Julia Gillard has waved a final goodbye to the so-called “9/11 decade”, heralding a new age dominated by threats of cyber espionage and traditional great-power conflict.
Like her centre-left contemporary Barack Obama, she is moving her party away from the preoccupations her predecessor – Middle Eastern conflicts, ballooning defence and intelligence budgets, an incessant focus on homeland security – and turning her gaze towards East Asia and the emerging threats of the digital age.
This process has been under way from some time.
Kevin Rudd’s 2008 national security statement – a document much maligned because of vagueness – sought to dilute national security policy by incorporating a disparate range of “new” threats: organised crime, natural disasters and an “all hazards” approach to managing risk.
Labor’s motivations are partly political.
As the West, Australia included, exits Afghanistan it is useful to divert public attention by over-amping the challenges posed by a rising China. Again, the precedent has been set by Obama and his “pivot” towards Asia.
But it is also an approach that speaks plainly to the times. Relative power is shifting to the East and so must our security planning.
The Prime Minister’s national security address today thus has two key points: firstly, the most serious national security in the decades ahead will be state-on-state conflict, not the transnational threat of al-Qa’ida that menaced the last decade
Secondly, this threat must be managed on a smaller budget. The halcyon days of the last decade, where national security spending trebled on the back of government balance sheets awash with money, are over. The public debt crisis of the last few years has crunched government revenues and all areas of spending, national security included, must adjust.
Gillard will – has – already copped criticism for this. This is unfair. The massive ramp-up in spending that followed the attacks of 9/11 and the 2002 Bali attacks was a direct response to a specific problem Australia, like most Western countries, had largely ignored.
No such threat exists today, certainly nothing that would justify the unprecedented spendathon of the last decade.
Gillard also deserves credit for delivering a more focused, logically-organised speech than Rudd, whose rambling 2008 statement to parliament did nothing to clarify the real-world threats facing Australians.
However, in other areas today’s speech fell short.
The Prime Minister’s focus on cyber security was welcome, but insufficient in terms of what it delivered. National security experts agree the threat of cyber espionage is huge. But Australia’s response to the cyber threat has been chaotic too many government departments possess too many functions whose role is not always clear. Above all, there is a lack of coordination.
The Australian Cyber Security Centre – the one “announceable” in the PM’s speech – seems unlikely to change that.Source: The Australian “PM looks to East Asia, digital threat, in new security strategy”
- Australian Prime Minister’s speech to have China, cyber crime focus (craighill.net)
- Gillard unveils Australia”s first national security strategy (news.in.msn.com)
- An arms-buying spree across South-East Asia as neighbours try to counter China (chinadailymail.com)