Defence policy and capability development: Professional expertise not bureaucratic dogmatism should drive vour planning

Long-retired DFAT Secretary Michael Costello's opinion article on defence matters is factually incorrect, misinformed, out-of-date, hidebound in its argument and simply bizarre in places.

28 December 2007
Letter to The Australian (in answer to an opinion article by Michael Costello)
(not published) 

Michael Costello's opinion article on defence matters (December 28, p10) was riddled with factual errors, misconceptions, misunderstandings, plain irrelevant waffling and the outmoded and disproven strategic notions so beloved of 1990s-era civilian bureaucrats and armchair pseudo-strategists. 

He based his opinions on the myth that our military have somehow come to control defence capability development and oddly cited the recent Super Hornet purchase as a prime example. 

But it is well known that this decision by the Howard cabinet was taken against the professional advice of the ADF and the policy advice of the Department of Defence. 

Furthermore he criticises the sensible decision to purchase two larger (replacement) amphibious ships as "entirely unnecessary in any sensible strategic scenario". 

This frankly bizarre claim flies in the face of all naval (and indeed ADF) professional advice.

It also contradicts the last 20 years of experiences in our near-region — from tourist evacuations through East Timor deployments to Tsunami relief assistance.

It ignores the clear major cost savings over the life-cycle of these ships compared to the greater number of much smaller ones advocated by armchair DOA theorists with no relevant professional, technical or maritime knowledge. 

Mr Costello also clearly misunderstands the Westminster principle of civil-control-of-the-military by ministers and the parliament, and not by civilian bureaucrats.  

An incorrect claim of "civilian control" was often spouted by many of the unelected, unaccountable and strategically myopic civilian bureaucrats of his era and used to interfere, improperly and usually disastrously, in military professional matters.

Such as expert ADF professional advice to Ministers, when they are deciding which weapons, weapons platforms and other equipment to procure, on their actual operational suitability for use by our defence force.

Surely not an unreasonable matter, on moral, strategic, operational and OH&S grounds, for the ADF to have a prime responsibility to advise on. 

Finally Mr Costello champions the failed and exclusivist defence-of-Australia dogma that resulted in our defence force having to be significantly re-equipped and rebuilt over the last decade.

Rebuilt so the ADF could cope with the strategic challenges Australia has actually had to face since the 1999 East Timor crisis — the first of a long series of events such DOA theorists said could and would not happen. 

Worst of all is Mr Costello's confused cry for a return to the failed policies, disastrous policy development processes and bureaucratic managerialism of the past.

Not least because his claims simply ignore, or are unaware of, all the professional, academic and policy debates and reforms concerning defence and strategic policy matters that have occurred since he retired well over a decade ago.