In my previous Newsletters—after musing generally on the issue of Sovereignty—I went on to discuss the magnitude of the problems in national security and why they exist. I also wrote about how these problems impact on everyone and could impact much more in the uncertain future we face. Now, in this Newsletter, I will suggest a solution by stating clearly what Australia should do.
I want Australia, for the first time in its history to be PREPARED for its uncertain future. By being prepared, perhaps we will not have to endure the worst. I’m not talking about irrational preppers or panic buying toilet paper, and certainly not preparing at the expense of our freedoms or our economy. The preparation I want is logical, calm preparation based on facts and knowledge: while we have time to do it.
I don’t even want the implementation to start now, because priority must go to getting the economy back on its feet. The greatest thing we can do for the nation and for national security is to recover the economy, and our PM and Treasurer are doing that. The economy is the basis of our national security because it gives us the funds to be prepared, and maintain social cohesion. But the thinking, the preparation, the processes for the next step must start now. Thinking is needed to produce a comprehensive strategy, not just for the military, but for the entire nation.
I want Australia, as the very first step, to acknowledge that we face markedly changed strategic circumstances. That is a politician’s way of saying Threat! We are threatened and we need to act now—not when the wolf is at the door as we have historically reacted to crises, but now. We are threatened by several authoritarian states, but especially by a rising power that is hostile to everything we are: free, democratic, prosperous, occupying a still undeveloped continent, an ally of the US. We have not seen anything like this since 1945, this is what the PM means when he talks about the 1930s, not that anyone is predicting war is going to break out in the modern equivalent of 1939 although that may happen, but the power relativity, who is the big boy on the block, is changing from an ally of ours, the US, to an authoritarian power, China.
China has proven it has no respect for international laws as has been shown in many ways, most markedly in the South China Seas. In full view of a weak US president, the West did nothing in the South China Sea. China saw our weakness and has taken lessons from that. The result is that Australia must accept that tension may lead to war between the US and China and the result of that war will shape the world, and particularly Australia, for decades to come. We need to be prepared, but we are not.
Only the government, through the kind of leadership it has shown in national security since 2013, can do this. The private sector, the people, our allies, and the States will help. But this problem needs Commonwealth government leadership, pure and simple.
A self-reliant Australia can secure our own future, but we must also build alliances, be protected by them and be a significant contributor to them. The days of mindlessly relying on the US as our saviour in national security have gone, if they ever were there. The days of being complacent about national security are over, it is time for some constructive paranoia. The world has changed. We must accept this as our responsibility and act.
This nation has significant vulnerabilities. This is particularly important to accept because we face a period of significant tension. If this tension is not managed, these vulnerabilities will be exploited and will prevent us defending ourselves and may lead to war and defeat. We must address those vulnerabilities one by one as quickly as possible. Addressing our vulnerabilities is a strong signal that Australia is on the path to self-reliance and that we are to be taken seriously as a nation.
A new national security system to manage the road to self-reliance across the nation and to assist in managing any subsequent crisis is needed. Only the kind of leadership which we have seen this Coalition government show since 2013, but most markedly during COVID, is capable of delivering this change. The current committee based, process-driven system to manage national security was developed over 75 years to manage lesser problems when the US managed the big problems for Australia. It is a system which is usually by-passed as crises arise. This system is not up to scratch, and must accept much blame for the current vulnerable state of this nation. The national security system is a rice bowl for too many, and Australia can no longer afford rice bowls.
National security is a national responsibility. In these demanding times, we as a nation cannot pour money into the ADF and think we have solved the national security challenge. It takes a nation to defend a nation.
And the nation must be well organised. A contradiction exists between how intelligence is handled and how national security is handled. Intelligence has been examined many times by the most capable officials, and a system that suits the current times has been adopted. Following these examinations, the Office of National Intelligence (ONI) has been created which coordinates the intelligence bodies, prepares national assessments and advises the Prime Minister directly, regularly and during crises. The product of that advice then goes into the government cabinet/committee system through the PM. Intelligence gives us a good idea of what might happen to us. If we only have intelligence without an equivalent national security organisation, we are likely to know perfectly when we are to be defeated and not be able to do anything about it!
I define failure in national security as being when the government faces a regional war and wants to either contribute forces to an alliance, cause, or hold forces for the defence of Australia and finds that it cannot do either because it has not prepared the nation to support those forces. We also fail if the nation has no exports to generate finances, it cannot import critical items, it has an incomplete manufacturing base to support the people and a war effort, has no significant strategic reserves of essential items not produced in Australia. We also fail if we find that the ADF still lacks the lethality, mass and sustainability to defend the nation in the face of a modern war or to assist allies, and finds that Australian cities and facilities are vulnerable to direct attack by cyber, by missiles and by denial of sea trade. In my view, one or more of these eventualities would be a monumental failure by government; but sadly, it is consistent with Australia’s track record since Federation. As a government, we should never expect to be forgiven for not preparing.
For the first time since federation, we will be successful in fact, and in the eyes of the people, if we secure our sovereignty by being prepared for the uncertain future we face. Preparation must come through a policy of national self-reliance based on a comprehensive nation-wide strategy, implemented through a modern national security organisation the equivalent of the Office of National Intelligence, which can both prepare Australia for high levels of tension as well as advise and manage all levels of crisis and war.
Let me spell out what I believe needs to be done.
First, acknowledge the need for change. That is the most important thing to do, the first thing to do, to acknowledge the need for change.
Second, begin the process of change. All this requires us to do at this stage is the thinking. Thinking does not cost much at all. The product of the thinking should be the basis of a National Security Strategy and the organisation to produce it. I suggest (others may have more sophisticated suggestions) an Office of National Security (ONS) with staff, headed by a National Security Adviser (NSA), to advise the PM in the same way that the ONI advises the PM on intelligence. The functions of the ONS would be to:
- advise the PM through independent assessments of the national security preparation required across the entire nation to secure our sovereignty by being prepared for an uncertain future through self-reliance
- advise the PM on policy options during national security crises and contingencies
- The primary task of the NSA would be to produce, at regular intervals, a National Security Strategy for consideration by Cabinet, and assist the PM to assess its implementation
Third, once the need is acknowledged and the ONS is set up to produce a National Security Strategy, implementation of that strategy could begin. My view is that the most important thing government can do in the short term (the period in which we manage COVID health and economic consequences) is to recover the national economy because the economy is the foundation of our national security. Implementation of a National Security Strategy, and whatever expenditure might be required, could then begin in the medium term.
If the need for a self-reliant approach to national security were accepted before the end of 2020, an ONS, with statutory powers under law, might be set up in 2021 able to produce a basic National Security Strategy addressing the security obligations of defence, cyber, manufacturing, diplomacy, energy and fuels, society, finances, education, borders, intelligence, food, and infrastructure. This could then be submitted to cabinet by the PM and considered by cabinet.
Most people think that the Australian experience of conflict is the ANZAC tradition, I disagree. The Australian experience of conflict is unpreparedness – overcome by the ANZACs and at the expense of their lives and threat of our freedom. Many used to say we have no threat for ten years because it would take an enemy ten years to gain the capability to attack, so we don’t need to prepare now. The ten-year idea has now been officially rejected. But if it were going to take ten years for an enemy to be prepared, why is there an implied belief that it takes much less time for Australia to prepare to defend itself. And why then are we allocating $575 bn to the ADF over the next ten years? I believe it is prudent to work on an assumption that our uncertain future may peak in some way in no less than three years from now. That should be our readiness framework.
The Key Question is: If the ADF needs $575 bn over the next ten years to face an uncertain future, what does the rest of the nation need to face the same future?
Answer? Australia needs to secure its sovereignty by being prepared for the uncertain future we face, through a policy of national self-reliance based on a comprehensive nation-wide strategy, implemented through a modern national security organisation, which can both prepare Australia for high levels of tension as well as advise and assist the Prime Minister to manage all levels of crisis and war.
The way to do that is by a new national security approach.