From the back-reaches of the ‘hidden state’ has come this latest batch of suppressive legislation ostensibly to protect our secrets and to counter surreptitious foreign influences. Instead it will facilitate yet again the tendency of Australian governments to commit to overseas military adventures, sometimes illegally, without proper Parliamentary consideration and pubic approval.
With the government’s enthusiastic assistance, core elements of the defence/intelligence complex in Australia is determined to put beyond contention public support for the centrality of the US alliance and the support which the alliance in turn provides to its interests and operations, at home and abroad. It is through this connection that it can be said that Australia is tied at the hip to whatever the US military/industrial complex deems necessary in its own interests and for its survival. Otherwise how is it that over past decades, including and since Vietnam, Australia has participated in a succession of US generated wars none of which have been successful and all of which, since Vietnam, have been in far off locations beyond our regional interests?
The time to think about this is now with the latest US National Defence Strategy in mind. Already our desk strategists (courtesy of the Australia Strategic Policy Institute) are seizing on the opportunity to further align our defence force structure with that of the US, hung up on the mantra of ‘interoperability’ – that is, acquiring the ability to carry out long-range strikes with an existing assumption about the far-off known ‘enemy’: “In future conflicts a [knowledge edge in wartime] is going to become more challenging as China and Russia develop counter-space and cyber-warfare capabililties designed to attack our command and control networks” (emphasis added): https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/strategic-holiday-part-2 . So our enemies are already in the frame or will be if we continue to subscribe to US misjudgments in these and other respects – misjudgments profoundly based on a nation-wide ignorance in the US of other countries.and their interests, and a further false assumption that US values and intentions are the best possible in the best possible world and should be enforced wherever if need be.
It is long since US defence and foreign policy was determined by experienced, well informed circles centred around the eastern states. The policy process has moved further west and south where instincts and gut responses are not as before. Indeed as John Menadue has noted, this is where ‘America first’ is the cry, where respect for international law is least, and where 43% of Republications and 55% of Democrats supported bombing a place called ‘Agrbah’ (it could have been ‘Agrastan’!), a fictional place in a cartoon. We are in denial about the risks in our relationship with the United States, Parts 1 & 2 http://johnmenadue.com/john-menadue-we-are-in-denial-about-the-risks-in-our-relationship-with-the-united-states-part-1-of-2/
Of the current President, who on present indications could well have a second term, if not impeached meanwhile, the New Times columnist, Roger Cohen, wrote: “The greatest danger from a man so unerring in his detection of human weakness, so attuned to the thrill of cruelty, so aware of the manipulative powers of entertainment, so unrelenting in his disregard for truth, so contemptuous of ethics and culture, so attracted to blood and soil, was always that he would use the immense powers of his office to drag American down with him into the vortex.” (NYT, 4-5 Feb, 2018). And us too?
So much for being joined at the hip!
Our military/intelligence complex however, ever fearful that its strong structural bonds with the US industrial/military complex might loosen irrevocably, has foisted on the Australian public through an all too susceptible government, a spate of fresh legislation ostensibly for the protection of official secrets and the prevention of foreign interference in our political system. The anomalies and contradictions in this legislation are mind boggling.
Apart from the suppression of public awareness in these areas the legislation will facilitate yet again the tendency of Australian governments to commit to overseas military adventures, at times illegally, without Parliamentary authorisation or transparent explanations as to justification and purpose. This is the ‘hidden state’ (to use John Menadue’s term) at its very worst, which increasingly no government has the courage to challenge and thereby reset current defence and foreign policies, and avoid involvement in foreign conflicts beyond Australia’s legitimate interests – notably those led by the US.
If the legislation is concerned with undue influence on our defence and foreign policies it overlooks the sources of greatest influence, as if this is of little concern and which primarily accounts for a serious run of misadventures over recent decades – namely that of the US and in relation to the Middle East disasters, Israel. As for the latter, unless the government takes stock of where it has got to in that much benighted area, there will be more such disasters to come. There is an unexplained assumption here about an alignment of interests. Idiotic as the recent decisions of the High Court were, in relation to parliamentary eligibility, its concern about ‘foreign powers’ might well be regarded as enlightened!
Rather than suppressing transparency and informed discussion the government should be encouraging and assisting our best thinkers to be forward looking and well informed about policy development. Headstrong individuals in power positions, with their fixed mindsets and ill-conceived policies, have in the past accounted for the worst of wars and atrocities. Australia could be no exception.
Aside from the influence of powerful personalities on war and peace, there should be even more concern over the direction of military technologies in the US and the use of destructive force.
It was once unthinkable that nuclear weapons would or could be used in regional conflicts. According to recent reports the US administration is preparing to develop and use tactical nuclear weapons, and further develop the capabilities of their insidious drones, to give credibility to its “Fire and Fury” posturing. While the North Korean standoff may have been a catalyst for this, with the break down of the once unipolar and presently tri-polar geopolitical systems, major powers now sense frustration about their inability to deal effectively with conflict in their areas of interest, to be able to brush aside insurgency or awkward border threats, without putting boots on the ground (which has proved unsuccessful on the part of foreign interventions generally). This must lead over time to a massive proliferation of easy to use, mini-scale but incredibly lethal nuclear options. The temptation to resort to such weapons may prove irresistible, and the incentive for smaller powers to develop similar weapons or responses must also increase.
That world would not be a safer place. Nor would it be for Australia. Our reliance on ‘extended nuclear deterrence’ will not save us and may cause us to be a collateral victim of a situation provoked by the US.
Andrew Farran is a former diplomat, trade adviser, and international lawyer. Former Treasurer, Australians for War Powers Reform.