Howard's latest cosying up to Bush is madness

by Kenneth Davidson (Age, December 11, 2003)

The national missile defence system is an offensive, not defensive, weapon.

A great puzzle about Australians is their failure to understand that we live in a luxurious strategic environment, and that there is no country (apart from the US) that has the military capacity to launch a serious invasion of the Australian mainland.

Terrorism is a new threat. But, as we have seen in Bali, the threat of terrorism is best met by sophisticated policing based on the recognition that terrorism is politically motivated criminal activity.

As the Howard Government keeps reminding us, there is now a real threat of a terrorist act on Australian soil. What the Government avoids discussing is that this threat has largely been created by Australia's willingness to join the US and Britain in a "coalition of the willing" to invade Iraq (without UN sanction) to achieve regime change and remove non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

A sensible government - one that put national security as its first priority - would ask the question: was it worth it? The Government response is that the war is old news, Australian forces are out of Iraq and harm's way (they are not), and we have to move on.

But move on where? With virtually no debate, Australia has turned around the strategic policy of self-reliance - where the first priority was building a force structure capable of independently defending Australia and its approaches - in favour of a strategic priority of alliance with the US, in which it is assumed that Australian strategic interests are synonymous with America's. To this end, we are developing a force structure designed to operate with US forces around the world.

And how does the Bush Administration define its strategic interests? According to its "National Security Strategy", the US objective is to maintain military dominance, with the right to pre-emptive military attack against any country it regards as a threat or potential threat.

Howard is aiding and abetting Bush in an adventure that will trigger a nuclear arms race centred on this region.

The Bush Administration refuses to rule out a first nuclear strike against non-nuclear nations and has begun a long march to nuclear dominance by ending the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and beginning to build a national missile defence (NMD) system designed ultimately to give the US "ownership" of space and "full-spectrum dominance" of the world.

This would ensure massive subsidies to US defence industries that helped bankroll the Bush campaign - which may be the real point of the exercise.

Last week Defence Minister Robert Hill announced Australia's formal participation in the NMD program. There was no substance in the announcement. Its main purpose seemed to be to spike the guns of new Opposition Leader Mark Latham, who made what was apparently a successful fence-mending visit to the US ambassador, Thomas Schieffer, as the Government simultaneously pointed journalists to a March 2003 Latham speech that excoriated the Government for its supine attitude to the US.

Latham said, in part, "the defence update is a remarkably simplistic document that even goes as far as endorsing the 'son of star wars' - that is NMD. Incredibly, this is not to protect Australian cities and territories; rather, it recognises that, under this Government, wherever the US Army goes across the globe, the ADF will automatically follow.

"The Howard Government has turned Australia's national security upside down. It has handed over sovereignty and our foreign policy-making to the US and left our country to the adventurism of the Bush Administration."

Has the Government scored a direct hit on its political enemy or has it been hoist with its own petard? This depends on how voters perceive Australia's security environment.

After the NMD announcement, ABC Online reported an interview with the former US assistant secretary of defence in the Clinton administration, Phillip Coyle, who was responsible for the NMD program. He said the system had not been fully tested. While bases in Australia could help relay messages to other satellites, it would be too far away to be able to see the first launch of an enemy missile from countries such as North Korea.

This week, Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda was reported as saying that Australia's decision to join the US NMD would undermine regional security and spark an arms race.

Wirajuda said: "We have been working very hard, including with Australia and other partners, within the ASEAN regional forum process. This NMD program is not compatible with what we are doing. It is not helpful."

It shouldn't be too difficult for Latham to sell the idea that Australia, by endorsing NMD, is aiding and abetting the Bush Administration in an adventure that will trigger a nuclear arms race centred on this region.

The real target of NMD is China, which has the capacity to deploy 1000 thermonuclear warheads on ICBMs by 2015. The strategic purpose of NMD is nuclear offence, not defence.

In theory NMD provides an anti-nuclear shield behind which a pre-emptive nuclear strike can be safely launched without fear of retaliation.But in practice, the shield can be breached by low-flying cruise missiles launched from submarines close to shore or by terrorists carrying a nuclear device into the US (or Australia) in a suitcase.

NMD is a trillion-dollar fantasy. It is well outside the square of Dr Strangelove, which at least operated within a framework of the balance of terror provided by Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD for short).


home vicpeace.org