Back in June 2007, Max Boot, a neocon writing in ‘The Weekly Standard’ said: “[Kevin] Rudd [now Australia’s Prime Minister] is conservative for a Laborite, a nerdy former diplomat and management consultant in boxy spectacles who speaks Chinese fluently and goes to church regularly (he was brought up Catholic but now attends Anglican services). He has few ties to the unions which have traditionally been a dominant force mooring his party to the left. He is seen as a safe pair of hands to continue steering Australia ahead – a Tony Blair to Howard's Margaret Thatcher.” After the November election that saw the demise of John Howard and the election of Kevin Rudd’s government, the neocons could only have been happier if Howard had been re-elected. Shortly after the election Rudd announced that Australia’s defence expansion program initiated by the Howard government will be retained. The neocons were ecstatic.
Last October, 2008, I was talking with a senior defence assistant secretary for international policy. We talked broadly about China and Pakistan; two nations that he felt were likely to be problematic to Australia, with Pakistan likely to be a problem sooner rather than later, with China becoming a long term potential problem. We then got on to chatting about Australia’s likely purchase of the Super Hornet aircraft and he was telling me what a wonderful aircraft he thought it was to have while Australia waited for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) to come on line. I told him bluntly that it, the Super Hornet, was a useless aircraft compared with some of the aircraft that the Chinese are now operating. He seemed surprised and asked which aircraft I would recommend if I were a policy wonk in the defence department. I suggested the Sukhoi Su30 and preferably the Su30MKI version as supplied to India which is rated arguably as the world’s best, and certainly the worlds most manoeuvrable, military aircraft. The Chinese have the Su30MKK version. It’s not quite up to par with the Indian version but it certainly will out-fly both the Super Hornet and the JSF. The Chinese have over 130 of them. The Indonesian air force also operates the Su30MKK version but only have around five of them.
On 1 May, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced his government’s intention of going ahead with both the so-called Super Hornet to replace the aging F/A18 Hornets and F111s the Royal Australian Air Force currently operate, and one hundred of the F35 JSFs for the future. Since Rudd made it quite clear that this aircraft upgrade, together with the other militarisation upgrades announced, mainly naval including the construction of twelve new missile-capable submarines and a massive increase in surface warships, was to ensure Australia’s defence capabilities against the possibility of an increasingly aggressive and resource hungry China, Rudd should not be too surprised to learn that China is likely to review its own arsenal of military hardware to keep well ahead of any regional threat.
A day later the Rudd government announced, almost as if it were a completely unrelated piece of policy, that it would be considering setting up Boot Camp-style programs for youth unemployed.
Australia has recently had difficulties in attracting recruits for its current defence forces so one might be forgiven for assuming that the Boot Camp program might be seen as a gateway to solving the recruitment problem. It’s not too many steps away from conscription.
Of course, all this militarisation is some way off into the future but, nonetheless, one does need to ask why and why now.
Far from being a threat to Australia, China has been a major customer and trading partner to Australia for some years now, and it has been a partnership that has been mutually beneficial to both nations. It’s difficult to see how China can be a threat to Australia. If China wants our resources then all it has to do is buy it just as it has been doing. Why would China want to go to all the effort of mounting an invasion of Australia to get what it wants when all it has to do is email the order through to BHP-Billiton or the Western Mining Corporation or whoever? What’s the problem?
The problem, one fancy’s, is not so much China – that’s just a feint to keep them at arms length but also to act as a smoke screen to cover Australian conservatives much greater and long-standing paranoid fear, Indonesia.
Suggesting that China may be a problem for Australia in the future is actually something the Chinese will get over. They’re merely interested, as they always have been, in simply doing business. However, white Australia has had a long history of fearing its northern neighbours though never for any good reason.
So, is this really what it’s all about?
Kevin Rudd sees US hegemonic power generally declining. Its glory days are gone and what we see now is the last throes of a has-been power on its last legs. Despite its military power, it has proved itself incapable over the last sixty years of decisively winning any of its major wars. Iraq, after over six years of war has been an utter disaster and Afghanistan, after nearly eight years of war, looks like being lost completely to a rag-tag ever-growing army of tenacious insurgents. Rudd does not see the US as being capable of coming to Australia’s aid in the future despite all the treaties and obligations that forced Australia, against its peoples will, coming to the aid of the US when it called.
Australia has claimed vast off-shore mainly gas resources in the Timor Sea. While the resources are actually located closer to East Timor than they are to Australia, Australia lays claim to it because it is regarded as being on Australia’s continental shelf under the sea. (The story of how Alexander Downer bullied East Timor into signing over the gas rights to Australia is a story on is own.)
Rudd is not actually a neocon – well, not yet he isn’t; but then nor was Tony Blair when he became Prime Minister of Great Britain, but look where he ended up. The American neocons like Rudd because he is pro-America even if he doesn’t see America as being of much use in the future, but also Rudd is pro-Israel and the military force that Rudd is proposing may one day be useful to the Israelis if the Islamic nations start getting a bit too uppity over Israel’s Middle Eastern ambitions.
The necessity of having such a heavily armed Australia is doubtful. The money to be spent could be far more usefully spent on other utilities that a rapidly aging chunk of the Australian population will need over the next twenty-five years – about the same period that Rudd wants to militarise Australia’s ‘defence’ forces.
And, pondering just one other thought that explains why I’ve written ‘defence’ in inverted commas; most of the new military stuff that Rudd wants to get for Australia is hardly ‘defensive’ but actually ‘offensive’ indicating that Rudd may be toying with the notion of pre-emption or even unilateral pre-emption. And that really is neoconservative ideology in play.
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