, at a minimum, be capable of defending our own territory from any credible threats without relying on the combat forces of our allies’.

Relying on great and powerful friends has the risk that, in a time of crisis, the needs of these friends to look after themselves will over-ride any obligation to help Australia. Yet there has been a trend in our policies that denies this reality.

Beginning under John Howard, and continuing under both Labor and Coalition governments since then, there has been a clear trend back towards accepting a much higher level of strategic dependence on the US … Political leaders on both sides have become much more willing to identify Australia’s security with the strength of our alliances, and to take the US alliance especially for granted. Gushing declarations of unconditional alliance loyalty have replaced serious strategic analysis in our defence ministers’ speeches.

Our leaders have become much less willing to recognise the inherent limits to what any alliance can deliver, and risks of depending on them too far. And they have become much less concerned to ensure that the forces we build are capable of achieving decisive strategic results for Australia independently of our allies.

The headline on the article in the hard copy edition of the Canberra Times was more provocative: ‘We can’t rely on our allies’.

Defence Minister Marise Payne last week announced the delay in the White Paper. White’s hopes that the further thinking on the document will boost self-reliance in Australian policies might be set against parts of the Minister’s speech that emphasise alliance aspects. ‘We also need a submarine that also has very high levels of interoperability with United States capabilities’, was one pertinent remark.

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