Debating Australia's modern strategic security: Moving on from long-disproven and thoroughly disproven fads

Some opinion comment on the Chief of Army's recent academic address at the University of Canberra has completely missed the point, through either outdated thinking or straight out ideological or sectional bias.

Letter to The Australian Financial Review 

Thursday, 22 November 2012
(published Monday, 26 November 2012)

Your retired defence correspondent Geoffrey Barker (“Army Chief’s outcry tests boundaries”, November 22) again regurgitates long-disproven opinions from another era.

General Morrison’s closely argued academic address to the University of Canberra's National Security Institute was an entirely timely and legitimate professional opinion that carefully avoided the potential for misquotation and party-political controversy.

But not, it seems, careful enough to avoid sensationalisation by Geoff.

It was certainly not constitutionally or otherwise improper behaviour – as Geoff’s confusion about civil authority (the actual constitutional principle) and “civilian control” (an invalid notion) in the article clearly shows.

Moreover, such “Mr Blimp” spluttering about propriety meant the real point involved was missed.

Twelve years after the 1999 East Timor crisis proved the complete failure of the old Defence-of-Australia strategic fad, fading public memories have meant some of its ideological proponents are trying to peddle myths and fibs again.

But the Australian strategic security debate has moved on.

Anyone who has kept up with such debate over the last decade would surely agree that the modern basis of Australia’s defence policies and strategies are not dependent on ideology, ill-defined or undefinable “threats” (we now manage general strategic risks instead), or false linear choices between the isolationist (homeland defence or “DOA”) and internationalist (collective defence or “expeditionary”) schools.

Nor indeed on ancient views that ignore geography, technological and economic change, the need for strategic mobility in our region, or that our modern defence force is finally constituted and operates jointly in deterring and fighting Australia’s current and potential wars.

Within the obvious limits of civil-control-of-the-military by ministers on behalf of parliament, it is not intellectually, professionally or constitutionally improper for the Army’s professional head to refute outmoded thinking that risks our future national security and prosperity.


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