June 3rd 2017


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Left poisons Trump's real achievements

EUTHANASIA It must be war, as truth has been the first casualty

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE Dr David van Gend criticises AMA statement

GENDER POLITICS U.S. Target goes gender neutral; pays the price

GENDER POLITICS Where have all the transgenders gone?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Graceless new book takes hatchet to Cardinal Pell

CULTURAL HISTORY The prophets of eco-doom: a perfect record of failure

LAW AND SOCIETY Religion in the balance in Australia

MUSIC What's it all about?: when no amount of ado will do

CINEMA Alien: Covenant: Creature seeks Creator

BOOK REVIEW Insights for the euthanasia debate

BOOK REVIEW Assistance is an Australian strength

LETTERS

CANBERRA OBSERVED Abbott strives not to join the forgotten people

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Is Cardinal Pell just the tallest poppy of them all?

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BOOK REVIEW
Assistance is an Australian strength




News Weekly, June 3, 2017

THE LONG ROAD: Australia’s Train, Advise and Assist Missions

Edited by Tom Frame

NewSouth, Sydney
Paperback: 416 pages
Price: AUD$39.99

Reviewed by Jeffry Babb

 

Give a man a fish; you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Chinese proverb

 

Every organisation must transmit knowledge, not only technical knowledge, but the ethos of the organisation. Australia’s men and women in uniform must do more than fight: the profession of arms requires that they understand their duties and responsibilities as guardians of the nation.

Ideally, they should also read and absorb the history and ethos of the great warriors of the past. That ethos is the characteristic spirit of the warrior culture, as manifested in the warrior’s attitudes and aspirations.

With few exceptions, Australians have been citizen soldiers. Australia has had 20 years of continuous overseas deployments without having to resort to conscription. An all-volunteer army is a different beast to one leavened with conscripts, even if, as in Vietnam, the reluctant soldiers fight bravely. The armed forces have stood apart from politics and have not disputed the fact that the civilian authorities have the final say in matters of funding and strategy.

When it comes to training, advising and assistance, Australia has a very good reputation. Former United States Vice-President Joe Biden, speaking at a news conference in Australia, said of our soldiers: “You folks are the best trainers in the world” (Frame, p4). Much of Australia’s advantage is that the trainers aren’t encumbered with the baggage, both physical and cultural, that the Americans carry with them when they deploy (such as multiple fast-food joints).

It’s also true that Australians have a reputation for not taking casualties where it is not necessary. Australia’s horrific experience in World War I was seared into the nation’s consciousness. From Australia’s population of just less than 5 million, 416,809 men – all volunteers – signed up to go to war. Some 60,000 were killed and 156,000 were wounded, gassed or saw out the war as prisoners of war. Many survived the war but not the peace, dying of old wounds, gassed lungs, poisons such as mustard gas and psychological trauma, which in those days was known as shell shock.

We do not have the population to mount mass attacks, so we have to fight smarter. That is why Australians are such good trainers. And that is why Australian trainers have been so successful in the Pacific Islands. David Feeney (ALP, Batman) notes that the recent Defence White Paper (2016) has bipartisan support. The South Pacific and Timor-Leste are priority destinations for foreign aid, says Feeney.

The Pacific Islands are “our patch”. “The Long Road” divides the Pacific islands into Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. These islands are small enough that the relatively small amount we can spend in aid makes a substantial difference, especially though the promotion of “soft power”.

The idea of “soft power” is that factors apart from armed force and financial inducements come into play. The Pacific islands comprise small nations with fragile governmental systems. Weak governments that are prone to corruption mean the islands’ resources – such as timber and fish – are looted with little return to the islanders.

The South Pacific is also the scene of an ongoing diplomatic tussle between China and Taiwan. The Republic of China on Taiwan sees the South Pacific as one area of the world where it can exert influence and make a difference.

The United States is important to the Pacific islands. Indeed, many are United States territories. With the “pivot to Asia”, the islands are important militarily to the United States. The fact is that the U.S., as the world’s pre-eminent economic and military power, is just too big for these micro-nations. Dealing with these island nations requires consistency, sensitivity and an appreciation of their fragile economies and governmental structures.

As an illustration of what Australia can do well, we need look no further than the Solomon Islands. The security framework had essentially collapsed. “State institutions in the Solomon Islands designed to provide for public safety and security had essentially collapsed in the face of armed militia gangs. Ubiquitous corruption masqueraded behind a veneer of political discourse” (Frame, p86).

RAMSI – Regional Assistance Mission, Solomon Islands – was a multinational coalition spearheaded by the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and the AFP (Australian Federal Police). The AFP and ADF shoulder patch displayed the operation’s name, “Helpum Fren”. Among other successes, through a series of ingenious stratagems, the ADF brought the psychopathic mass murderer Harold Keke to justice.

Operation “Helpum Fren” will end this year. RAMSI has been expensive, at a cost estimated at $2.6 billion for Australia. But the operation has been about more than stabilising a small, impoverished country. Australia has demonstrated its commitment to the Pacific region.

Many Solomon Islanders feel apprehensive about their future when RAMSI’s mission concludes. Why was RAMSI necessary?

Failed states can become havens for terrorists, drug runners and other undesirables. Weak governments can’t combat unscrupulous raiders seeking to plunder the islands’ finite resources.

Apart from helping the Pacific islanders strengthen their state structures, we can help develop their economies. If people can’t live on the islands, they will go elsewhere, making the remaining population vulnerable to manipulation. Foreign aid should not be seen as a form of charity, but as a means of pursuing Australia’s strategic aims. Foreign aid should be targeted and consistent.

There is no reason why aid should be a fixed proportion of gross domestic product, or why aid should be distributed outside of Australia’s area of interest. Aid should serve Australia’s national interest, as well as developing the economies of these vulnerable micro-states.


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