This archive contains letters-to-the-editor submitted by the Australia Defence Association between 01 January and 31 December 2009.
31 December 2009
Letter to The Australian
In an otherwise timely opinion article Carl Ungerer, “Spooks caught with their pants down”, The Australian, 31/12, p.12, omitted discussion of another key constraint on intelligence agency effectiveness.
In Australia we have filled our intelligence and security agencies with too many “intelligence analysts” at the expense of not enough intelligence officers with through-career experience in the intelligence profession, especially regarding hands-on intelligence gathering and mastery of intellectual tools such as the formal intelligence estimates needed to adequately understand and counter security threats and then guide consequent intelligence collection.
This is akin to trying to run our hospitals with paramedics only and having few or no doctors and nurses at either the working or managerial level.
Compounding this problem is that many of those employed as “intelligence analysts” or their managers are really academics and Public Service generalists filling such positions merely as a short-term box-ticking exercise in pursuit of wider bureaucratic, diplomatic or political career aims.
That only one, and possibly two, of the heads of our six intelligence and security agencies would qualify professionally for membership of the Australian Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers illustrates the extent of the problem – as does the entrenched bureaucratic unwillingness to even acknowledge this deficiency and fix it.
With even wider consequences, the proven inability of many senior personnel in such agencies to develop a formal intelligence estimate or, even worse, their failure to recognise that there is a personal, professional and agency inability to do so – and that this is a serious problem – are major process flaws in the development and execution of all national security policy.
21 December 2009
Letter to The Canberra Times (answering two responses that day to the ADA letter dated 11 December 2009)
(published 24 December 2009)
Michael McCarthy (Canberra Times, Letters, December 21) asks “what proportion of Australia’s intelligence officers are in the 007 category”?
The clear answer, factually, conceptually and professionally, is none - and so it should be in a democracy ruled by law with intelligence and security agencies employing professionals.
But Michael’s gung-ho and cinema-centric confusion only further illustrates my original point.
In the real world continual and sloppy media use of the term “spies” only confuses effective and informed public debate on intelligence and domestic security matters, even ignoring how it also prompts unnecessary fears based on syllogistic arguments such as those of Peter Harris (Letters, December 21).
And to reinforce my original point, it is highly probable that the only real spies in Australia are Australian traitors illegally working for foreign intelligence officers (mainly based here under diplomatic cover).
In domestic security matters where ASIO intelligence officers may be directly or indirectly assisted by fellow Australians in monitoring extremist threats, those helping are, in legal, professional accountability and moral terms, either informants, agents or even alert members of the general public, never “spies”.
11 December 2009
Letter to The Canberra Times
(published 14 December 2009)
Surely we should expect better of “The Canberra Times” than the lazy tabloid headline “Spy school” (Friday, December 11, p.3) over an article reporting the planned establishment of the Government’s new national security college as a joint venture with the Australian National University.
Moreover, your national affairs correspondent Philip Dorling, of all people, surely knows better than to inaccurately and narrowly describe its intended student body as “Australia’s spies and security experts”.
Would it not have been better instead to address some of the meaty issues involved, such as why the new college is being established as part of the ANU rather than independently — or with another university or the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies at the Australian Defence College?
After all, the college of diplomacy is already at the ANU and some healthy intellectual separation in how we educate our diplomats, strategists, intelligence officers and broader national security policy-makers is clearly desirable to avoid groupthink and Canberra-centric perspectives.
This is especially so when we see the damage done to Australian policy, and to the diversity of thinking in various government departments and agencies, through the ANU’s existing strategic and defence studies centre having developed such an unyielding ideological bias and narrow activist focus to its research (and too many of its academic courses) over recent decades.
Finally, sloppy misuse of the term “spies” does nothing to bolster confidence that your paper really knows what it is talking about when it discusses national security matters in the broad. For example, the operational staff of both ASIO and ASIS are intelligence officers not “spies”. Those Jjournalists and indeed readers unable to understand the difference conceptually, professionally or legally are simply unqualified to comment on intelligence and national security matters.
Such inaccurate terms also do nothing for informed public debate about the relatively prominent location of the new ASIO building [in Canberra]. Every little bit helps in educating the more paranoid objectors who claim this location is somehow inappropriate. because Tthey do not grasp the clear distinctions between the purpose and arbitrary powers of “secret police” in a totalitarian state and the fundamentally different role, status and checks and balances governing the security-intelligence agency of a liberal democracy.
02 December 2009
Letter to the Sydney Daily Telegraph
(published in part on 04 December 2009)
Noting his longstanding consistency for factual error, outdated jargon and inexpert or wild claims your so-called “defence writer”, Ian McPhedran (“In a war with no rules, there are no losers or winners”, Daily Telegraph, 02/12/09, p.75), again misunderstands war in general and the Afghanistan war in particular.
Australia has definite strategic interests in defeating Al Qa’eda and the Taliban.
Furthermore, we are not Western Europeans and should never bludge on the greater actual and proportionate commitments of our US and British allies.
The bottom line in moral and strategic terms is that we should never risk our diggers’ lives in any war unless we intend to win it.
If we need to commit more troops in order to help win – and to reduce our casualties and shorten the duration of our commitment over the long haul – then we should do so.
We can legitimately ask our diggers to risk their lives for an ideal or in our national interest. Neither of which justify token contributions aimed purely at “alliance management”, nor simplistic or defeatist calls to quit that would simply leave the people of Afghanistan in the lurch.
Finally, could Ian Mr McPhedran substantiate his absurd claim that there are supposedly “warmongers” arguing that the level of Australia's our military commitment to Afghanistan should be increased because the ADF has had “only 11” fatalities fatal casualties.
29 October 2009
Letter to The Canberra Times
Your Thursday (29/10) editorial and the adjoining column by David Barnett neatly juxtaposed the two extremes of uninformed public exchanges concerning asylum seekers and encapsulated why informed public debate on this subject is so difficult.
Moreover, in somewhat of an achievement, the editorial was based on even more factual errors and fallacious assumptions than your token (far) right-wing columnist.
Both polemics chose to ignore the international law and longer-term strategic issues involved in order to make politically-partisan or emotional points.
Consistency in applying law and principle, however, is the only way to move forward on any international issue posing difficult moral, strategic and diplomatic dilemmas.
As with those aboard the Tampa who — when rescued in Indonesian waters illegally forced its captain to divert to Christmas Island rather than sail to the nearest Indonesian port — the asylum claimants aboard the Oceanic Viking are clearly the responsibility of Indonesia under international law and long-established international moral custom.
If Indonesia does not accept this, any vessel transiting Indonesia’s zone of international search and rescue responsibility will be most reluctant to rescue distressed seafarers for fear of being marooned forever in Indonesian waters.
Such an outcome would be a genuine humanitarian tragedy with significant wider consequences to long-established international treaties and practices governing safety of life at sea and asylum seeking.
That those rescued now and in the future may be heading for Australia to claim asylum is irrelevant, as should be their desperate or calculated use of emotional blackmail to undermine the applicable international law.
Despite another round of political and moral posturing in Australia over “Pacific” or “Indonesian solutions”, the real underlying moral and strategic problem remains that only six countries between the Aegean and Arafura Seas are signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention and only one of them, Cambodia, is in South-East or South Asia.
The Australian Government is therefore faced with a very delicate diplomatic task in negotiating with Indonesia because our overall strategic inter-relationship, Indonesian “face” and some frankly racist views or politically-pandering by some provincial Indonesian officials are involved.
Those Australians undergoing apparent crises of conscience about our approach to refugees might instead expend commensurate moral and intellectual effort in demanding that Indonesia and other regional states respect or sign the Refugee Convention – and ask why such states just keep passing all the moral buck for a supposedly universal humanitarian responsibility to Australia in seeming perpetuity.
Our news media might also try not actively undermining Australian diplomatic and humanitarian efforts by suggesting short-term pseudo-solutions to Indonesian officials, either well-minded or racist, that will only make matters worse for everyone, including asylum seekers, in the long run.
17 September 2009
Letter to Crikey.Com
(published 18 September 2009)
Excluding his odd belief that Japan’s attack on Australia in World War II “had its origins in European imperialism” rather than Japanese racism, militarism and home-grown imperialism – or indeed his wider ideological stances on the war in Afghanistan and Australian strategic policy - Guy Rundle (“Women at war: the mother of political betrayals, September 17, item 3), exemplifies key flaws permeating most recent public and media commentary about females in combat.
First, women serving in combat positions today throughout the ADF – as you read this issue of Crikey – are getting increasingly annoyed to say the least at so many silly and indeed insulting suggestions that they somehow do not or should not exist.
Second, they cannot understand why so many on either old-fashioned extreme of the debate, such as Greg Sheridan opposed to any women in combat or Eva Cox arguing for no limitations in any circumstances, get so much publicity when their public comments demonstrate little or no understanding of, or willingness to consider, the many complexities and nuances involved and neither is an expert on fighting wars anyway.
Third, they also cannot understand why virtually every new or old media article or program on this issue over the last weeks has been so riddled with sensationalist slants, factual errors, mistaken assumptions and omission of counter-argument inconvenient to its “theme”.
Finally, the vast majority of females in the ADF agree that operational capability, not conservative or feminist ideology, must be the prime determinant of defence force employment criteria, not least because they understand that battlefields are a unique workplace (if indeed they are a workplace at all in the civil sense).
If you don’t believe me, check out http://www.ada.asn.au/Recent.Comment_files/Comment.Women&Combat.htm
13 September 2009
Letter to The Weekend Australian
James Miller (Letters, Weekend Australian, September 12-13) incorrectly, and worse recklessly, claims that 4000 Italians were somehow “held in concentration camps in Australia during World War II for the sole reason of their ethnicity”.
In fact the lawful detention of Italian (and German and Japanese) nationals was based solely on their citizenship and presumed loyalty as enemy aliens during time of war.
Such wartime detention was and remains fully consistent with international law and commonsense practice.
But even more importantly, there is a huge difference in fact, practice, law and morality between a detention camp run properly by a liberal democracy according to the Geneva Conventions as a temporary wartime emergency measure and a concentration camp run for any period by a dictatorship in breach of international humanitarian law.
Mr Miller’s confusion is yet another example why so many trying to comment on the lawful detention (if not subsequent criminal trial) of David Hicks after his capture as a belligerent (not arrest as a civilian) in the Afghanistan War so often ignored the necessary specialist international law applying to wartime detention of enemy belligerents [such as Hicks] and enemy civilian citizens.
28 July 2009
Letter to The Canberra Times (following a letter to the editor which seriously misunderstood previous ADA commentary)
David Roth (letters, July 28) claims international humanitarian law (IHL), including the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) based on the Geneva and Hague Conventions and the UN Charter, are arcane and obscure laws but this view would not be widely shared and nor should it be.
Unless we have universal legal standards and consistency in their application, through understanding and acceptance internationally, abuses of human rights and the incidence and violence of war itself will always increase not decrease.
Moreover, in terms of universality and practical implementation, IHL moves forward when those respecting such laws are rewarded (especially when compliance is difficult) and those contravening them are disadvantaged even when punishment is postponed or impossible.
IHL also moves forward when its basic principles, such as universality and consistency, are widely understood and discussed free of ideology, emotion, misplaced national loyalties or personal prejudices.
As an example, IHL applies to everyone - including Australians. The lawful detention of David Hicks under LOAC after his capture, not civil arrest, when fighting in the Afghanistan War was not somehow unlawful, improper or immoral just because he was an Australian or a dill, nor because some mistakenly think he was a civilian and not a combatant in that specific war, nor because some might disagree with Australia’s participation in this UN-endorsed military action.
Finally, unnecessary confusion to David Roth at least, has resulted from editing of my last letter, especially the removal of explanations concerning the differing IHL situations governing the detentions (but not any criminal trials or lack of them) of Stern Hu, David Hicks, Mamdouh Habib, the Uighurs improperly detained at Guantanamo Bay and German prisoners-of-war and interned civilians in World War II.
As with all ADA letters, the complete version may be read on our website at www.ada.asn.au.
21 July 2009
Letter to The Canberra Times
(published in part on 24 July 2009)
Various correspondents, columnists and public commentators are mistaken in drawing purported comparisons between, and supposed wider inferences from, the detentions of Stern Hu and David Hicks.
Mr Hu is detained, without charge at this stage, by the Chinese authorities under Chinese civil law.
Whatever else is involved, his arbitrary treatment and certainly his detention under civil law appear to be clear breaches of the specialist international law applying, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
David Hicks on the other hand was never arbitrarily detained, "held without trial" or "held without charge" for a single minute.
Nor was he detained under civil law (and in breach of the covenant ICCPR) until, arguably, following his separate criminal conviction and prison sentence for terrorist offences.
Notwithstanding the controversy over the validity or not of his separate criminal trial, conviction and sentence by a US military commission, Hicks' lawful detention as a combatant member of a combatant organisation after capture in the early stages of the Afghanistan War was fully consistent with the specialist international law applying, the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC), and especially the Geneva Conventions.
Although not qualifying for prisoner-of-war status under the Third Geneva Convention, or indeed as a non-combatant under the other three, Hicks was protected under Common Article 3 of all four Conventions. His detention was just as lawful, and in its earlier stages at least, just as operationally justified as with all the German military personnel and civilians Australia detained in World War II.
The right and responsibilities of the US, as the capturing power under the Geneva Conventions, to detain, but protect, enemy personnel captured in war was confirmed by the US Supreme Court in the June 2006 Hamdan decision.
Indeed this seminal ruling has been the basis for most subsequent court decisions extending further LOAC or ICCPR protections to those detained at Guantanamo Bay - and especially in directing the release of those not captured in a war (such as the Uighurs).
It is also, incidentally, why the detention of Mamdouh Habib by Pakistan, Egypt and the US probably did contravene the ICCPR because his arrest in Pakistan was effectively a civil matter, not capture of a combatant in the Afghan theatre of war as that theatre was then conventionally defined and understood.
19 June 2009
Letter to the Australian Financial Review (following an ahistoric opinion article by Brian Toohey)
While Kenneth Mortimer (AFR, letters June 19) makes some good points about the technical, financial and strategic risks of the F-35 joint strike fighter, his general thrust is based on several invalid assumptions and incorrect historical examples – and it is always somewhat foolhardy to quote your generalist columnist Brian Toohey on defence issues due to the selectivity and polemics invariably involved.
In particular, surface warships are not automatically sitting ducks for missile attack and bigger ones are not somehow necessarily more vulnerable than smaller ones.
The opposite is often the case as the widespread trend in modern navies away from small frigates and back to bigger destroyers shows. Furthermore, it is systems of hulls, fleets, equipment and operational doctrine, not individual warships, that are important.
Mr Mortimer especially misinterprets 1982 Falkands War examples and ignores subsequent developments. Five AM-39 Exocets were fired in that war with two missing completely. Two hit different ships to the ones targeted (eventually sinking HMS Sheffield and the cargo vessel Atlantic Conveyor) but in both cases the ships were not tactically deployed nor equipped to defend against missile attack.
HMS Glamorgan was hit by the only Exocet to actually hit the ship it was fired at but survived to keep fighting (not least due to the size of her hull and ability to absorb battle damage). Sheffield also did not sink until under tow six days later, largely because of the distance to a safe port of repair.
Similarly, in the only other case where tactically-fired Exocets have hit a warship it was not sunk. In 1987 the USS Stark, an Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate (FFG) – as are four of the RAN’s ageing warships – was mistakenly targeted and hit by two Iraqi Exocets but survived.
War naturally means any weapons platform (or other target) on the sea, on land or in the air is vulnerable under some conditions. But, even assuming we have a strategic choice in every instance, that is no reason not to ever employ any weapon – and you do not deter or win wars, or preserve peace, by such general disarmament anyway.
The real lesson is to make sure any weapon system or platform is fit for purpose, equipped adequately for self-defence and, where necessary, deployed strategically and tactically to minimise vulnerability or defeat attacks respectively.
16 June 2009
Letter to The Canberra Times (concerning an opinion article by Nic Stuart)
(published 19 June 2009)
Nic Stuart (“Faulkner faces a torrid battle”, Opinion, June 12) makes good sense about the high hopes for the new Faulkner-Combet combination overseeing the Department of Defence.
But Nic’s his remark that “the military edifice is just too huge for any one person to make a difference” again highlights that the department’s size (in all respects), complexity and importance has long needed three full-time ministers and at least one full-time parliamentary secretary.
If Treasury has 3½ ministers, and Health and Ageing has four (plus a parliamentary secretary), why does Defence only have 1½ ministers plus half a parliamentary secretary – especially given the longstanding and near-constant publicity about its governance difficulties?.
The Rudd Government started off well by allocating two full-time ministers and two full-time parliamentary secretaries to Defence but then blew it when the day-to-day politics of reinforcing Penny Wong with 1 ½ of the parliamentary secretaries won out over proper long-term governance.
Greg Combet’s new workload, for example, is obviously absurd. He inherits all Warren Snowdon’s ministerial responsibilities, plus his old parliamentary secretary responsibilities for defence equipment procurement, and is still stuck with an unrelated climate change rescue role.
Two junior ministers, one for science and procurement and one for the ADF as a whole (not just its personnel issues), respectively, are clearly required (as the UK British model shows).
Nic’s Stuart's throwaway term “military edifice” also highlights another part of the problem in that “Defence” is not, and should not be, a military organisation.
The bureaucratic edifice that is the Department of Defence is a deeply flawed hybrid structure stemming from decades of unsuccessfully trying to cope with a massive ministerial workload, and, at times, attempts to divert, disguise or excuse the constantly insufficient (and sometimes poor) ministerial supervision.
Splitting the department and the strategic military headquarters, but under the one senior minister as the Kiwis do very successfully, would greatly improve ministerial supervision and governance generally, as well as allow deep cuts in both the civilian and military bureaucracies.
It might even reverse the near tripling of deputy secretary equivalents from 5 to 13 over the last decade.
11 June 2009
Letter to The Australian Financial Review (concerning an opinion article by Mark Latham)
(published 12 June 2009)
Mark Latham (“Better off away from it all”, AFR, 11/6) describes those serving in our defence force as “meatheads” with “limited intelligence” and “primeval interests in life”.
As the ADA has pointed out before with similar rants in The Latham Diaries (p.193), this is simply abuse unsupported by facts, argument or coherent philosophy and surely well below intellectual and wider community standards for acceptable public debate.
Latham is also only free to make such comments because of the exertions in uniform, over generations, of better men and women than himself.
This irony is no doubt lost on him.
His parading of such nasty prejudices perhaps stems from some form of shame about his own contribution to Australian society in comparison - and of envy about the community respect in which our diggers and their antecedents are generally held.
His comments undoubtedly transgress AFR standards for opinion articles and surely should have earned an editorial kick, not tick, at the drafting stage.
Shame on you for publishing such a cowardly attack – and on a group not allowed to answer him back.
11 June 2009
Letter to The Sydney Morning Herald (concerning a very poorly argued and subjective editorial)
SMH editorials on defence issues (11/6) would have credibility if they avoided Vietnam-era undergraduate prejudices about supposed Department of Defence “fiefdoms” and did not include silly recommendations such as the army’s tanks being “mothballed” as they are “unlikely to be used except in all-out war”.
The definition of “all-out” is as unstated as it is irrelevant. Australian experience of the necessity of at least some tanks is derived from hard-won combat experience from all types of war in all types of conditions – both in our region (Malaya, PNG, Bougainville, Borneo, Vietnam) as well as further afield (Libya, Greece, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan).
The obvious question of how and who might be able to maintain complex defence capabilities when “mothballed” and then operate them effectively when they become needed, particularly at short notice, also hangs in the air - as does any apparent understanding that in the case of the Army’s few (59) tanks they are primarily intended for credible combined-arms contingencies by small sub-units in our immediate region, not major wars further afield (where we do not have enough tanks to contribute anyway).
No tanks mean dead infantry. This is why our highly comparable Canadian cousins currently use tanks as an integral component of their combined-arms battalion group-level operations in Afghanistan and have again rejected amateur or ivory-tower notions about tanks somehow not being necessary in modern warfare.
If you really think our army does not need at least some tanks, feel free to take the incoming enemy fire instead.
05 June 2009
Letter to The Australian (following the resignation of Joel Fitzgibbon as Minister for Defence)
(published 06 June 2009)
The resignation of Joel Fitzgibbon as defence minister [Minister for Defence] offers an excellent opportunity to reform, modernise and increase ministerial supervision of this large, complex and important portfolio ("Fitzgibbon blames 'Judases' for dramatic demise", 5/6).
In an act of bureaucratic triumphalism, when the defence group of five departments were merged in 1974 the responsibilities of their five ministers and four statutory management boards were invested in one minister, later assisted at times by half to one junior minister and more recently by half to one (and briefly two) parliamentary secretaries.
Despite at least some hardworking ministers (Robert Ray, Robert Hill, Brendan Nelson, Joel Fitzgibbon) this structure has become increasingly unworkable. Ministerial briefs, for example, have increased 11-fold over the last 12 or so years.
It has also caused a massive increase in the Defence bureaucracy in Canberra, in both size and seniority of positions, as the department has both tried and failed to cope with, or exploited, insufficient ministerial supervision.
This in turn has resulted in much professionally improper bureaucratic interference in military professional matters and in constitutionally proper civil control of the military by ministers and parliament on behalf of the electorate.
There has also been a stark increase in defence equipment procurement bungles since 1974, largely through the loss of the statutory boards chaired by ministers.
Even without our current combat operations overseas the size, scope and complexity of the workload is now beyond any one minister no matter how competent, motivated or hardworking they are.
As with the British model, effective ministerial supervision of such a large and complex portfolio has long needed a senior minister, two full-time junior ministers (not even half the Minister for Veterans Affairs tried under the Howard government) and two full-time parliamentary secretaries. One junior minister for technology (DSTO) and procurement (DMO) and one for the ADF (not just its “personnel” issues).
A proper structure of junior ministers with real responsibilities would free the senior minister from the minutiae, allow him or her to devote more effort to financial and corporate or military strategy issues, would better suit constitutional and professional structures in how defence is organised and needs to function nationally and internationally, and would also better prepare the talent pool for future senior ministers in the portfolio.
It would also help with downsizing the Defence bureaucracy – both civilian and military.
29 May 2009
Letter to The Canberra Times (responding to a letter about the new headquarters building being constructed in central Canberra for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation)
(published 02 June 2009)
Andrew Schuller (letters, 28/5) may or may not be right about the feared aesthetics of the new ASIO building but his comparison of the building’s profile, and of ASIO’s role, with that of the secret police in totalitarian societies surely ignores the important distinction that ASIO is a security intelligence agency not any form of police force.
As with the other principal Westminster-system democracies ASIO rightly has no powers of arrest, although the recent institution of questioning warrants for terrorist offences (and their associated secrecy provisions) has unfortunately diluted this principle, if not ensuing practices to a significant degree, and resulted in increased community confusion about the distinction.
Andrew Schuller also seems to miss that the existing headquarters of all six of our intelligence and security agencies are already within the parliamentary triangle.
This should be welcomed not regretted. Surely it is better for any liberal democracy that such organisations have an open (but not overwhelming) national profile rather than being hidden away from even general public awareness.
Every longstanding, and more to the point successful, democracy has some form of security intelligence organisation because democracy is not immunity itself immune from threats of espionage, extra-legal foreign interference or terrorism.
Moreover the very freedoms democracy affords can be misused and undermined by some bent on subversion and terrorism unless a realistic balance between community security and civil liberties is maintained.
The answer, as always, is comprehensive checks and balances, including our understanding as a community of what ASIO really is, what it really does and must not do, and why we really need it.
07 May 2009
Letter to The Australian (in answer to a disgraceful front-page article by Mark Dodd)
(published in part on 12 May 2009)
Australian troops in Afghanistan are professional soldiers fighting in a UN-endorsed war and they comply fully with the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC).
They are not “assassins” or “operatives” as wrongly described by Mark Dodd on your front page ('SAS "assassinate" Taliban leader', 7/5).
The term assassin untruthfully implies murder – and of unarmed people unawares in a civil law context.
Mullah Noorullah, on the other hand, was a willing and armed combatant member of a combatant organisation (which, incidentally, treats LOAC with contempt) in a war and was killed, in combat, by lawful and professional military operations.
Deliberately emotive and incorrect terminology such as "assassins" or “operatives” instead of soldiers, gratuitous and ahistoric reference to the Phoenix Program in the Vietnam War, and implying that the common organisational acronym SOTG (Special Operations Task Group) is somehow a sinister synonym for unlawful activities, are serious lapses in journalistic professionalism.
Such unprofessional reporting of such basic issues is unworthy of anyone who professes to know what they are talking about in defence force matters or who aspires to the title "defence correspondent".
Our diggers are professionals. At the very least they deserve that reporting on their activities be as professional, unbiased, factual and showing full awareness of the moral base, and the legal and operational contexts of their actions.
In a globalised information world, no Australian reporter or newspaper worthy of the name, or the nationality, should provide such baseless propaganda smears for misuse by the enemy or their apologists.
This is not just a matter of sloppy and unprofessional reporting and editing, or indeed just a question of balance or fairness.
It is a serious moral failure by The Australian and necessitates an immediate and public apology to our troops and censure of the journalist, sub-editors and editors involved.
26 April 2009
Letter to The Canberra Times (replying to a long letter from Paul Varsanyi about the right and perceived ability of the ADA to comment on defence issues)
The Australia Defence Association has no objection to former Defence officials or indeed anyone else trying to defend their policy legacies or ideological stances.
But, as the impending Defence White Paper will no doubt implicitly acknowledge, this surely needs to recognise the context that our actual strategic circumstances, and ADF operations since East Timor in 1999, have undoubtedly proven the many serious strategic policy failures and other problems that plagued Defence throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Nor do we deny anyone’s right to argue about the increasingly necessary and major strategic-level reforms the ADA advocates regarding defence funding, ministerial oversight, the size, structure, processes and culture of the Department of Defence, and strategic policy outcomes generally. We do reject the opinions of those, such as Paul Varsanyi (Letters, April 24), who question whether these are strategic matters.
But surely we should have such debates without the pompous condescension, faux moral outrage and querulous claims that any criticism of former senior Defence officials, even as a class, is somehow impertinent, automatically invalid or even improper.
Both Paddy Gourley and more recently Paul Varsanyi have misrepresented ADA positions, accountability processes and comments, and largely resorted to straw man arguments, misquotation and personal attacks.
We did not, for example, accuse Paddy of being disloyal to the ADF, nor did we as Paul alleges, “publically critique individual past members of the defence organisation”. In fact the only persons named were acknowledged for their genuine achievements.
It is also surely a peculiar viewpoint when Paul feels qualified to opine, or that it is even relevant, that no ADA board member, including respected former VCDF Rob Walls, has had “senior-level exposure to strategic security issues”.
Or his equally arrogant fixation that the ADA Board of Directors is somehow deficient because it includes “not one Defence civilian”, when no public-interest guardian organisation board ever includes a complete cross-section of that body’s available expertise or diversity of opinion.
But to allay his fears, the predominantly civilian ADA membership includes former Secretaries and other retired senior Defence officials, as well as former ministers and politicians from both sides of politics, and many other retired scientists, diplomats and intelligence officers who believe in informed debate - and who all think that national defence is important beyond their own personal records and opinions.
We are happy to compare the diversity, and intellectual depth and ferment of our membership, against say, the staff of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU or any of the lesser cliques of former Defence officials.
19 April 2009
Letter to The Canberra Times (replying to a further letter from Paddy Gourley which again did not really answer the questions posed in the ADA letter of 07 April below)
(published 21 April 2009)
Paddy Gourley finally lists his alternatives for the ministerial advisory panel on the Defence White Paper but again fails to argue why their currency, expertise or alleged independence from current government service are supposedly better than the incumbents.
The ADA acknowledges the previous governmental service of those Paddy lists and indeed the intellectuals among them are, as you would expect, Association members.
But, with the exception of Ric Smith, none have anywhere near current experience and the government could hardly appoint Mr Smith given he was the immediate-previous departmental Secretary and had been already commissioned to make a separate major study of national security structures and processes.
A number Some of those Paddy suggests were also intimately involved in the now proven failure of previous Defence White Papers, and broader defence policies,. These failed to prepare the ADF and our national strategic thinking adequately for the crises and operations Australia has actually had to face during and since the 1999 East Timor intervention.
Others, with the obvious exceptions of Peter Gration, Rob Walls, and perhaps Chris Barrie, may have been senior ADF commanders but are not known as great strategic thinkers or as persons with an active interest in current public debate on national security issues – a story in itself about the too frequent inadequacy of ADF higher promotion processes.
Finally, holding the appointment of having been deputy secretary – strategy in Defence at some time is surely not reason alone to assume much related expertise. After all, virtually all the public servants appointed to this position Most of these in recent decades have lacked formal qualifications and previous experience in this regard and, even more importantly, actual hands-on experience in executing strategy in military or diplomatic operations overseas.
This bizarre belief that no qualifications or experience in strategy is necessary to steer development of our national defence strategies is without doubt the single greatest cause of the long-term and major failure of the 1987, 1994 and, to a lesser extent, 2000 defence white papers.
The second greatest cause is the narrow and flawed methods of their development – although this is yet again really just one more result of the inadequate knowledge and experience of the officials concerned and that of others to recognise, acknowledge or fix it.
11 April 2009
Letter to The Canberra Times (in reply to a letter from Paddy Gourley which still did not answer the questions posed in the ADA letter of 07 April below)
(published 14 April 2009)
Although some explanatory detail and polite niceties were unfortunately edited out of my letter (09 Apr) on the ministerial advisory panel for the defence White Paper, this still does not excuse Paddy Gourley’s reply (Letters, 11 Apr) playing the man and not the issues.
Paddy needs to name the “six to eight” national security thinkers with “deeper relevant achievements at more senior levels in the Public Service and the ADF than those already on it” [the panel].
And he needs to explain why each of his relatively large number of supposedly omitted experts would be more qualified, and why they are “completely independent of government service”, compared to the existing panellists?
Only then can his original claim, the strategic currency and overall merits of each thinker, and the advantages and disadvantages of their potential contribution, be assessed objectively.
If Paddy remains obdurate in his refusal to name the supposedly missing expertise, we can only assume he is referring to those responsible for the strategic dead-end thinking of the last three Defence White Papers.
07 April 2009
Letter to The Canberra Times (replying to completely unsubstantiated claims in an opinion article by Paddy Gourley in the Public Sector Informant liftout section)
(published 09 April 2009)
Among other old-fashioned ramblings your sometime Public Service columnist, Paddy Gourley, (“Understand the limits of war, or our military will take us nowhere”, The Public Sector Informant, 07 April, pp12-13) oddly claimed that the ministerial advisory panel on the Defence White Paper included none of the “country’s best national security thinkers”.
The three-man panel is deliberately comprised of those independent of current government service and includes the director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (a retired major general and former head of Defence’s strategic policy division during its most dynamic and relevant era), Australian academia’s best defence finance expert, and a former head of both the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre and the Kokoda Foundation (with broad Defence, academic and defence industry credentials).
Moreover, when the panel was announced, the Australia Defence Association noted that the really encouraging thing was who was not on it – and indeed how the Rudd Government finally appeared to be moving Labor on from the late-Cold War thinking of the Beazley era.
Perhaps Mr Gourley, a long-retired Defence bureaucrat of the discredited “divide-and-conquer the three Services” school, could suggest just who he thinks has been wrongly excluded and why.
I think we should be told.
04 April 2009
Letter to Melbourne's The Age (replying to an opinion article by Russell Skelton)
Russell Skelton (“Chinese whispers”, The Age, 04 April) may know his ALP politics but commenting on defence and intelligence issues is obviously not his forte.
Unfortunately for informed public debate, he is not on his own. Most such comment by generalist journalists/commentators over recent weeks has been so inaccurate regarding facts, context and historical background as to be dangerous to the national interest.
Skelton, for example, ignores the external KPMG audit and just regurgitates the flawed assumption that Joel Fitzgibbon was responsible for the bungled implementation of the new pay structure for the Special Forces (not just the SASR by the way as the terms are not synonymous).
Anyone who knows how Defence works (and should work) realises the problems were largely structural, would have happened under any minister or government and will re-occur unless the department’s structure is thoroughly reformed. As indeed will the constant, institutionalised and unhelpful tensions between the Department of Defence and any Minister.
Skelton is also wrong about Nick Warner, being appointed Secretary by Fitzgibbon when this occurred during the Howard Government.
And rather than the appointment of a career diplomat as Secretary being “curious”, Warner replaced another able diplomat. Being outsiders, they have both done much to reform a poisonous departmental culture.
Moreover, throughout his diplomatic career Warner has worked extensively and successfully with the ADF on major overseas operations. He has a better understanding of the real work of the defence force than most career Defence bureaucrats.
This is one reason why there is no obvious internal candidate to replace Warner - even among Defence’s unprecedented (and ridiculously top heavy) baker’s dozen of deputy-secretary equivalents.
31 March 2009
Letter to The Australian Financial Review (replying to an editorial on defence issues)
(published 02 April 2009)
It is a sad irony that the AFR, which has one of the only four knowledgeable journalists dedicated to covering defence issues, should get an editorial on the topic (March 31) so thoroughly wrong.
Your criticism of Defence’s Secretary, Nick Warner, was particularly misplaced and you have fallen victim to rumour-mongering by those undermining him.
As with his predecessor (also from DFAT), Warner has done much to reform the previously poisonous institutional culture whereby ambitious civilian bureaucrats deliberately exacerbated inter-Service rivalries deliberately [sic] in the ADF for their own ends and contrary to the national interest.
Old guard bureaucrats hate Warner - and the successful, modern, integrated joint command structure of the defence force - because it means proper civil control of the military by ministers and parliament, not a reversion to the perverted civilian bureaucratic reign of the 1974-2002 period which so hollowed out our defence capabilities, weakened ministerial supervision and delayed or diluted effective joint command of the ADF.
Finally, much that still goes wrong in Defence is structural and goes wrong under all governments, all ministers, most CDFs or Secretaries, and despite the 14 failed reviews of the department since 1981.
Real reform means greater grunt in ministerial supervision with one senior and two junior ministers (one for the Defence Science and Technology Organisation and the Defence Materiel Organisation and one for the ADF as for the UK model), abolishing Defence’s silly diarchical (two-boss) structure, and separating the department under the Secretary and the ADF under the CDF (as for the NZ model) so both can concentrate on their core business and better serve the Minister for Defence and the country.
31 March 2009
Letter to The Australian (replying to articles by Cameron Stewart)
(published 01 April 2009)
Cameron Stewart’s articles on ADF deficiencies ("Military not ready for war", "Our defenceless force", 31/1) strangely blame the victim, the ADF, and not the perpetrator - governments of both political persuasions ever keen to divert defence funding elsewhere to buy votes.
He also misses the context and sadly much of the detail involved when governments rob Peter to pay Paul, especially when both are ADF personnel.
In the absence of limitless funding, all defence capability development means striking a constant balance between being able to handle two types of contingency.
First, are defence force operations that can occur frequently, arise with little or no warning, often cannot be deterred, mean risk to ADF lives during the electoral life of the government involved - but are not major or existential treats to our national sovereignty or freedom of action. These normally also involve cheaper and less complex weapons and equipment.
Second are one-in-a-hundred-year flood-type future threats such as conquest which are catastrophic should they occur. At any one time these are usually unlikely but not so unlikely as to be impossible and even then might be deterred. They normally involve longer warning times. The risk to ADF lives through obsolete [sic] obsolescent or insufficient equipment (bombers, fighters, submarines, etc) is far in the future so it can be electorally ignored by the current government.
Because there are generally no votes in defence (until it is too late), all governments fail to invest in defence on an adequate and sustained basis unless they receive a shock such as the very near-run East Timor deployment in 1999.
This wake-up call improved things for a while. But now, ten years later, the lessons are again being forgotten or simply not understood by a country where so few citizens have ever served in the ADF or even know someone who does.
This allows the same myths to be peddled by political and academic barrow-pushers and simply regurgitated rather than challenged in the media. These include the fibs that adequate and sustained defence investment is not needed, that major cost financial “efficiencies” (where money might be saved but lives undoubtedly risked) are possible, and that ships, aircraft and armoured vehicles can once again be bought fitted-for-but-not-with the bits they need for actual fighting.
18 March 2009
Letter to The Canberra Times (replying to an opinion article by Nic Stuart)
On a day when another soldier was unfortunately killed in action protecting our wider national interests, Nic Stuart (“Rudd prepares blitzkrieg”, CT, March 17) eschews a practical or factual approach to discussing Australian defence strategy and instead regurgitates long discredited isolationist slogans.
In particular, his main but false assumption about the need to “introduce coherence to the ADF’s force structure” is simply bizarre in its ahistoric and ideological posturing.
The difficult process of rebuilding the ADF is exactly what has been occurring since the very close-run success of the 1999 East Timor deployment.
This indisputably proved how underfunded, unsuitable, unbalanced, “fitted-for-but-not-with”, hollow and narrowly focused the ADF had become, under neglectful governments of both persuasions, throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Furthermore, while structural reform of the Department of Defence is certainly needed, it would not be in the national interest to return to the poisonous Public Service-ADF relations encouraged by some short-sighted politicians of both stripes, and wrongly exploited by a clique of ambitious and arrogant bureaucrats and ivory-tower academics, throughout the 1974-2002 era.
Indeed the current and immediate past Secretaries of the department, both reared outside Defence in DFAT and with practical experience of actually working with the ADF overseas, are to be congratulated for their personal, professional and intellectual efforts in restoring a proper relationship.
Finally, Nic’s comments about “reforming” Defence simply ignore the herd of elephants in the room – the inefficient "two-boss" diarchy, an unworkable burden of ministerial oversight and the bureaucracy that keeps expanding in attempts to cope.
Since 1981 there have been 14 reviews of departmental structure. Each promised nirvana. All have largely failed where it counts over the long term.
The so-called 1997 “Defence Efficiency Review”, for example, recommended Defence needed only two not three deputy secretaries and two more equivalents. Several "reviews" later, however, the current number of civilian deputy secretary equivalents is 14.
It is surely now time to stop perpetually reviewing, rearranging and increasingly “Chief Indianing” this ever-burgeoning civil and military bureaucracy unsuccessfully.
We should instead adopt and adapt the successful New Zealand model of a smaller, focused and separated department and strategic-level military headquarters - both with defined, measurable and accountable responsibilities to the same minister (supported by two full-time junior ministers, one for the DMO/DSTO and one for the ADF).
We should also immediately give the Minister for Defence back the one and a half of his two able parliamentary secretaries abruptly removed earlier this month to reinforce Penny Wong politically (but at serious cost to good governance).
06 March 2009
Letter to The Sydney Morning Herald
Cynthia Banham (SMH, “Strangled by chain of command”, 06 March) unfortunately misunderstands three important points about the constitutional principles and practices governing the organisation of our national defence.
First, civil control of the military is and must always be a political not a bureaucratic function.
As with our police and fire services, the defence force rightly has no “civilian head” other than the Minister for Defence and the Defence Act clearly states this.
The Secretary of the Department of Defence has an important role in supporting the ADF but is not, never has been and never should be some sort of “civilian head” of the defence force as Cynthia wrongly believes.
Second, without a disciplinary code and a chain of command you have a dangerous armed rabble not the apolitical, professional and constitutionally obedient defence force of a parliamentary democracy.
Cynthia’s idea that the military chain of command is somehow a serious problem, or could perhaps be abolished, is plain wrong.
The chain is by no means perfect but most recent foul-ups (“Children Overboard”, Abu Ghraib, Kovco, etc) have been caused by the military chain of command being ignored, bypassed, hijacked or muzzled by bureaucrats and ministerial staff wrongly interfering in it, or in other military professional matters which are and must be by nature apolitical.
Third, careless use of the ambiguous and slippery term “defence chiefs” instead of the proper term “Service Chiefs” unnecessarily confuses and conflates separate departmental and defence force functions and responsibilities.
Much that goes wrong in the Department of Defence occurs in the bureaucracy but it always seems to be a senior ADF officer who has to front the cameras and take the heat not a "departmental chief".
Finally, the current Secretary, Nick Warner, and his predecessor, Ric Smith, have done much to eradicate the poisonous and unprofessional Public Service-ADF relationship of the 1974-2002 period.
That both have been undermined and slandered by former and serving bureaucrats immersed in the failed, destructive and often politicised institutional culture of the past can be expected, but should not be encouraged by the media or politicians for commercial or party-political expediency.
26 February 2009
Letter to The Canberra Times
(published 02 March 2009)
The Department of Defence (including the ADF) is the biggest portfolio in government in terms of employees and departmental assets such as land, plant and equipment. It is also one of the biggest spenders of revenue (although by no means the biggest) and certainly one of the two or three most complex portfolios in terms of the governmental responsibilities concerned and their long-term national importance.
The size and complexity (and an unwieldy and inappropriate departmental structure) of this bureaucracy has produced persistent problems in administration, policy implementation and indeed clear thinking for decades. Fixing this needs to start somewhere and the logical place to start has always been with its ministerial supervision – in both quality, numbers and longevity of portfolio office.
A major and long overdue reform the Rudd Government introduced on winning office was to finally increase the amount of ministerial supervision in the Defence portfolio.
Under the Howard Government there was only one full-time minister, half a junior minister and one parliamentary secretary (who was often a lightweight given the job to boost their profile in a marginal seat). Furthermore, four of the five senior ministers who held the Defence portfolio were on their terminal tour in parliament and with three of them this really showed.
Rudd realistically put in two full-time ministers and two full-time parliamentary secretaries (the ADA has always argued for one senior and two junior ministers plus two parliamentary secretaries). The results to date of this increased supervision have generally reflected and rewarded this increased ministerial effort – especially in the area of defence procurement.
The recent reshuffle of parliamentary secretaries has unfortunately resulted, hopefully by prime-ministerial inattention or political accident and not design, in Defence now having only half a parliamentary secretary.
Surely after two days of parliamentary squabbling over administrative stuff-ups in the Department of Defence, and the perceived role or otherwise of the portfolio minister concerned, the irony of the Prime Minister drastically culling the amount of ministerial supervision in that portfolio by removing one and a half of its two parliamentary secretaries should not be lost on anyone.
Why should the men and women of the ADF have to suffer so governmental effort elsewhere can be reinforced?
Surely further reform of the Department of Defence for the long term should not be sacrificed for short-term party-political expediency?
Hopefully the next reshuffle is not far off and will boost rather than further dilute ministerial supervision of the Department of Defence.
16 January 2009
Letter to Sydney's Daily Telegraph (about an opinion article by Holly Byrnes)
Holly Byrnes (Daily Telegraph, opinion, January 16) backtracks a bit on her sensationalist coverage of Commander Tom Phillips’ interview for Ralph magazine but still seems to miss the big picture.
Some of the commander’s words, if reported accurately, were not well-chosen and perhaps an interview in Ralph as a recruitment measure not fully thought through by the Navy.
But, as the Ralph journalist has explained, the exchanges were banter in the context and jocular style beloved of such magazines.
Surely no Australian with their feet firmly on the ground - or indeed at sea in this case - seriously believes that our Navy is somehow full of sexist troglodytes as Ms Byrnes would have us believe.
ADF recruiting measures obviously need to use new media to reach modern young Australians and this is why most such ads are now on the Internet not TV - and in magazines read by young Aussies not, for example, older-style media such as the Daily Telegraph.
Moreover, to put this supposed furore in context, both the Sunday and Daily Telegraphs often publish far more offensive and/or erroneous remarks about the defence force, merely it seems, to sell newspapers. This ingrained behaviour is undoubtedly much worse than the remarks you attribute to Commander Phillips.
The Sunday Telegraph in particular has a long addiction to silly beat-ups about sex, drugs and rock‘n roll in the ADF. Today’s Daily Telegraph was again quite offensive in its defence coverage by wrongly claiming the SASR’s Warrant Officer David Nary “died in a vehicle training accident in the Middle East” when he was actually killed in an operational rehearsal (in a theatre of war).
If a man lays his life down for his country the least we should all expect is that his death is always accurately remembered and reported.
Similarly, wounded soldiers are frequently, incorrectly and offensively described as merely “injured” in your paper – almost the military and wider historical equivalent of wrongly saying a rape victim somehow “asked for it”.
The ADA has complained about such insults and inaccuracies many times but such letters are invariably censored because of your newspaper stable’s famous glass jaw about criticism of unprofessional journalism.
Finally, the irony of Holly’s original story being run on the same day that genuine news broke about $3bn being possibly cut from Australia’s stretched defence budget – a surely much more important matter for Australia’s future – would not be lost on anyone who genuinely cares about our real defence challenges.
15 January 2009
Letter to The Canberra Times (replying to several mistaken, and in some cases almost hysterical, letters to the editor about an ADA opinion article)
Various comments on a recent ADA opinion article, which noted the legal and moral inconsistency of rejecting asylum for Guantanamo detainees while still demanding their immediate release from detention, ignore the ADA’s consistent stances against “extraordinary rendition”, imprisonment without trial and torture - and for the Geneva Conventions to apply to all belligerents detained after capture in war.
Complex problems, especially with emerging international law trying to catch up with international practice, need a first-principles approach.
Humanity long ago decided that wars must be regulated by specialist international law rather than each country’s civil law. The Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) based on the Geneva and Hague Conventions rightly resulted. This is why writs of habeas corpus, for example, do not apply to prisoners-of-war (and other LOAC detainees).
International humanitarian law, including its LOAC component, is universal and applies even if you disagree individually.
International law moves forward when those who obey it are rewarded and those who contravene it suffer disadvantage or punishment.
Criticising Guantanamo without offering an alternative consistent with the Geneva Conventions, or denying the conventions do or even should apply, is neither moral nor practical.
No serious international lawyer denies that the Geneva Conventions do and must apply to belligerents captured in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars as they do in all wars.
Expert opinion is divided whether the conventions also apply, and how they apply, to the wider UN-endorsed international campaign against Islamist terrorism. Not least because of doubt whether this is an international armed conflict (Al Qa’eda not being a nation state), doubt as to whether terrorists can be belligerents as well as criminals and, in the case of at least some improperly detained at Guantanamo, doubt about whether they were or still are belligerents or criminals at all.
Early on elements of the Bush administration wrongly claimed that captured “terrorists” were not covered by the Geneva Conventions at all. The ADA has always criticised this claim.
Beginning with the June 2006 Hamdan ruling, however, the US Supreme Court ruled that while terrorists do not qualify as conventional prisoners-of-war under the Third Geneva Convention, all belligerents captured in a war are protected by at least Common Article 3 of all four Geneva Conventions. No serious international lawyer disagrees and neither does the ADA.
A great irony is that many knee-jerk critics of Guantanamo now find themselves inconsistently, immorally and often hypocritically trumpeting the discredited Bush-Cheney line that the Geneva Conventions do not apply at all.
10 January 2009
Letter to Melbourne's The Age (in answer to an opinion article by Monash University academic Waleed Aly)
Waleed Aly (“Age”, Opinion, January 10) correctly notes that the closing of Guantanamo highlights its flawed conception but it has also highlighted a great irony, and greater danger, concerning future compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL).
Despite several US Supreme Court rulings that the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) and specifically the Geneva Conventions apply to those detained by the USA, many Guantanamo critics have ended up agreeing, often perhaps inadvertently, with those American neocons who initially claimed that LOAC somehow does not apply.
Too many also ignore that Guantanamo has always been an interim, and imperfect, solution to a vexed series of IHL problems that will not go away with its closure.
What to do with belligerents captured in a war who do not qualify to be prisoners-of-war under the Third Geneva Convention but who are covered by Common Article 3 of all four Conventions? How should they be detained, what protections do they have and what are the rights and responsibilities of the detaining power?
How do you lawfully fight a war against those resorting to terrorist methods that deliberately contravene IHL and who regard your adherence to such law as a vulnerability to be ruthlessly exploited rather than respected or reciprocated?
How can the international community encourage and enforce compliance with IHL (including LOAC) in such circumstances?
The terrorist alternative to treating prisoners in accordance with IHL is to torture, murder and mutilate those captured. This is surely much worse in intent, scale, degree and detrimental humanitarian ramifications than anything perpetrated, however wrongly, at Guantanamo.
IHL in general, and LOAC in particular, only move forward when those who comply with them (even at some military cost) are rewarded and those who disregard or reject them are punished.
The reverse is happening at present as international attention is not concentrating on the transgressors in proportion to the intent, extent or contempt of their transgression.