The government is moving to give Australia’s overseas spies extra
powers to protect themselves and their operations by the use of force.
Legislation to be introduced on Thursday will allow a staff member or
agent of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) to be able
to use “reasonable force” in the course of their work.
It also will enable the Foreign Minister to specify extra people, such
as a hostage, who may be protected by an ASIS staffer or agent.
It is understood the changes have been discussed with the opposition
and are likely to receive its support.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne says in a statement that ASIS officers
often work in dangerous areas including under warlike conditions. “As
the world becomes more complex, the overseas operating environment for
ASIS also becomes more complex”, she says.
The provisions covering the use of force by ASIS have not undergone
significant change since 2004.
“Currently, ASIS officers are only able to use weapons for
self-protection, or the protection of other staff members or agents
cooperating with ASIS.
“The changes will mean officers are able to protect a broader range of
people and use reasonable force if someone poses a risk to an operation”, Payne says.
“Like the existing ability to use weapons for self-defence, these
amendments will be an exception to the standing prohibitions against
the use of violence or use of weapons by ASIS.”
There are presently legal grey areas in relation to using force,
especially the use of reasonable and limited force to restrain, detain
or move a person who might pose a risk to an operation or to an ASIS
Under the amendment the use of force would only apply where there was
a significant risk to the safety of a person, or a threat
to security or a risk to the operational security of ASIS.
Any use of force would have to be proportionate.
The government instances as an example the keeping safe of an
uncooperative person from a source of immediate danger during an ASIS
operation, including by removing them from the danger.
Naval defence procurement is very big business. Nine Hunter-class frigates will cost Australian taxpayers A$35 billion; the 12 submarines to replace the existing Collins-class subs at least A$50 billion.
Although both the frigates and submarines will be built by foreign companies – the frigates by Britain’s BAE, the subs by France’s Naval Group – part of the deal is that they build locally.
The federal government isn’t shy about spruiking the local economic benefits.
“We make no apologies for deciding to invest in Australian-built ships, creating Australian jobs and using Australian steel,” said Christopher Pyne, the then defence industry minster and now the defence minister, in May.
There are critics. The Australian National Audit Office, for instance, has flagged the risks of cost blowouts in a local build. These risks will need to be proactively managed.
But the local shipbuilding program does present a tremendous economic opportunity. It provides a platform to invigorate advanced manufacturing and ride the wave of the next industrial revolution.
We need to focus on how to maximise the benefits by leveraging the program to create competitive new industries and jobs.
Mapping the manufacturing ecosystem
Transitioning the Australian economy towards advanced manufacturing is not easy. It is tempting to simply import cheaper products. A good example can found in the renewable energy sector. With a few exceptions, the majority of solar panels and wind farm components are imported. This is a missed opportunity.
We can avoid making the same mistake in shipbuilding. Our research shows that building ships locally has huge flow-on effects, and can help underpin other advanced manufacturing.
To facilitate this process, we have developed a map of the advanced manufacturing ecosystem in Australia. The aim is to help boost the visibility of Australian organisations capable of supplying components or services to these projects.
This will assist in initiating partnerships. Several Australian businesses and universities have already begun to secure relationships with the international shipbuilders. More are in the pipeline.
Building ships presents many opportunities for Australian organisations.
In Australia, X-ray and imaging products are examples of complex products we have been able to competitively export. This technology is obviously relevant to medical imaging devices. It can also be applied to surveillance systems for the defence sector.
Conversely local manufacturers that develop capabilities in defence shipbuilding can leverage their expertise to supply to non-defence-related supply chains and for export.
In these sectors, making complex products is vital for competitiveness.
Anchoring industry 4.0
It is wrong to think advanced manufacturing is not viable in Australia. Britain and Germany are two economies with high labour costs, yet both have been able to sustain manufacturing sectors.
The success of advanced manufacturers in Europe is based on an approach called industry 4.0. The “4” refers to the advent of the fourth industrial revolution since the 18th century – integrating information and communication technology in industrial production.
Automation means that shipbuilding will not provide the sorts of jobs it did in the past. In Germany’s automotive industry, for example, human labour that cost 40 euros an hour has been replaced by robots that cost 5-8 euros an hour to operate – even cheaper than a Chinese worker. But other other jobs have been created, particularly in computing and engineering. There are now 100,000 more jobs in Germany’s auto industry than in 2010.
Another feature of industry 4.0 is digitisation of the supply chain. Information about parts can be captured and used in new ways. When a component needs be serviced or replaced can now be predicted with high accuracy. This is important in any large ship, built to be operational for decades and using vast numbers of components from thousands of suppliers. It’s even more important in a naval ships, where a breakdown could be catastrophic.
Digital transformation will make our factories more competitive. Additionally, economic gains will come from defence procurement that encourages the local development of complex and competitive products. If done well, defence investment will make as powerful a contribution to the nation’s economic prosperity as its military security.
There is no evidence that China has ever contemplated using its nuclear weapons to coerce another state. Instead, China has maintained a “no first use policy” on nuclear weapons. Surprising as it may sound to many, China wants to build an image of itself as a responsible power.
This is the reality that Australian defence planners have lived with for some 50 years. Australian defence force planning has long accepted the premise that our self-reliance needs to be viewed within an alliance context. As recently as 2009, the government plainly conceded that the Australian Defence Force was not expected to deal with a situation:
…where we were under threat from a major power whose military capabilities were simply beyond our capacity to resist.
In such a situation, we don’t expect to be alone.
This point is important to bear in mind when we consider recent discussions of a “Plan B” to strengthen Australia’s defence posture.
Commentators have suggested recently that Australia’s strategic risk is increasing and the A$195 billion defence spending plan announced in the 2016 Defence White Paper is now insufficient.
Australian taxpayers would certainly be interested to know why a plan that doubles our submarine fleet, significantly expands our navy and adds 100 of the most advanced and expensive combat aircraft ever invented would now be seen as insufficient.
The answer lies in the shifting strategic landscape in the Asia-Pacific region, which has led to greater concerns about China’s long-term intentions and rising tensions between China and the US. So what exactly has changed?
China’s recent activities in the region
Since the last Defence White Paper in 2016, Australian defence observers have been alarmed by four things:
the election of Donald Trump as US president and the uncertainty this has brought to the region due to his disparaging of traditional alliances and disdain for multilateral institutions
These events have occurred against a backdrop of China’s rapidly expanding global footprint. This includes the establishment of its first overseas military base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, and its growing access to regional ports such as the controversial Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, which the Sri Lankan government ceded to Beijing on a 99-year lease.
These regional shifts have also come amid growing illiberalism in China, evidence of increasing Chinese intelligence and influence operations in Australia (especially the Dastyari affair) and bullying behaviour from Chinese officials in their meetings with Australian politicians.
In addition, Trump appears to mark a significant break with the strategic priorities of previous US administrations. He’s threatened to walk away from America’s support for the traditional allies and global trade institutions that have characterised US foreign policy since the Second World War. This has put unprecedented distance between the United States and Australia, which as a middle power needs healthy global institutions.
But on China, it’s different. The Trump administration and importantly, the US security apparatus, share Australia’s darkening view of China to the point we may now be seeing a new Cold War developing in the region.
Case in point: the recent announcement of US participation in the development of a joint naval base with Australia on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. This is clear evidence of the US’s new willingness to compete with China and a signal the US wants to dispel the uncertainty left in the region in the wake of Obama’s problematic “pivot” to Asia.
Assessing the risks for Australia
In assessing whether Australia needs a steep increase in its defence spending, there are two questions we must ask: Firstly, what regional developments could the 2016 Defence White Paper not have anticipated? And of these, which equate to risks that increased defence spending can obviate?
Our defence planners have been well aware since at least 2009 of China’s gradually modernising defence forces and steadily growing navy. China’s moves toward a blue-water fleet, including new carriers and cruisers, were also well understood in 2016.
While the artificial islands in the South China Sea were still being built, their eventual militarisation was also anticipated by Australian defence leaders, despite China’s protestations to the contrary.
But even knowing all of this, Australia’s defence planners essentially decided in the 2016 White Paper to continue with the “Force 2030” force structure they envisaged in 2009. There have been some additions like shore-based anti-ship missiles, but our plan has largely been focused on enablers – that is, the capability to make the force operate with greater certainty, precision and coordination. Importantly, this White Paper did not envisage Australia fighting China on its own.
Of the strategic developments involving China since 2016 – from the revelations of its influence operations to its new-found interest in the Pacific – the question defence planners should now be asking is whether any undermine the fundamental judgements of the 2016 White Paper. Do they point to a need to radically change Australia’s defence posture?
Combating China’s illicit influence in Australia is being dealt with through our stronger foreign influence laws. Offsetting China’s influence in the Pacific will be best undertaken through Australia’s aid and diplomatic programs.
This leaves the big question of the role of the US in the Asia-Pacific region – the most critical of defence planning factors. Will Australia be left on its own in the foreseeable future?
And here we must observe that despite Trump’s anti-alliance rhetoric, the American force posture in the Western Pacific actually remains unchanged. There have been no base closures and no force draw-downs as of yet from the bases encircling China in Guam, Japan and South Korea, though Trump has threatened this.
Moreover, the hardening US view against China means a likely strengthening of its Asia-Pacific posture under the new National Security Statement, the cardinal US security policy document.
In fact, the US is now expanding its presence in the region with the announcement of the new joint naval base on Manus Island. The US also recently put its nuclear deterrence guarantee to Australia in writing for the first time in history. And the American Marine build-up in Darwin continues.
Although China’s military advances are making the task of possibly defeating its navy more challenging, the fact remains that it will be a long time before it’s able to start a war with the US confident of victory. The US also seems unwilling to leave China to dominate Asia.
In these circumstances, would China use its forces against other countries in the region, like Australia, without the US getting involved? In my view it could not.
Therefore, while every responsible government should continue to assess defence planning and ensure appropriate levels of readiness, the case for a sharply increased defence spending plan is not at this point compelling.
Last year, Professor Roger Bradbury and I questioned whether or not there was an unacceptable risk of the world “sleepwalking” into war.
We cited as reasons to be concerned a lack of strong and principled leadership, the problem of a rising power contesting other major powers for influence, the rise of nationalism, and the ineffectiveness of the UN Security Council in managing conflict situations. And we said:
the peaceful domain in the landscape shrinks rapidly as risk aversion decreases, such that, at low risk aversion, even low levels of hawkishness can drive countries to war
So, in the aftermath of US Vice President Mike Pence’s recent and provocative speech to the Hudson Institute in which the US laid down the gauntlet to China over many issues, it seems timely to look at Australia’s naval shipbuilding enterprise and our readiness for the future if conflict does someday break out in our region.
But, in a comparative sense, we seem slow-moving and complacent in our decision-making and lack the agility to keep up with the times.
Why do I make this point?
In May 2017, the Coalition government released its Naval Shipbuilding Plan. The government announced it was embarking on a large shipbuilding enterprise to equip the nation to meet future challenges. Its vision is:
to deliver and sustain modern, capable naval vessels, on time and on budget, maximising Australian industry involvement and contributing to a secure and prosperous future for our nation.
In summary, the plan included:
A rolling acquisition program to produce a new submarine fleet at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in South Australia. Construction of 12 future submarines will commence around 2022-23. The last submarine to enter service will be delivered in the early 2050s. This plan means the present Collins class submarines will have to remain in service until the late 2030s. There would also be no capability gap (with at least two serviceable submarines available for operations at all times).
The construction of nine future frigates would commence in 2020, also at the Osborne Naval Shipyard. The last of these frigates will be delivered in 2039. These ships would allow us to create surface task groups comprising one air warfare destroyer and three frigates able to be deployed quickly, with a second surface task group able to be deployed at no more than 90 days notice for up to six months. These measures could enable us to operate in two separate geographic areas at the same time.
A continuous build program for minor naval vessels that was to begin with the Pacific patrol boat replacement project in 2017 at the Henderson Maritime Precinct in Western Australia and the construction of 12 offshore patrol vessels. Construction of the first two offshore patrol vessels will begin in 2018. The remainder will be built at the start of the future frigate project, with the final vessel delivered in 2030.
The key to successful delivery and sustainment of our “enhanced” naval capabilities will be a coherent national approach formed through strategic partnerships with the defence industry, state and territory governments, foreign allies and other suitable partners, commercial enterprises, academics, and science and technology research organisations.
Adequate force for a changing region?
Earlier this month, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute released a report about submarines detailing many of the problems yet to be solved in maintaining our current naval capability and simultaneously constructing a future fleet of 12 submarines.
The plan certainly looks challenging enough, but is it even adequate to meet our needs now – and in the future?
I note, for example, that the new naval surface fleet will deliver about the same level of capability that Australia has had since I joined the Navy in 1961 – one surface task group of four ships. But in 1961, we also had the possibility of adding to the mix the power of a small aircraft carrier.
To assess the adequacy of our current plans, we need to look ahead to what our region will look like in 2050.
In a snapshot: there will be an estimated 5.3 billion people in the Asia-Pacific region. Indonesia will have about 321 million people and a defence budget equal to ours. Australia’s population is expected to reach 33 million, just 0.6% of the total regional population.
And, we have little idea where China will be positioned by that time!
Given these circumstances, will we have the assets to meet our needs if conflict does arise, or if there is a period of escalating tensions?
The size of our force structure has been limited since 1945. But, if war were to break out, the numbers we have been thinking about in our current naval programs will be at the low end of our needs.
From this strategic perspective, there are a range of questions:
Will these plans deliver sufficient capability in time to meet significant strategic challenges?
Will our shipbuilding enterprise be able to ramp up quickly to deliver more vessels if there is a sudden deterioration in our strategic circumstances?
To what extent will we be able to build more vessels that are dependent on systems supplied from other countries?
How dependent will these new capabilities be on the provision of spare parts and sophisticated weapons from overseas suppliers?
By what measures should we assess that our capability plans are adequate to meet Australia’s needs at any time?
And to what extent can the success of our international relationships ameliorate the need to go it alone?
I do not have answers to these questions. I raise them because I think we need to bear them in mind in today’s fast-moving strategic environment.
It’s also important to recognise that our plans require all levels of government, and many foreign governments, to pull together in a clearly defined way.
In addition, our ability to play in the big game in our region and retain a military advantage if conflict does break out depends a lot on the capabilities of our opposing forces. And even here, an analysis of the current situation is not re-assuring.
China’s new Navy
In May, the ANU Strategic and Defence Study Centre published a paper by Sam Roggeveen about China’s new Navy. It’s a reminder of the complexities of the issues that Australia will have to confront over the next three decades and is intended to be a guide for policymakers.
According to Andrew Erickson of the US Naval Institute, the Chinese PLA Navy is:
poised to become the world’s second largest navy by 2020, and – if current trends continue – a combat fleet that in overall order of battle is quantitatively and even perhaps qualitatively on a par with that of the US Navy by 2030.
The US naval predominance will continue to erode in north Asia and give way to a multi-polar balance. And in Southeast Asia, China will become predominant.
In addition, China may already be building a “post-American navy” – one designed not to confront US naval predominance in the Pacific, but to inherit it as the US balks at the increasing cost of continued regional leadership.
The final point of China’s naval ambitions is worth emphasising:
China wants a powerful surface fleet to signal to the region and the
world its great-power ambitions, thereby eroding incentives to resist China’s agenda.
What can Australia do better?
For policy recommendations, Roggeveen proposes that:
Australia must plan for a future in which its major ally is not the uncontested maritime leader in our region, and in which America’s will to maintain a preeminent place in the region will be severely tested.
Australia should follow China’s example by focusing its maritime force structure on anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities. The plan to double the size of Australia’s submarine fleet is welcome, but given the leaps in Chinese capability, there are major questions around the pace of this program.
Australia cannot pursue an A2/AD strategy without Indonesia’s consent, and preferably its cooperation. Our defence diplomacy should be concentrated on Jakarta.
For the past two years, Paul Brereton, a New South Wales Supreme Court judge and Army Reserve major general, has been conducting an investigation into the conduct of members of the SAS in Afghanistan. While the findings are not yet known, leaks from within the Australian Defence Force (ADF) have suggested that as many as five cases involving unlawful killings have been uncovered.
Much of the media commentary surrounding the allegations has centred on the potential criminal prosecution of these alleged offences. But a further legal issue can arise from investigations of this kind – the alleged victims (or their families) might bring civil claims against Australia’s armed forces, seeking compensation for their suffering.
Cases of this kind have occurred in other countries. In the United States, a number of high-profile habeas corpus petitions have been filed against the government by people who claim they were unlawfully detained by US armed forces on suspicion of being insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Claims for damages have also been successfully brought by former Iraqi detainees against private military contractors over their alleged torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
British courts are also currently considering a numberofcivil suits arising out of British involvement in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One of those claimants, Yunus Rahmatullah, was arrested by British forces in Iraq in 2004 on suspicion of being a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist organisation with links to al-Qaeda. He was “rendered” by British forces to the custody of the US army in Afghanistan, where he was detained for over ten years without charge or trial and, he alleges, tortured.
Rahmatullah denies ever being a member of a terrorist organisation. He has made a well-publicised claim for compensation from the UK government, under the country’s Human Rights Act.
Why are civil claims against soldiers controversial?
We are all exposed to potential civil liability in our day-to-day lives. If we drive negligently and cause an accident, for instance, we may find ourselves liable to pay compensation to those we have harmed. The same is true of public institutions and authorities, such as hospitals and the police. Few would suggest this is unfair or unreasonable.
However, the extension of civil liability to the armed forces is controversial. Former Army officer Bill O’Chee, for instance, recently argued forcefully against such liability:
Service personnel who commit crimes are already subject to military criminal proceedings, and this is rightly so. However, exposing them to claims for personal injury claims would be perverse and entirely unjust.
The very idea that highly paid lawyers in comfortable courts in Australia can understand, let alone litigate these cases, is fanciful at best.
How absurd it would be for our servicemen and women to be subjected to damages claims in these circumstances, let alone be asked to find the money for legal costs and a possible damages order against them.
Should these civil claims be permitted?
Such civil liability claims have never been brought against individual ADF personnel in Australia before. This would be new legal territory. And nobody is seriously suggesting these soldiers should personally bear the burden of defending civil claims arising from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Rather, any potential claims are likely to be defended by the Commonwealth.
This is the way civil claims against police officers in Australia are typically resolved. In such cases, individual officers will often be required to give evidence as to their version of events. Yet the costs of defending the case, and the compensation (if any) paid to the plaintiff, are borne not by the individual officers, but by the relevant public authority.
Despite the controversy surrounding them, there are still good reasons to allow civil claims of this kind to proceed.
First, criminal and civil claims serve different purposes. A successful criminal prosecution may leave a victim with a feeling of vindication, but it typically does not result in monetary compensation. As a result, it may matter little to victims or their families if the soldiers responsible are professionally disciplined, since they may receive no compensation for their loss.
Secondly, the notion that civilian courts are not competent to adjudicate on military matters is seriously problematic.
Nobody could deny that military personnel are forced to carry out their duties in extremely difficult conditions. It is also true that many lawyers and judges have difficulty appreciating the fraught circumstances in which military decision-making occurs.
But the answer to these difficulties is not the abandonment of such claims altogether. Judges are often faced with the task of making difficult decisions about matters on which they are not experts. Civil justice would simply not work if courts threw up their hands whenever they were faced with such challenges.
Greater accountability for the military
Finally, if the Commonwealth were somehow able to avoid liability for potential civil damages in these types of cases, the ADF may have less incentive to conduct military operations in ways that safeguard the rights of civilians caught in conflict zones.
Given the limited accountability for military decision-making in the public sphere, the possibility of accountability in a civil court would promote stricter adherence to international conventions on war.
Many of the victims who may bring claims of this kind are unlikely to excite public sympathy. For example, one of the claimants in the UK cases, Serdar Mohammed, was arrested while leaving a ten-hour firefight with British troops, discarding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and ammunition on his way.
But we shouldn’t allow our moral judgement of claimants like Mohammed to erode our commitment to the rule of law. Public authorities, and especially our armed forces, should be held accountable for their actions to the limits imposed by law.
Australia’s military forces will be given power to play a bigger part in dealing with terrorist incidents, under legislation to be introduced into parliament on Thursday.
The bill makes it easier for states and territories to seek help from the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to respond to terrorist and other violent occurrences, especially those that stretch the capabilities of state forces. The move was announced by the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in July last year.
The ADF’s powers to search, seize and control movement at the scene of an incident will be simplified, expanded and made clearer. It will also have greater ability to respond to incidents that span more than one jurisdiction.
It will be able to be “pre-authorised” to protect Commonwealth interests and the state and territories from land and maritime threats, in addition to aviation threats. At present the contingent call out is limited to aviation threats.
The changes also add the minister for home affairs to the existing list of those ministers who can have a role in authorising a call out of the ADF in certain circumstances.
The prime minister, attorney-general and defence minister have key roles as authorising ministers. But where the prime minister and one of the attorney-general or defence minister is not available, the remaining minister can authorise a call out jointly with the deputy prime minister, foreign minister, treasurer, or home affairs minister.
The enhanced remit for the defence forces has come out of the Defence Counter-Terrorism Review.
While the government emphasises that the police remain “the best first response to terrorists and other incidents”, Attorney-General Christian Porter said “amendments to the ADF call-out powers are the most significant changes since the provisions were enacted in 2000” before the Sydney Olympics. The “terror threat we face today is greater and more complex than that we faced when these laws were introduced almost 20 years ago”, he said.
Defence minister Marise Payne said Defence had already strengthened the practical support it provided to police, including a broadened program of specialist training and better access to Defence facilities such a rifle ranges.
The latest anti-terrorism legislation comes as, on a different national security front, the Senate is set on Thursday to pass the government’s measures to combat foreign interference, including setting up a register of agents of “foreign principals”.
The measures have bipartisan support after the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security agreed on a range of amendments that have narrowed provisions and inserted protections for bodies such as charities.
Whether the register will capture Chinese non-state companies remains unclear.
Asked about the potential application of the register to Huawei, the chairman of Huawei Australia, John Lord, appearing at the National Press Club on Wednesday, said he didn’t see why he should register “because Huawei’s privately owned, does not have government links other than it’s Chinese. And, therefore, I don’t see why I should.
“However, if at the end of the day the act says something to that effect and the legal advice to Huawei is that we should register, we, Huawei, will have no problems with that and I, John Lord, will have no difficulty whatsoever. If that’s what the government wants, we will do it.”
Lord argued Huawei’s case to be allowed to build the 5G network, amid strong speculation that will be banned from doing so on national security grounds.
He said the 5G decision was not just a tough political one but “this is a long term technology decision that could impact our growth and productivity for generations to come”.
“The suggestions that Huawei, the largest provider of 4G technology in Australia today, should be banned from building 5G networks here should be a concern for everyone and every business in Australia.
“The implications about limiting access to technology competition will be devastatingly high – and is a short term small mind choice rather than seeking to incorporate all technologies in a solution that also secures our critical structures”.
Intelligence doesn’t have to be, and rarely is, James Bond-esque. Indeed, 007 is the world’s worst spy: everyone knows who he is, meaning he is compromised, exposed and susceptible to blackmail before he even arrives to save the day.
But the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, and the all-encompassing “war on terror” that followed, did have a major transformative impact on the handling of secrecy and surveillance activities in government programs.
One impact has been the growth of executive authority in national security. This has exacerbated demonstrable tensions between civil liberties, trust and secrecy. As noted by former ASIO chief David Irvine, the public will always have some degree of suspicion regarding the secret function of intelligence agencies.
There is much to be gained by having an electorate better educated in the work of the Australian Intelligence Community (AIC). An informed public is better placed to question or accept the need for Australia’s intelligence agencies. This extends to the merits of expanding budgets, powers, oversight and responsibilities.
A war of choice
In the botched hunt for Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) stockpiles in 2003, the “slam dunk” assessments used to build a preemptive war rationale corroded public confidence in political leadership and the intelligence industry.
It is now widely accepted that Iraq has been a strategic disaster. Yet many core public debate points remain conflicted and uncertain. To what extent should an intelligence “failure” be traced back to failings in domestic leadership, a selective approach to intelligence estimates and a culture of political spin that seeks external scapegoats?
His imagery of a corrupt, rogue and monolithic intelligence bogeyman out to topple him is downright bogus. But its rhetorical simplicity plays into the public’s pre-existing fears about a shadowy political world.
At the same time, push-back against Trump’s political tactics and self-serving showmanship doesn’t mean the intelligence community should be immune from criticism and accountability.
The CIA, for instance, has a lengthy history of pushing or breaking moral and legal boundaries in locations such as Latin America. Ditto the Iran-Contra affair.
US intelligence has also been accused of monitoring human rights workers and harassing civil society groups and social dissenters engaged in legitimate political activities.
Likewise, in Australia in 1977, the Hope Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security unearthed deep-seated problems with principles of propriety, including legality, within ASIO.
The end result of inquiries into the actions of the intelligence community often raises more questions than answers, which feeds public mistrust and anxiety about intelligence and the function of government.
As we have matured, successive Australian governments have extended and deepened the responsibilities of the intelligence community. It is imperative that future boundaries set for our intelligence agencies are not crossed. For example, we should ensure that the AIC collects information as needed, not just because it can.
Unnecessary snooping is just one area that speaks to the broader importance of oversight, accountability, and an educated and understanding electorate.
Sunlight as disinfectant
The overall mandate of the AIC is to provide the government with “information” to better enable it to understand the issues confronting it. This, in turn, is meant to facilitate coherent policymaking.
However, good intelligence will not automatically guarantee good policy. Intelligence, after all, is an imperfect science and just one of the tools available to policymakers.
The task of intelligence agencies is not an easy one. Indeed, large budgets, hardworking staff and all the expertise in the world cannot ensure that a threat, or opportunity, will be recognised or acted upon in a timely fashion. Connecting the dots will rarely result in an end-product of absolute certainty.
At the same time, the demands of policymakers should not distort or corrupt intelligence – intelligence must inform policy (not visa versa). Intelligence agencies must “speak truth to power”. Integrity and candour, rather than ideological or personal loyalty, remain core prerequisites in dealing with political leaders.
Yet, the appearance of accountability does not necessarily de-politicise national security. Nor does it prevent overt political pressure, or the manipulation of intelligence operations to justify preordained political conclusions.
Checks and balances on government error and excess should remain a vital trademark of a healthy democracy. In this sense, a number of the proposed reforms should be applauded. This includes boosting the role and resources of both the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, as well as Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.
These changes also attempt to resolve questions about whether the boundaries and operational principles between agencies can be more clearly drawn. There are hopes the establishment of a new Office of National Intelligence (in place of the Office of National Assessments) will assist in greater co-ordination and complementary cross-agency efforts.
Of course, much of the devil remains in the detail. And a number of oversight gaps remain, including how to best protect whistle-blowers who expose unethical or illegal behaviour. We are also yet to see the implementation, execution and performance outcomes stemming from this major reform exercise. Further, the simultaneous announcement of new Home Affairs arrangements will demand equal critical scrutiny.
It’s been mooted that intelligence successes are often overlooked, while intelligence failures are widely broadcast. Popular misconceptions, polarisation and arguably excessive secrecy arrangements mean that the AIC will continue to operate in, and need to be responsive to, a backdrop of public misgivings, political point-scoring and conspiracy theories.
On Anzac Day, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull commemorated the centenary of the battle at Villers-Brettoneux, where Australian soldiers defended against the German spring offensive of 1918. The opening of the Sir John Monash Centre honoured the celebrated commander of the Australian Corps in France at the tail end of the first world war.
So you would be forgiven if it appeared the Australian Defence Force was still orientated towards all things European. Indeed, in recent times, Australian forces have fought alongside many of those with whom we will commemorate the events at the Monash centre. France, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, among others, have been close partners in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq for the past two decades.
But the geostrategic context Australia faces in 2018 has changed markedly since 1918, let alone 2001, when Australian forces were committed into action in Afghanistan in the so-called global war on terror.
Australia increasingly is having to engage closely not just with close and trusted partners but with its own neighbours.
A new defence chief, major challenges
The current Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell was announced last week as the next Chief of Defence Force. Campbell has vast experience in military operations, including as a commander with the United Nations in East Timor and commander of Australian forces on operations in the Middle East.
His time as the senior officer running Operation Sovereign Borders earned him some controversy for efficiently and effectively implementing the government’s “stop the boats” policy.
But the experience helped reinforce to him the significance of Australia’s relations with its immediate neighbours, most notably Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Campbell understands that operations far away tend to be ones of choice, while those closer to shore potentially present greater challenges for the nation.
The challenges ahead
Later this year, the ADF will assist with the APEC Forum in Port Moresby. Elements of the army, navy and air force will be assigned to provide critical security and other support for the smooth running of the forum, and to counter any potential crisis.
Beyond that, the Bougainville referendum is expected to be held in 2019. This was a date set 20 years ago, picked as a means to defuse tensions and postpone the inevitable question of autonomy or independence for the people of Bougainville. It is a particularly sensitive issue for Papua New Guinea, and managing bilateral relations over this could prove problematic.
In the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia, concerns about regional terrorist initiatives and a possible repeat of the circumstances that led to the battle of Marawi have prompted the ADF to look to engage more closely with counterparts in the armed forces of Australia’s neighbours.
Defence Cooperation Program activities are on the increase. These include partner exercises, training programs, ship visits, exchanges and various educational and training forums.
Across the Pacific, the prospect of human-generated or other environmental crises or disasters will continue to demand close attention from the ADF and Australian aid agencies.
Beyond such environmental challenges, the prospect of increased power contestation is focusing the minds of security policymakers on the importance of bolstering ties in places like Vanuatu, Tonga and Fiji. Partly in response, the Pacific patrol boat program is being revamped. Australia is supplying a fleet of new patrol boats with associated training, logistics and other related support included.
The “Pacific Quad” also is emerging as a significant and growing force. This grouping includes French forces in New Caledonia, working on occasion alongside US, New Zealand and Australian forces, in anticipation of growing environmental and other security challenges where cooperation will be vital.
Another “Quad”, involving Australia, the United States, Japan and India, will likely attract attention as well. It may emerge as a significant body in shaping how to respond to the dramatic, rapid and unprecedented build-up of Chinese military force projection capabilities. This build-up includes modernised and expanded navies, air forces and human-constructed islands.
The spectrum of non-traditional and conventional security concerns in and around the Indo-Pacific suggests Campbell’s focus will be on managing relations with counterparts in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. At the same time, Australia’s legacy of involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan means that an enduring but carefully calibrated military footprint can be expected in both those countries.
Meanwhile, key challenges will revolve around managing security concerns in Papua New Guinea, terrorism-related concerns in Southeast Asia, a potential unravelling on the Korean Peninsula and contestation in the East and South China Seas. There will also be the seasonal, expected, but still devastating natural disasters in the Pacific.
With so much of concern nearby, a substantial military commitment alongside allies in Syria is unlikely. A peacekeeping force contribution is possible, though, if a political solution is ever reached.
Ties with the United States can be expected to remain wide, deep, intimate, strong and enduring. Indeed, while not willing to say so publicly, most of Australia’s neighbours remain uneasy about China’s military assertiveness and look to Australia to remain closely engaged with the United States.
Despite the tweets emanating from the White House, insiders in Canberra see a significant and enduring overlap of interests and concerns with Washington. That is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, and Angus Campbell knows this well.
The new Australian Defence Force Chief will be Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell, Chief of Army since 2015, who became the operational public face of the Coalition government’s Operation Sovereign Borders.
Campbell replaces the present chief, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, 58, who will retire from the ADF in July.
With his promotion, Campbell has jumped over the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, who was involved in controversy over his relationship with a junior officer, whom he later married. Two reviews cleared Griggs of any impropriety. He is now leaving the military.
While the vice chief is frequently promoted to chief, as were Binskin and David Hurley before him, it is not an invariable practice. Neither Angus Houston nor Peter Cosgrove had been vice chief before taking the top role.
Campbell joined the army in 1981, graduating from Duntroon in 1984. Later he served in the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS).
In 2005, he joined the Prime Minister’s Department, rising to become Deputy Secretary and Deputy National Security Adviser. In 2011, he took command of Australian forces deployed in the Middle East area of operations.
He has a Bachelor of Science (honours) from the University of New South Wales and a Master of Philosophy in international relations from Cambridge University.
In his role in Operation Sovereign Borders, Campbell was known for his tight lips in face of questions, often ruling them out as “on water” matters.
Announcing the ADF changes, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Campbell brought leadership and experience to his new position. Defence Minister Marise Payne said he had shown leadership across many roles – “from operational periods of the highest tempo to what some might call a character-building period in Prime Minister and Cabinet some years ago”.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also praised the Campbell appointment, saying it was well-deserved and the Labor Party “wholeheartedly support it”.
The new Vice Chief of the ADF will be Vice Admiral David Johnston, currently Chief of Joint Operations, where his role has been “to plan, control and conduct military campaigns, operations, joint exercises and other activities” to meet Australia’s national objectives.
John Blaxland, Professor of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU, praised the appointments, tweeting that these were “a good call”. Both were “well-seasoned, intelligent and highly regarded officers”, he said.
He said Campbell understood the importance of closer engagement with our Southeast Asian and South Pacific neighbours.
Houston said Campbell was “an outstanding appointment”. He was very happy the government had appointed such a “strong and well-credentialed team”.
The new Chief of Army will be Major General Rick Burr.
Rear Admiral Mike Noonan becomes Chief of Navy, replacing Tim Barrett the present Navy Chief, who will also retire in July after a 42 year career.
Air Vice Marshal Mel Hupfeld will become Chief of Joint Operations – he is currently the head of Force Design.
Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Leo Davies, continues in his present position.
Rumour has it that Vanuatu has agreed to a Chinese request to establish a military base. The substance of this rumour is highly speculative at the least and disingenuous at most. Regardless of the truth, the fact that it raises alarm about the threat of Chinese military expansionism speaks volumes about Australian foreign policy, particularly toward the Pacific.
On Monday, Fairfax Media reported that “China had approached Vanuatu” about setting up a “permanent military presence” – in other words, a base.
The article went on to speculate about the dramatic strategic importance of the “globally significant move that could see the rising superpower sail warships on Australia’s doorstep”. Furthermore, this Chinese base “would … upend the long standing strategic balance in the region” and would likely be followed by bases elsewhere.
Multiple international mediaoutlets have syndicated the story. Much of the coverage alluded to military threats and a shift in the strategic balance. The language is reminiscent of Cold War bipolarity: “their” gain is “our” loss.
On face value, this sounds like a serious geostrategic issue for Australia. But on close examination, the threat is more apparent than real. An indication of which is that nowhere are Chinese or Vanuatuan interests in provoking this form of strategic competition explained.
From the beginning, every assertion was countered by one of the primary players. Multiple representatives of the Vanuatu government have been at pains to deny the story. For instance, Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu was quoted as saying:
No-one in the Vanuatu Government has ever talked about a Chinese military base in Vanuatu of any sort.
As the story spiralled out of control, he then told SBS News it was “fake news” concocted by a Fairfax Media journalist.
Multiple Chinese government sources have denied the story and also described it as “fake news”. China also has assured the Australian government that the story has no validity.
In the original article, it was noted that talks between China and Vanuatu were only “preliminary discussions” and that “no formal proposals had been put to Vanuatu’s government.” So given these caveats, and the comprehensive denials, this raises some serious questions about why this rumour was newsworthy in the first place.
So where did it come from? Presumably Fairfax Media would only have acted if the information was from a highly placed Australian government source that could be verified. Presumably this unnamed source has leaked sensitive intelligence, but it is curious that no Australian Federal Police investigation has been announced.
This has been the past practice from the Turnbull government in relation to national security leaks, and there is no sign the government is at all concerned about this leak.
In contrast, it has used this rumour for megaphone diplomacy against both Vanuatu and China. For example, after accepting the Chinese government’s denial, the prime minister said:
We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific island countries and neighbours of ours.
And it was the latter rather than the former statement that was covered by many media outlets.
This is very telling. Canberra is clearly sending signals to Beijing and Port Vila that it maintains significant strategic interests in the region (and is a message not lost on other Pacific capitals).
This approach simply rehashes colonial tropes about Pacific Island Nations being economically unsustainable, corrupt, and easily influenced by great powers. This is reinforced by China’s alleged influence borne from budget support, and capital and aid flows into the Pacific.
What these colonial stereotypes fail to acknowledge is that the foreign policies of Pacific Island countries have matured. Vanuatu is a committed member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), eschewing formal military alliances and entanglements with great powers. The lesson of Fiji’s strong stance against Australian sanctions is that it too has created an independent foreign policy. Neither country will be easily influenced by foreign powers, including Australia.
Returning to the “truth”. It is true that China’s influence in the region has grown dramatically in recent years, especially during the sanctions years from 2006 to 2014, when Canberra attempted to isolate Fiji.
It is also true that military diplomacy is a key element of China’s foreign policy approach (to the Pacific as in Africa). A final truth is that Vanuatu has a high level of debt dependence on China and is a major beneficiary of Chinese aid. However, this does not mean that Vanuatu is being influenced into accepting a Chinese military base.
At some stage, Vanuatu might very well sign an agreement that allows transit and refuelling of Chinese vessels, as is commonplace in international relations. As Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop told Radio National: “these sorts of visits are normal for many neighbours around the world.”
If so, then all we have learned from this episode is that old colonial habits die hard, and the chances of dispassionately dealing with the geo-strategic rise of China are narrowing.