ANDREW CARSWELL: It’s time to cool the hysteria on global war threat

Andrew Carswell
The Nightly
ANDREW CARSWELL: Sorry to disappoint the profiteering warmongers out there, but chances are Australia won’t be drawn into a full-scale military conflict anytime soon.
ANDREW CARSWELL: Sorry to disappoint the profiteering warmongers out there, but chances are Australia won’t be drawn into a full-scale military conflict anytime soon. Credit: The Nightly/Supplied

Always beware when defence boffins, strategists and lobbyists talk up the threat of war.

Ramping up defence spending tends to feather a few nests in Canberra and Washington. It justifies roles and organisations, gives prominence to experts, and funds think tanks.

War is good for the bottom line, among the bottom feeders.

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Australia has had a fervent outbreak of warmongering from military and politico types since the Albanese Government came to power and promised to keep increasing defence spending. But then didn’t.

The hyperbole has soared higher than the tomahawk missiles pictured in our defence strategic white papers, but not yet delivered, with a steady stream of experts predicting (rightly) that Australia couldn’t properly defend itself in a war with China, but (wrongly) talking up the probability of that circumstance actually happening.

The latest expert rolled out to scare your children was Liberal icon Alexander Downer, who said this week that we were “living in an era more dangerous than the most tense periods of the Cold War”.

Those families that had bomb shelters in their backyards in the Sixties might disagree.

Given the heightened periods of the Cold War included the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Berlin Airlift and the Soviet invasion of Hungary, the statement seems a little bold.

As was the revisionism that followed — that Soviet leaders Khrushchev and Brezhnev didn’t seriously want to use nuclear weapons, according to recently obtained Soviet records. As trustworthy as those types of records are. Surely no accounts were ever altered to make the Soviets appear better than they were. In this case, more humane. And Animal Farm is just a nice story about some pigs who made good.

Downer is correct, however, in suggesting we are living in dangerous times. In the immense form of China, Australia and its partners are dealing with an imposing strategic threat in our region, where the risk of a skirmish over Taiwan’s sovereignty from a belligerent imperialist superpower is increasing.

That is not alarmism.

But all-out war? By the end of his musings Downer acknowledged, yes, OK, it was unlikely.

Rather than hyperbole, the strategic threat needs to be appropriately expressed, particularly when said, as it always is, in the context of Australia’s own defence spending.

Australia’s defence spending is of course woefully inadequate, undermining our sovereign capability to defend the nation in the event of a war.

The Albanese Government claims it is on track to get defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP, but its own Budget papers prove this wrong. In the approaching Budget year, defence spending will be 2.02 per cent of GDP. The next year it is projected to be 2.04 per cent before retracing to 2.01 per cent in the following year. Magically, it jumps to 2.12 per cent in the final year, coinciding with the re-election year of a probable Albanese minority government. As esteemed defence writer Greg Sheridan rightly suggests, do you reckon the Government will spend billions more on defence in an election year, at the expense of bribing voters with goodies?

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
The Albanese Government claims it is on track to get defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP. Credit: Lukas Coch/AAP

It is fake money. Trickery. From a Government that simply doesn’t value having a strong, capable defence force to match the “dangerous” times we find ourselves in. Because this Government can apparently talk its way out of any dispute. Penny Wong is in charge. Of everything. So steely-faced diplomacy is in vogue. More DFAT bureaucrats, fewer lieutenants.

Starkly, it means, as the Australian Strategic Policy Institute opined this week, that any war we may fight in the next decade, we fight with our current stock and capability. A dreadful situation.

But while we do need to increase defence spending, a reality check is needed.

Australia is never going to outspend China on defence. It is never going to have the military hardware and capabilities of China, which boasts a standing army of 2.5 million, 1200 fighter jets, 5000 tanks, three aircraft carriers and a vast array of nuclear warheads and hypersonic missiles.

The spending metrics must not be aligned to playing catch up. We never will.

Our greatest deterrent against a foreign foe bullying us is not what sits ready on our tarmac, or under our seas. It resides in the alliances Australia has signed with the world’s leading military powers, most notably ANZUS, an agreement that requires a response from our allies in the event of an attack on Australia. Likewise for Australia if the US came under direct attack.

It does not, however, as Downer himself pointed out in 2004, require Australia to follow the US into war if that military engagement is in another part of the world. Say, Taiwan.

We are not on our own, nor at risk of being dragged into a broader conflict away from US soil, against the national interest.

These simple facts often go missing in the firebrand preaching of imminent war and our diminished military capability.

Hard to make a buck from telling people they are actually pretty safe.


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