John Menadue’s post of the Chinese weapons summary by Godfree Roberts landed on my desk just in time for my U3A Brisbane Current Affairs class on 11 May 21. Not surprisingly, the class was scheduled to discuss the recent talk about a possibly imminent war with China coming from our federal government ministers and senior public servants. Whether for domestic political ends or not, that talk has been aggravating China.
Our group has been considering all the stock arguments put forward by eminent thought leaders like Hugh White and Michael Fullilove as to why we really need a defence budget of 4 percent of GDP, Vs 2 percent now, to act as an effective deterrent to China. We have pondered whether or not America is a dangerous ally, as Malcolm Fraser labelled it, and how it is widely believed we must pay our insurance premiums if we realistically want to be able to call upon America’s (uncertain) military support. America’s failure to stop China building military bases on disputed rock outcrops in the South China Sea spoke volumes in this regard.
There have been many excellent posts on this subject to Pearls and Irritations since 11 May, including by Brian Toohey here, Gareth Evans here and Gregory Clark here – to name just a few – all from people with more expertise than me in this area. I am relying primarily on what I believe to be pure logic and commonsense.
Godfree Roberts’ summation suddenly made all such discussion redundant for about half our group. To that half, the extensive destruction which Australia would inevitably suffer during a hot war with China would simply not be tolerable under any circumstances. It was one thing to accompany America into wars on the other side of the world, and watch on TV as their ancient cities were converted to rubble. A war with China over Taiwan would be in our back yard – a totally different kettle of fish.
So let’s cut right through to the bottom line: There is no imaginable circumstance in which Australia could logically consider going to war with China, alongside America or anybody else – ever. No matter how much we spend on defence, we’ll never be able to prevent the mass destruction China could inflict on us within hours of the commencement of hostilities. Therefore, it follows that our best defence policy is simply to ensure we do nothing to cause China to want to invade us – ever.
How do we do that? Australia should now declare itself neutral, cancel all its weaponry orders, and set itself the goal of leading by example as the world’s first and best behaved nation of ‘Citizens of Planet Earth’. We should spend our total current defence budget on developing the best cyber defence system we can, buying in the necessary expertise until we can train enough programmers domestically, and we should offer the end products for sale to all comers. No threat to anyone, no discrimination, and eventually good export earnings. Indeed, we could be the only nation on earth – at least initially initially – who was friends with everyone.
Naïve, you say, and to be fair, this was a bridge too far for half the U3A group. But surely this is not as naïve as kidding ourselves we could ever raise a defence force powerful enough to deter an attack from China? As Chinese Major-General Jin Yinan recently said: “We don’t need to take it seriously. [Australia] is not that strong, it’s not that powerful … (if) Australia wants to rush to the front line of the conflict … then let it come, let it walk on the forefront of the conflict … then we can have a good fight. If it insists on intervening, it will only cause greater damage to Australia itself.” If in doubt about this , read Godfree Roberts’ summation here and contemplate how we would fare in the first few hours of a hot war with China.
Indeed, given an excuse to do so, an infuriated China might welcome the opportunity to use Australia as a weapons testing range, and a place to demonstrate to America and the rest of the world just how powerful and accurate their new weapons are, just as America has used the Middle East, and with very little risk of military retaliation from America. That outcome is even more likely if Australia adopts a position of Armed Neutrality as described by Bevan Ramsden in another two posts to Pearls and Irritations here and here, especially when it is considered that so many of our weapons systems are dependent on America for parts and support. Armed Neutrality would also deny us the money needed for cyber defence, and for the other purposes described below.
However, politically it may provide a necessary transitional step away from our current defence ties with America.
Of course, some will say that China would soon occupy a defenceless Australia. Really? Why on earth would China alarm and incur the wrath of the world by uncharacteristically invading Australia if we were willing to sell them whatever they want from us, educate their youth, welcome their tourists, sell them our farms and businesses, lease them our ports, etc., just as we do – and should do – now? And for all their alleged intended world domination and aggressiveness, their purchases of Australian assets to date are insignificant compared to those of the UK and America.
In our position of genuine neutrality, and being genuine friends with both China and the USA and its allies, our entire defence force resources and capability should then be devoted to disaster relief, domestically and throughout our region. Our two new Amphibious Assault Ships capable of carrying 1,000 troops each, along with all their equipment and support facilities (helicopters, vehicles and the like) should be placed on permanent standby for immediate despatch to any region threatened by a natural disaster, preferably setting out before the disaster strikes. False alarms would simply serve as valuable training exercises. Defence force personnel unhappy with this new role should be discharged on request, and the rest intensively trained for their new role.
Incidentally, this redesigned defence force would then have the capacity to establish and operate National Community Service Units, alongside Community Support and Development Units (CSDU), wherever they are needed. A full description of the CSDU concept and how it would operate can be found here (Wait for it to open). Basically they are a one-stop-shop for the provision of training, personal development and top quality broad-spectrum healthcare – including mental healthcare – for all those left behind by the current education and healthcare systems.
Importantly, National Community Service Units operated by the military could serve as alternatives to prison for those convicted of petty and non-violent crimes, and for those on remand awaiting trial. The effectiveness of such units in this role was demonstrated during the period of 77 Day compulsory national service by all 17 year old males in the 1950s, of which I had personal experience as a Platoon Commander in 1959 (the last intake). Detail on the composition and functions of CSDUs are set out in the paper you can access here (Wait for it to open). National Community Service Units are simply military versions of the CSDUs, with specific manpower and delinquent management capabilities the civilian CSDUs could not match.
The net gains to Australia from the declaration of neutrality, as suggested above, would be immense and wide ranging. The alternative is for our leaders to continue to behave like primary school kids from neighbouring catholic and state schools, hurling threats and insults at one another as they did in my childhood neighbourhood, never even considering the risk of coming to blows. Does anyone really believe the adults in the room would ever be so stupid as to get Australia embroiled in a hot war with China?