MACK WILLIAMS. Australia-US Defence Relationship: Are we in the “prudent planning“ phase already?

Nov 27, 2018

The publication by the ABC of a previously highly classified analysis of the ADF’s logistic problems in the early phase of Gulf War 11 has shed some critical light on the process by which Australia joined in that war. It underlined the urgent need to review the role of ADF generals and other senior personnel embedded into PACOM in the contingency planning the US military must be preparing for the ramping up of military confrontation against China so vaunted on several occasions recently by Vice President Spence.

The document provided an extremely detailed assessment of the serious logistic problems encountered by the ADF in  undertaking its mission in Iraq from 2003 and some challenging critiques of the complexity of supplying the various ADF elements : planning, force structure, dependency on the US and UK forces and so on. But the most revealing section reports that, although the Australian Government had not decided to commit to this Iraq campaign, by mid 2002 ADF and defence personnel were working closely with US military and defence planners on that campaign..

In August 2002 ADF participation in US planning for Iraq progressed further with military and defence  personnel to serve under CENTCOM ( US Central Command in Tampa) noy in the more traditional liaison way. According to this report the Australians in CENTCOM were deployed under the condition of what ADF staff hyper-euphemistically called “prudent planning” which apparently was meant to establish that none of the planning in which they were involved committed Australia to war !! Further, the ADF claimed that their deployment must not be construed as an Australian commitment to join in any attack on Iraq ! The report is silent on how the ADF could ensure all of this transpired. Were written directives given to each one of the ADF involved ? Were there specific messages clarifying the Australian position  between Canberra and Washington – or between Russell Hill and the Pentagon? And if so how effective were they in ensuring the Americans understood? One wonders!

Reportedly Prime Minister Howard was still hoping in this period that the Iraq problem could be resolved by diplomatic means. He decided to deploy the first ADF personnel to the Iraq theatre in January 2003 but did not authorise involvement in hostilities until March when the US led assault occurred.

The echoes of all of this to the present situation of ADF generals and senior staff serving under PACOM command ( see my blog New Cold War : Just how independent can Australia be ?) are blindingly obvious. As of today we have an Australian Prime  Minister continuing to insist that Australia would not be taking sides in any military confrontation between the US and China while Vice President Pence has repeatedly turned up the heat on China. Have the ADF staff embedded in PACOM been given any similar riding instructions for “prudent planning” by Canberra about their participation in what must be an active phase of contingency planning in PACOM – given Pence’s statements and the general strategic objectives set out by Defense Secretary Mattis earlier this year. Will Mr Morrison have this on his song sheet for any meeting with President Trump in Buenos Aires this week?

Mack Williams, Former Ambassador to the Philippines and South Korea and Royal College of Defence Studies

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