The ‘Senior Advisor and Principal Author’ of our Defence Strategic Review is a Director of the United States Studies CentreApr 6, 2023
Serious questions must be asked about conflicts of interest among Australian government advisors in both AUKUS and the Defence Strategic Review.
Under the Morrison government, the US, in keeping with its strategic objective of strengthening its alliances in the Indo-Pacific, stepped up its efforts to bolster support within Australia for the bilateral relationship – especially on the military and security front. Since the election of the Albanese government the tempo of this campaign has accelerated further with the focus increasingly on the promotion of AUKUS and the Australian acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs).
The US strategy has also spread wider across both the military and civil sectors. The most obvious activity has been in the military and security sectors where our shores have been graced by a veritable conga line of US Service chiefs and senior Pentagon heads (notably including Secretary of Defense Austin). They have been emphasising the values to Australia of AUKUS while also making sales pitches for US weaponry beyond the SSN’s – such as long range bombers. So much that it has occasioned Peter Dutton to warn that the government should not allow the huge SSN bill to cut into the funding for other urgent defence procurement.
On the non-military front, the US State Department has significantly augmented its Public Diplomacy profile in Australia and funded two new programs designed to strengthen support for the Alliance. As one program sets as its objectives:
“Young Australians tend to be skeptical of the importance of the U.S.-Australia bilateral relationship …. To address these trends … the U.S. Embassy in Australia seeks to fund a program … [that will] identify a diverse network of next-generation leaders who … could build public support for the alliance … [and] develop awareness among younger Australians about policies that support the alliance.”
The United States Studies Centre (USSC) at the University of Sydney which acknowledges that it receives some core funding from the US government has played a key role in this PR push by Washington. Last year USSC launched a program on its website designed to establish itself as the leading university AUKUS centre in Australia. Several months ago on its website it advertised a suite of its research team as speakers on AUKUS for public and community forums. Its Chief Executive Director, Michael Green, who has an impressive record of service in the US academe and government, has been a very active participant in public discussion in Australia of AUKUS and the like.
All this was taken a significant step further when Professor Peter Dean who is USSC’s Director of Foreign Policy and Defence was appointed “Co-Lead of the 2023 Defence Strategic Review (DSR) Secretariate (sic)”. According to his CV as published on the USSC website, he “served as senior advisor and principal author for the Independent Leads, His Excellency Professor the Hon. Stephen Smith and Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston AK AC AFC (Retd).” His CV also proudly points out that he “currently leads two US State Department-funded public diplomacy programs on the US-Australia Alliance”!
All of which is interesting to ponder in the light of the repeated firm assertions by Prime Minister Albanese that the DSR was to be an “independent” review – as well as his associated claims about sovereignty. As the Defence press release stated:
“Authored by former Minister for Defence, His Excellency Professor the Hon. Stephen Smith and former Chief of the Defence Force, Sir Angus Houston, the Defence Strategic Review is an independently led examination of Australia’s defence force posture, force structure and capabilities.”
In step with the above, the influential Washington think tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), partially funded by the US Government (and the Australian Government), created its Australian Chair in December 2021 – from a donation by Anthony Pratt of Visy to:
“ …. sharpen the focus on U.S.-Australia relations and contribute innovative policy ideas to the rapidly expanding regional and global challenges that call for greater coordination and action by Canberra and Washington. CSIS is the first Washington-based think tank to establish an Australia Chair, at the very moment when the U.S.-Australia relationship has become a focal point of U.S. strategy.”
Coincidentally, Green, then CSIS Vice President for Asia, welcomed the new unit. CSIS also announced that:
“Dr Charles Edel, a thought leader on U.S. strategy in the Indo-Pacific and a well-recognised public policy voice in U.S.-Australia relations, will serve as the inaugural Australia Chair and senior adviser. The Chair will be supported by an advisory council of former senior officials and business leaders led by James Carouso, former chargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Canberra with senior diplomatic experience across the region.”
Since then former General Mick Ryan and Lavina Lee (one of the Hartcher Red Alert “team” and also on the ASPI Council) have been appointed Adjunct Fellows of the Australia Chair. Edel has recently visited Australia. Peter Dean also was a non-resident Fellow of CSIS.
These arrangements raise serious concerns:
Was any conflict of interest identified by the Independent leads between Professor Dean acting as a director at the USSC and running two public diplomacy programs funded by the US state department designed to reinforce Australian support for the Alliance while authoring an independent review of Australian defence policy with the potential to justify large scale purchases of US weapons?
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