Formal Comment by the Australia Defence Association: 2007
Instances of casualties being classified missing presumed dead, or unidentified, declined dramatically over the course of the 20th Century. However, given the enduring nature of combat, a compulsory DNA database for defence force personnel deploying overseas on operations makes sense, especially in order to assist with potential post-mortem identification of fatal casualties. The institution of a DNA database for defence force personnel as an addition to current pre-deployment medical, legal and administrative measures should, however, only be implemented if there are sufficient privacy safeguards.
Governments of all political persuasions need to take great care not to risk the acknowledged and respected apolitical status of our defence force in Australian society. This underlies the historic reluctance to use the ADF in controversial activities such as domestic law enforcement and strikebreaking. The federal government’s extraordinary intervention in several Northern Territory Aboriginal communities has bipartisan support among the mainstream political parties but has attracted wider political and social controversy. The use of defence force elements in the intervention has involved the ADF in this disputation.
The ADF Gap-Year Program launched on 09 August 2007 is an imaginative step to help solve defence force recruiting shortfalls. But just as importantly the program also has important implications for the integrated relationship between the defence force’s full-time and reservist components, and for the future relationship between the ADF and Australian society generally.
All exercises of military power, especially wars, are ultimately contests of will. Most wars end when one side gives up, some when both do. As a general rule, in wars between democracies and totalitarian or authoritarian regimes, popular support for the war in the former becomes a significant theatre for the overall contest of wills much earlier than in the latter. In some cases it can become as important, or even more decisive, than direct combat on the actual battlefield.
On the fifth anniversary of his internment at Guantanamo Bay after capture during the early days of the continuing war in Afghanistan, many Australians remain confused about the international law underlying the internment of David Hicks as a belligerent captured in that war. The apparent unfairness and delay of the proceedings for his separate criminal trial have resulted in most Australians focusing on this issue alone. This, in turn, has led to the spread of two related but false assumptions: that David Hicks is merely a criminal prisoner awaiting trial and that if the criminal proceedings are dropped then he could be automatically freed. Both assumptions ignore the relevant international law. Arguments to release him based on such serious misunderstandings are actually delaying the option of releasing him on captured belligerent parole.