Australia’s stunted mainstream defence and security imagination

May 10, 2024
Amy camouflage uniform with flag on it, Australia

With Australian defence writers now arguing for society to be reimagined as an ‘input to defence capability’, we are witnessing further incursions in the Democracy – Defence Nexus.

A recent article appearing on the website of Defence Connect claims a discovery: the identification of Australian society as a “fundamental input to defence capability.” In a very general sense, of course, this is true if the history of Sparta, the French policy of the levée en masse, and occasions where entire populations are mobilised in response to the real threat of invasion are recalled; in the sense the author outlines it, however, the demonstration is only of the increasing and irresistible appeal that the securitisation and militarisation of just about everything has on Australia’s stunted mainstream defence and security imagination.

Given this objective – which to say the least is politically troubling – the publication’s source and the network it appeals to – indeed appears to be embedded in – require close examination.

[Defence Connect articles are behind a paywall and for that reason some citations are longer than would otherwise be the case].

Defence Connect self-advertises as not only “a media and market intelligence platform focused on increasing the connectivity of Australia’s defence and national security sectors,” but a platform which “connects with 100,000+ defence and defence industry professionals every month.”

Among its “industry partners and stakeholders” it lists:

  • CASG (Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group)
  • Department of Defence, including the Defence Science and Technology Group (DST Group), Estate and Infrastructure Group (E&IG), Chief Information Officer Group (CIOG), Chief Finance Officer Group (CFOG), Defence People Group (DPG) and Defence Strategic Policy and Intelligence Group (SP&I)
  • Navy, Army, Air Force, Intelligence and Joint Operations Command
  • Federal Ministries, including Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Cabinet Ministers, Ministers, Senators and related departments
  • State Ministries, Ministers and related departments
  • Prime contractors, such as BAE Systems, Boeing, Finmeccanica, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and Thales
  • SME contractors across the spectrum of defence acquisition and sustainment
  • Defence force establishments, institutes, academies and think tanks

Accordingly, with due regard to the list above, and Defence Connect’s statement that its role is to help “the defence industry capitalise on the largest spend in capability building since the Second World War,” there is no doubt that it is operating, and has a sizeable presence within what is now an easily identifiable government-industry-military-academic complex.

In the profit-rich prospects of the present, it follows that, the heralded ideals of genuine democracies and republics are subordinated to, perhaps jettisoned in favour of, the realisation of high returns on capital. Language is an early predictor.

To return to the article which gives so much offence, its full title is “Australian society as a fundamental input to defence capability (Part 1).

Why offence? Quite simply because it is written in the tongue of the techno-rationalists whose only contribution to knowledge is the proof that, in the guise of sounding dispassionate and scientific, some people are capable, using dehumanising language, of reducing people to the status of ingredients.

The offences cascade. The current state of strategic competition, for example, is appealed to (but never specified); nevertheless, it is seen as a social activity (ditto) which “means that society must grant the ADF a social licence to operate” (emphasis added).

There are so many questions begged in this statement that it must suffice to respond with the counter that, in any functioning democratic polity, the constitutional obligation falls upon the defence forces to receive, or not receive, whatever licence society, through its government structures, decides is appropriate.

Inversion and incoherence then combine: society can “provide inputs to capability at unprecedented levels” by activities such as:

converting civilian equipment for military use; supplying military equipment; returning to service and maintaining weapon systems; conducting reconnaissance missions with remotely operated vehicles; disrupting infrastructure and services through cyber attacks; coordinating logistics needs; gathering intelligence using open-source data; prosecuting lawfare and influencing public opinion through online information or disinformation campaigns.

Comment here is probably irrelevant. How the above would, could, or should happen is left to the reader’s imagination – which will already be challenged by the incoherence of the propositions in the previous pages.

But it gets worse, very much worse, and the following is cited only because of the significance of the publisher. Consider the following:

More ADF members should be granted the authority and empowered to engage with society in more diverse ways such as: significantly expanding existing arrangements like providing greater encouragement to (and recognition for) ADF staff who publish papers or speak in the public domain; enhancing promotion and marketing campaigns through a variety of media and community events; expanding opportunities to display defence capabilities to the public; enlarging the number of ADF members assigned as patrons to community groups of all kinds; and reinvigorating the ADF gap year program.

ADF members could also engage society in new ways. Debates between members of the military and society concerning topical military issues could be televised and promulgated through social media. Public competitions could be held to seek innovative solutions to ADF problems such as 3D manufacturing of components for military equipment or decoys.

ADF staff could work remotely from offices established in Australian schools, technical and further education institutes, universities, think tanks of all kinds, volunteer organisations and other public groups to facilitate direct engagement on military issues.

The ADF could enrol sporting teams into existing public sporting competitions to build relationships and rapport. Finally, the resources of ADF media agencies could be rerolled to lead and coordinate these initiatives, in particular, to engage the civilian media profession to unite the military with society.

Read empathetically some of these proposals already exist, and a few others might be worthwhile, but overall, they rely on society being convinced that government in general and the defence establishment in particular is being honest with it. Over many years and many wars government deceit and / or partial honesty have become the leitmotif of the defence, foreign policy and national security discourse.

Read and reflected upon critically, the article is conceptually incoherent, historically askew, and politically and sociologically vacant except in the dire consequences should it be further realised in practice.

In truth it is another normalised assault on Australia’s body politic in a slick online site accessible by the very large government-industry-military-academic readership. AUKUS has spawned so many of these that the injuries, because quite gradual to date, seems unremarkable.

In this one, even a minimal understanding of the proposals yield the conclusion that they are part of a campaign and will be persisted in. In that process they could turn all, or vast numbers of society into de facto combatants, one way or another.

Perhaps that’s the intention.

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