Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Gerard Henderson, the defence white paper, John Howard, ruffled Chinese feathers, Malcolm Turnbull and a vision splendid for the Oz military

(Above: new elements of the Australian military, imported at the behest of Australia's defence white paper, and now standing by to rule the Pacific - please note 'made in China' logo has been erased from base. What's that you say, it's a naval solution? Oh never mind, see below for defence plans we've found and leaked on to the clogged, very full intertubes. Please keep them a secret, we'd be terrified if the Chinese got hold of these vital security plans).

Poor old Gerard Henderson, the man determined to be the world's most boring columnist - as a way of upping the ante on Kevin Rudd, the world's most boring PM - doesn't seem to have noticed the reds under Kevin Rudd's bed.

The dear chappie doesn't seem to have caught up at all with Piers Akermans' extraordinary revelation that the whole western security alliance threatens to uncoil like a two dollar store spring because of the delusional scientists at the CSIRO and their radio telescope lunge for glory.

No, instead, in something of an extraordinary coup of his own, Henderson seems to take pleasure in the recent defence white paper Defending Australia taking a bit of a stand on the Chinese military, thereby producing angst in China, and in Australian commentators prone to the 'all the way with Beijing school' of thought. (See A prudent approach on China).

Ah yes, while the fat owl splashes about and muddies the water in his corner of loon pond, all is peace and tranquility in this corner, because it seems the white paper continues the policies put in place by John Howard and his advisers in recent years, peace be unto him, our glorious former leader, and light of our lives for now and for evermore.

The report is both considered in analysis and moderate in tone. The Rudd Government reaffirmed Australia's longstanding "One China" policy, meaning that Australia regards Taiwan as part of China.

However, it draws attention to "the pace, scope and structure of China's military modernisation". The report acknowledges that China in recent years has begun to explain its military plans but argues that it needs to do more. It maintains that if China does not do so, "there is likely to be a question in the minds of regional states about the long-term purpose of its force deployment plans, particularly as the modernisation appears potentially to be beyond the scope of what would be required for a conflict over Taiwan".

About the only difference Henderson - or Rudd - could see between Rudd and Howard was the emphasis on the naval upgrade, the confirmation of the 100 joint strike fighters, the acquisition of 1100 protected vehicles for the army, and the response to the cyber-security challenge. Clearly neither Henderson nor Rudd have read Akerman, and realized that, thanks to the clowns at the CSIRO, the cyber security challenge is already almost lost.

Henderson however is quietly pleased that the Mandarin-speaking Manchurian candidate Rudd has managed to ruffle feathers in Beijing with his militaristic approach to the Pacific. The Chinese leadership doesn't approve, a Chinese military strategist Rear Admiral Yang Yi has vented in public, and so has an anonymous Chinese diplomat.

China's position has received some support in Australia. Last Saturday, journalist Michelle Grattan commenced a column by opining that "those with long memories will recognise in this white paper a modern, sophisticated version of that old Australian fear - the yellow peril". This is mere hyperbole.

Hyperbole!? Quick, somebody tell Piers Akerman that the use of words like sophisticated amount to hyperbole, just as he lives through his anguish about the CSIRO unleashing the yellow peril on the world of western security.

It's a funny old world, really, when you keep reading sundry members of the right wing commentariat, and try to get a coherent picture of the world. While Akerman froths and foams, the Howard-loving Henderson revels in the way the brave Rudd has stood up to the Chinese dragon and even (allegedly) been at odds with the direction of US-China relations under Obama:

The fact is that Defending Australia does not suggest that China is a threat to Australia. Moreover, for obvious reasons, Australia can never threaten China. The Chinese leadership may be upset about Australia's concern about the security of the region. Yet this position is shared, to a greater or lesser extent, by the leadership of such democratic nations as India, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea.

So far, Rudd has adopted a balanced position on China. In a speech in Townsville in September, and again in the white paper, he has expressed genuine concern about China's military build-up. But he has also made it clear that Australia should work with China on both economic and security matters. In political terms, the surprise turns on criticism by the Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, of the white paper's position on China. From the leader of the Liberal Party, this is unexpected.

Oh no, not Malcolm, it can't be true. Taking a stand against a direction endorsed by John Howard! Surely this means as an unreconstructed squillionaire, he's kept the odd red under his bed just in case they came in handy, and now he wants to do a quick step with the Chinese to defeat his eternal nemesis, the Ruddstra.

Well there you have it. You might have thought an extravagant, delusional bout of military spending might have earned the wrath of Henderson, as there's no apparent indication that the government can deliver the savings required to implement their new policies, and there's no indication that the government will, even if they scrape together the money, be able to get the new hardware out into the field. Try crewing the current motley collection of submarines to get them out of the harbor and see how well you go:

A psychological study of the submarine arm, obtained by The Australian, reveals almost half of all submariners intend to abandon the navy as soon as they can, at a time when it is already so short of crews that it can barely put three of its six Collins-class boats to sea.

The report questions the sustainability of the current Collins-class fleet at a time when the Government is preparing plans, revealed in The Australian in 2007, for a future fleet of up to 12 submarines in the forthcoming defence white paper.

It finds that morale has crumbled, with submariners saying they are overworked, underpaid and unappreciated. They feel alienated from the navy.

Officers are bitter about being exempt from the navy's submarine retention bonuses, which has led them to be paid less than the junior sailors they command.

The study found a quarter of the navy's submarine crews suffer chronic sleep deprivation and believe their job of roaming the world's oceans is meaningless.
 (Joel Fitzgibbon admits 'challenge' manning Collins-class submarines).

You can just imagine a brave new Australia sending its gun boats off to Fiji to sort out the likes of Bainimarama quick stix. Speak softly, and carry a big naval stick, personned by men wearing frocks. That'll startle the Fijians into surrender.

But no Rudd is the new Howard in terms of defence strategy and all is sweetness and light, with poor hapless Malcolm in the middle the odd man out. Actually poor Malcolm just tried to dance on the head of a pin, talking about very confusing signals being sent to China, and not trying to say anything much that would upset anybody about anything (Turnbull doorstop - defence white paper, Australia/China relationship, Rio Tinto/Chinalco).

But the more Malcolm tries this kind of fudging, the more he refuses to endorse John Howard, the more trouble he's in from our prattling Polonius, standard bearer for John Howard from here to eternity. Can the Christian fundie loving Costello be far from a challenge?

Meantime, we'll see how long this Rudd-Henderson rapprochement lasts, and how long the commentariat can resist descending to the red baiting, scare mongering hysteria being delivered by Piers Akerman as he froths and foams about the red menace, and the end of western civilization  as we know it at the hands of the yellow peril.

(Below: secret plans for the Australian navy, leaked to the intertubes as a result of lax security in the CSIRO's new plan for a radio telescope).

No comments: