Letters-to-the-editor by the Australia Defence Association 01 January - 31 December 2015
Subjective attacks surely reinforce the integrity and balance of ASIO's official history series. Particularly where the subjectivity is clearly demonstrated by factual errors and conceptual misunderstandings about the principles, conventions and practices underlying official histories that could be easily rectified by adequate and objective research.
Slogans claiming the supposed "illegality" of every phase of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate a lack of even the most basic research and/or understanding of the applicable international law.
Defenders of the 99-year Darwin port lease continue to evade detailed criticisms actually being made. Fortunately, they will not easily be able to repeat this political and intellectual cowardice at the forthcoming Senate Inquiry.
International military efforts to assist Afghanistan and Iraq are legally uncontentious, except for one aspect of the latter. Blanket claims that all phases of such efforts were supposedly "illegal" is just sloganeering that ignores well-known facts and legal concepts in general, and continuing argument among international lawyers about that one aspect in particular.
Those trying to defend the 99-year lease of Darwin's port might try addressing the detailed criticisms actually being made. Scattergun allegations of supposed "xenophobia" surely show a desperate attempt to evade discussing the real strategic security issues involved with such a long lease.
NT political commentary and media coverage continues to largely evade the real issues concerning the Darwin port lease
Simplistically ascribing the subsequent rise of "Islamic State" to the international intervention in Iraq ignores the geo-political complexity of the region before, during and since 2003. Such claims also generally reflect an ideological and/or ahistoric belief rather than an informed viewpoint.
DHA must be preserved as a Government Business Enterprise. The Government needs to unequivocally confirm to all those still bent on asset-stripping DHA that such a move is clearly not in the national interest and will not be sanctioned.
How banning defence equipment advertising in Australia would prevent overseas wars remains unexplained by its proponents. As does how such advertisers are also somehow responsible for atrocities overseas by those not using their products. Or why it is somehow no longer morally legitimate for liberal democracies such as Australia to lawfully use such defence equipment in, say, UN-endorsed operations to end or ameliorate overseas atrocities.
The numerous ethical and legal distinctions governing use of military force are being ignored by opponents of defence equipment advertising. Whether deliberate polemic, or just caused by conceptual or factual misunderstandings, claims that such advertising in Australia results in "untold human suffering" are simplistic, invalid and unethical. Moreover, Australia still needs a defence force and we owe it to the men and women who serve us in it that they are adequately equipped.
Long experience shows that Australian warships need to be big enough to meet our real strategic, operational and environmental needs. Not be ships built down to a budget (usually based only in short-term political expediency) and not up to a capability realistically derived from Australia's long-term strategic circumstances. Pursuing a cheaper build option (about 15 per cent of lifecycle costs) also generally means greater overall expenditure due to the higher costs of through-life maintenance and the upgrades eventually needed. Nor should our warships ever again be "fitted-for-but-not-with" the weapons and other equipment required, thus incurring further costs and operational downtime when the ship needs to be fitted with them (often swiftly when a crisis hits). Finally, our warships should also not be kept unrealistically small to satisfy temporary policy fads, such as the odd desire for our warships to appear less "confronting" regionally. The bottom line in all respects is that bigger vessels generally mean greater survivability in combat and, over their several decades-long operational lives, reduced costs, greatly increased operational flexibility and much greater adaptability for modernisation and strategic change.
Australia maintains a defence force for national defence and to meet our collective-security responsibilities under the UN Charter. Both purposes are legally and morally legitimate and the ADF needs to be adequately equipped on both practical and moral grounds. Companies have a legitimate right to advertise their equipment where it is relevant to the effective and economic modernisation of our defence force. Pacifism is a legitmate belief, as is the just-war moral and legal tradition, but it is intellectually invalid and morally bankrupt to simplistically equate equipment needed for ADF modernisation with the misuse of weapons in the atrocities committed by some other countries and all terrorist groups.
Many Australians misunderstand how little we actually spend on our defence, especially compared to other spending. Many also misunderstand that the very long timescales over which capital investment in modernising our defence force occurs needs to be consistent and sustained, rather than funded spasmodically. Finally, many ignore that the strategic security of generations of future Australians means us paying our fair share of this investment now.
Treachery is no ordinary crime and should be deterred, countered and severely punished accordingly.
Citizenship equity, strategic utility, and economic and social philosophy issues must be part of any serious discussion about reintroducing compulsory national service.
Comparing expenditures on all the major governmental responsibilities remains the best way to measure their respective adequacies over time. Defence, however, is the only major national responsibility wholly funded federally. Accurate comparisons therefore rely on measuring both Commonwealth and State-Territory expenditures (and rates of increase) in the other major areas. Defence investment also generally requires the longest timescales. Sustaining the necessary investment over such long periods means continually having to face competing short-term budgetary trends driven by societal complacency or apathy at any one time, and politically expedient electoral desires most of the time.
Asylum-seeking remains a primarily strategic policy problem and can only be resolved in that context
The Refugee Convention is intended to encourage neighbouring countries to resolve refugee flows at source and permanently. Extra-regional permanent resettlement is also often not the panacea assumed by some. First, few countries provide it and even fewer in large numbers (such as the USA, Canada and Australia). Second, contrary to a key intention of the Refugee Convention, it removes strategic and moral pressure on neighbouring countries (to the source of the refugees) to get actively involved so persecution ends permanently and the refugees can return home swiftly, safely and with the best chance to rebuild their civil society. Third, the willingness by some signatories to permanently resettle refugees now often tends to discourage countries from even signing the Convention, temporarily hosting refugees (as the Convention principally intends) or respecting even customary international law regarding them. Finally, rescuing some refugees through extra-regional resettlement often now perpetuates greater misery and danger for most refugees over the long run. Not least because it takes pressure off the perpetrators of persecution, and off the complacency or apathy of the neighbouring countries usually best placed to end it.
Finally we are starting to pay our fair share of the long-term and sustained defence investment needed over coming decades. Perhaps now more Australians will understand the inter-generational inequity caused when defence investment is wrongly regarded by the current generation of citizens as somehow a discretionary choice rather than, as with investment in all essential national infrastructure, actually our generation's rightful contribution to the long term preparations needed for Australia's very long term strategic security.
Both ideological extremes are guilty of conceptually simplistic and generally ahistoric mythology about the Gallipoli campaign. Made worse because so many of those involved are unable to recognise that their opinions are extreme and/or uninformed historically. Such mistaken opinions about the past are harmful because they often result in Australians ignoring or making mistaken judgements about Australia's future strategic security risks.
Gallipoli 100th anniversary fervour is distracting us even more than usual from due attention to Australia's future strategic security risks. Australians need to think about our common defence and future strategic security on other days as well — and in the long-term and modern contexts reflecting the strategic security risks we actually face over the next half-century or more.
The international law enforcement campaign against Islamist terrorism is fought in complex politico-religous terrain intellectually. Scrupulously accurate and consistent terminology is necessary to win arguments in such emotive, ideological and theological contexts. Not least because of the importance of informed debate in properly targeting the extremist's centre-of-gravity, their ability to recruit terrorists, sympathisers and apologists.
Some ideologues are prone to polemics about Australia's modern wars and those we send to fight them. Dissent from such government decisions is legitimate, but only when based on facts and reasoned argument. Particular care is necessary where dissent is not objective or reasonable in the circumstances. This is especially the case if the security, safety and welfare of the fellow Australians we deploy to war on our national behalf is endangered, however unintentionally, by recklessly providing opportunities that can be exploited in enemy propaganda. In a society based on mutual citizenship obligations, and where key responsibilities are rightly enshrined in legislation, disregard for such risks is surely as unacceptable as the intentional acts of treachery directly prohibited by our laws.
Arguments about politics that inappropriately use analogies to supposed "blind obedience" in the ADF are more than just disappointing. Such examples again point to the profound and continually damaging dearth of real knowledge and understanding about our defence force, and national defence issues generally, across the community; even among those, such as journalists and academics, commonly expected to research such topics before commenting. Just as importantly, ill-researched commentary is not just a national security issue as such uninformed and invalid analogies also hinder effective debate on the wider public-policy issues in which they are misused.
Whether David Hicks is "innocent" or not, and of what, depends on much more than his much later US criminal conviction being eventually struck down technically, on filing date and retrospectivity grounds. His actual activities in Afghanistan in 2001 also involved the international law applying; particularly to his entirely lawful internment as a captured belligerent in a war. In terms of Australian law, this surely includes him escaping criminal prosecution here only through the 1945-2001 Burchett loophole in Australia's then treachery laws. A loophole rightly closed by reformed legislation in 2002 - as a direct result of the Hicks case - but which (rightly) could not be applied to him retrospectively.
ASIO has the difficult job of countering undemocratic and other extremism. Incorrect descriptions of ASIO's function, activities and staff - regardless of whether this stems from thoughtlessness, ignorance or bias - unnecessarily undermines public confidence and hinders the community co-operation needed to protect the constitutional and practical liberty of all Australians.
Many discussions of David Hicks continue to ignore the international law actually applying. And subsequent Australian law applying to someone who did now what he did in 2001. In particular, Hicks was controversially subject to criminal trial and conviction under US law, chiefly because Australia's pre-2002 treachery laws then had a loophole meaning he could not be tried here. But this criminal trial is an entirely separate legal issue to his prior lawful detention as a captured belligerent - under that part of international humanitarian law known as the Laws of Armed Conflict. At least until his criminal trial and sentence, Hicks was not detained "illegally" or "without trial" for a single minute as incorrect, polemical or emotive slogans often claim.
The public interest is rarely served by the appointment of Defence Ministers in the twilight of their ministerial or parliamentary careers. Serial short-term appointments, generally the result of prioritising temporary political expediency over the needs of long-term portfolio governance, have occurred far too frequently and unthinkingly. This causes recurring problems with effective ministerial supervision of what is necessarily a particularly complex and long-term focused portfolio responsible for an essentially supra-partisan national function.