Minister for Defence – Speech – Annual Gallipoli memorial lecture

Introduction

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It’s a pleasure to be here in London to address the Royal United Services Institute and a great privilege to be delivering the annual Gallipoli Memorial Lecture.

Let me say at the outset that nothing should be construed by my remarks today as a comment on the UK

Two days ago, we commemorated the 100th anniversary since the Gallipoli landings. I was honoured to mark this occasion at the dawn service in Villers-Bretonneux, France, where on 24th and 25th April 1918, 1200 Australian lives were lost in the battle to recapture the town.

Together, with representatives from Allied nations, including the United Kingdom, we paused to honour those who have served, and remember those who have given their lives in service during conflicts and peacekeeping operations. It was a humbling experience – one that I will never forget.

The Historical Context

As we commemorate the Centenary of World War One, scholars and commentators will inevitably draw comparisons between our current strategic environment and that of a century ago.

It’s all too common to hear statements in strategic circles that we currently live in a world of unprecedented complexity and uncertainty.

Yet, if you look at the early twentieth century and the decades preceding it, with the creation of new nations forged by war and nationalism, the internal frailty of numerous empires, and new inventions in the ways of war – all in an environment without today’s access to information and instantaneous communications – only with considerable hindsight could you say that decision makers had it relatively simple 100 years ago.

Just as today, in the early twentieth century, policy makers also had to cope with a diversity of possible strategic futures and plausible military contingencies. Most of the major powers of the time were involved in colonial wars prior to their planning for, and involvement in, the First World War.

There are enduring realities about international conflict, and there are lessons from the past that guide our decision making today.

For as long as states – or individuals within states – have interests which are not easily reconciled, we will need to consider ways of managing or preventing conflict.

After a period of 40 years of relative peace, the First World War caught many in Europe and the wider world by surprise, although it probably should not have.

Virtually all military planners of the early 20th Century looked back on the ‘last war’ in their expectations for the next.

Based on the experience of wars of the mid-19th Century, there was a widespread expectation that future wars would be short and sharp – a view, incidentally, that would probably be widely held today. When the First World War broke out, it quickly became clear that this expectation was wrong: the world had changed.

For Australia, one of the most historically significant attempts to break the stalemate in the Great War was the Gallipoli campaign. This campaign, ultimately futile in a military sense, had a formative effect on our young nation, leading among other things to the what we know as the Anzac legacy.

Australia – UK Defence Relationship

It was on the first anniversary of Gallipoli, that a London newspaper dubbed the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who marched the streets of the city, “the Knights of Gallipoli”.

But of course, the young Anzacs from Australia and New Zealand did not fight alone. Soldiers from Britain, Ireland, France, India and Newfoundland also left their homes to fight far away along the Western Front.

It goes without saying, the long standing relationship between Australia and the United Kingdom is a great one. Our links have withstood the test of time. In fact, our bilateral defence partnership is Australia’s longest.

Ours is a partnership that has been forged in adversity and tested over time, in almost every major conflict for 100 years, including in the First and Second World Wars, and more recently in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And it is a partnership which continues to strengthen and grow. Our close, often combined, participation in conflicts and wars as well as our intelligence–sharing arrangements stem from our overlapping strategic interests.

Most recently, the AUKMIN Ministerial Dialogue in February this year provided the Australian and British Foreign and Defence Ministers the opportunity to share insights as our countries prepare to deliver defence policy papers later this year – the Australian Defence White Paper and the British Strategic Defence and Security Review.

It is timely that Britain and Australia closely consider our respective Defence strategies, as we face a world of considerable complexity.
It is worth noting that, notwithstanding some significant differences in our geography, Australia and the UK are facing many of the same challenges and opportunities.

One of the challenges both of our militaries currently face is the age-old dilemma of balancing the competing priorities of structuring and equipping our forces for a number of contingencies.

A key question facing most countries is whether to structure military forces for the more consequential but less likely contingencies, versus those that are far more likely but somewhat less consequential to longer-term strategic interests.

The reality is that events aren’t likely to be kind enough to offer us the luxury of such a choice.

That’s because the threat implicit in both inter-state and intra-state contingencies represents a very real challenge to a core interest to our countries, and one that has been directly formed by our experience in history and war.

That interest is the primacy of the rule of law and the global need to develop and maintain a more rules-based international order.

As responsible global citizens, over coming decades, Australia and the United Kingdom will continue to address threats to a peaceful, prosperous and rules-based global order, including terrorism, the instability in the Middle East and violent extremism at home, as well as managing the rise of major powers.

The threat of non-state actors

The immediate challenge we face to that order today is the threat posed by jihadist groups, the most notable of which is Daesh. But it also includes like-minded organisations in South Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, West and East Africa.

It’s not without some considerable sense of irony that as we commemorate a war that ultimately ended the last Caliphate of the Ottoman Empire, we find ourselves engaged in a struggle against a group that seeks to establish a new caliphate, albeit one that would be unrecognisable to the Ottomans.

Accordingly, we need to understand the very real challenges that groups like Daesh present, as such an understanding will largely shape the adequacy or otherwise of our responses.

Daesh, although driven principally by an extreme Islamist ideology, also has a defined governance structure that is intent on bringing about a war of civilisations and overturning the existing global order that has benefited billions of people worldwide.

It is therefore incumbent upon us – the United Kingdom and Australia together – to deny them that war. From the outset our response to Islamic extremism, at home and abroad, should always be guided by that denial.

We can best do that by recognising that the vast majority of Muslims, including the Shiites who are regarded as apostates by Daesh, reject the Islamic State. But that shouldn’t alter the appreciation that those fighting for Daesh are still motivated by their own sense of religious duty, even if a puritanical and extremist one.

We should not ignore the role and influence that religion continues to have in the lives of billions of people. For the most part, religion remains a positive force, but in the minds of a militant minority it can take on more malign forms.

And while Daesh’s ideology is medieval in nature, we cannot be content to merely characterise them as a bunch of blood-thirsty lunatics, fixated on shocking the world with their beheadings, crucifixions and glory in death.

Doing so can only cause us to underestimate their wider political ambitions and overestimate the ease with which they must be ultimately defeated.

These groups flourish in the absence of the rule of law, in largely ungoverned space, so our responses must look to assisting the countries most affected to re-establish government authority and effectiveness.

But Daesh’s clear rejection of all systems of government, other than the Caliphate, and inspiration it provides to groups and individuals globally, is one reason why this is not a conflict isolated to just Iraq and Syria, but one that reaches into each of our countries, as we have witnessed on the streets of London and Sydney.

The challenge of rising major powers

More broadly, our two countries share an interest in the maintenance of a rules-based international order, including a rules-based approach to maritime trade routes, cyber, space and other domains – which are all critical to our security and economic prosperity.

Over the next twenty years, Australia’s strategic environment will likely become more challenging as major powers compete more actively to promote their interests and seek to have a greater say in how the global order functions.

I hardly need to tell this audience about the activities of the Russian military in recent months. Not only have we witnessed events in Ukraine, but the flights of Russian aircraft around the UK, and the activities of the Russian Navy in the waters off Northern and Western Europe as well as in East Asia and even Australia during the G20.

If nothing else, these recent events remind governments that their responsibility to ensure the safety and security of their citizens is real.

We see Russia’s strategic focus as remaining to its West but it will look to tap its Arctic energy resources over the next decade and beyond, developing energy contracts with Asian states such as China, Japan and South Korea. Russia is modernising its Pacific Fleet and Russian naval units are likely to be seen in South East Asia and the Indian Ocean region more frequently.

But Russia still faces long-term demographic and budgetary challenges in coming decades that will complicate its strategic planning. Although Moscow’s relationship with Beijing will continue to grow, it will change character as their relative power shifts in Beijing’s favour.

The rise of China

While we are witnessing the strengthening roles of multiple powers, it’s the continued growth of China’s national power – and how regional countries deal with that power – that will be the major driver of the Indo-Pacific’s strategic future.

This is a key consideration for Australian planning and policymaking.

While it faces its own long-term internal economic and demographic challenges, China is still likely to gain more regional weight and influence.

China has a central role to play in contributing to the peace and stability of the region and we welcome the positive contributions it has made to date. We need to capitalise on the fact that China has as much of an interest in its rise being peaceful as we all do.

The modernisation of military capabilities is a natural part of any country’s economic development and China is no different in this respect.

Australia is committed to developing strong and positive defence relations with China, and working to enhance mutual understanding, facilitate transparency and build trust.

That being said, Australia remains concerned by developments in the South and East China Sea which have served to raise tensions in the region.

Australia has a legitimate interest in the maintenance of peace and stability in that part of the world, including the preservation of respect for international law, unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation.

Disputes must be resolved peacefully and Australia urges parties to exercise restraint, take steps to ease tensions and refrain from provocative actions that could escalate tensions. Because when tensions are high, the risks of miscalculation resulting in conflict are very real.

Australia also strongly opposes the use of intimidation, aggression or coercion to advance any country’s claims or to unilaterally alter the status quo.

Notwithstanding China’s growth, the United States will remain the single most important country in enforcing a rules-based order. As with any relationship there will be ups and downs but I believe that a constructive relationship between the US and China is achievable and sustainable.

In recognition of the emergence of East Asia as the new global strategic and economic centre of gravity, the United States continues to rebalance its forces to the region. But although it is unlikely that any country will be able to compete with US global military reach over the next twenty years, the US cannot do it all by itself.

Australia is playing its part in strongly supporting the United States’ presence, which has underpinned the region’s rising prosperity for over 70 years, and which continues to play an important stabilising role.

This pursuit of stability shouldn’t be confused with just standing still. The regional and international security order must and will slowly evolve. For China to have a greater stake in a rules-based order it will need to have some say in what those rules ultimately become.

Learning from history

Amidst China’s impressive rise, it has been popular to compare current events in East Asia with those in Europe Indeed, power is shifting in East Asia more quickly than in Europe in 1914 as regional nations’ economic, trade and defence relativities change.

Over the coming decades, strategic and economic power will continue to shift to the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean East Asia in particular is, and will remain, a dynamic focal point of global economic growth.

This region is vital to Australia’s future. Our security and stability is linked inextricably in much the same way as the United Kingdom and Europe are bound together.

As economic growth continues, we are also witnessing increasing economic, energy, and trade interdependence across the region.

However, the premise of noting the events of Europe 1914 as an analogy for the East Asian region today is not an accurate endeavour.

Some correlations can be made between circumstances and actions of 21st century nations and the past, but the fundamental diplomacy, relationships between international communities and globalisation exhibit a world that is more connected, supportive and reliant on international cooperation than ever before.

It was the increased polarisation of international relations in Europe and subsequent mistrust that contributed to the commencement of World War One. This is a lesson we have learned today.

And this is why we work tirelessly to strengthen links throughout the international system:

links of economic, diplomatic, cultural and defence cooperation and support during times of crisis, and

links based on common values such as the fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, links based on common interests.

Greater economic integration increases the costs of destabilising actions and can sometimes prevent or moderate future conflicts.

While underlying tensions amongst regional states are likely to remain a constant of our near-term strategic environment, the shared dependence of most East Asian countries upon the region’s maritime energy and trade corridors, combined with the inability of any state to unilaterally secure its shipments, should be a powerful incentive to manage conflicting interests.

This mutual dependency remains one of the sharpest contrasts to the challenges posed by Imperial Germany, let alone subsequent challengers.

But history also teaches us that while greater interdependence reduces the likelihood of destabilising actions or conflicts between nations, it will not remove the risk altogether.

And interdependence will not prevent states from engaging in coercive behaviour, in fact it can provide the very economic links that can facilitate coercive behaviour. Nor will it prevent miscalculation.

The increasing wealth and economic strength of nations across the Indo-Pacific, also provides the means to modernise military forces. In the decades ahead, many regional nations will be more powerful militarily than they are today as they acquire more capable and technologically advanced platforms.

While this will enable more capable security partners, able to make a greater contribution to regional security and stability, military modernisation also has the potential to shape and increase strategic competition, not unlike past military contests.

For Australia, it raises the baseline for a credible and capable Australian Defence Force as our relative regional technological advantages diminish in coming decades.

Australia’s Response

The Defence White Paper to be released later this year will set out how Australia will respond to its future strategic environment.

Out to 2035, the Government expects the Australian Defence Force to be able to defend Australia and its national interests; play an active role in contributing to regional security and stability; and, make meaningful contributions to coalition operations across the world, because our interests are engaged globally.

To deliver this, the Government will clearly define Defence’s strategic objectives and the tasks it expects Defence to perform. Importantly, government must provide the resources required to achieve these tasks. Defence needs to be rebuilt in a way that is sustainable over the long term.

If developments in military capability in the 21st Century are as dynamic as those of the preceding one, we will undoubtedly witness profound changes in warfare.

The advances of communications, transportation and defence technology that so fundamentally and unpredictably changed the face of war and society 100 years ago are relatively similar to many we see today.

The early twentieth century saw the introduction of mechanized warfare, wireless communications, advances in propellants, the widespread introduction of aircraft into military service and the use of tanks as combat weapons.

When submarines first reliably went to sea early in the 20th century, they were immediately recognised as an extraordinary threat to surface ships. By World War Two they were so effective against warships that they sank nearly as much aircraft carrier tonnage as was sunk by aircraft.

Last month in a speech at the Australian War Memorial, I remarked upon the 100th anniversary of Turkey repulsing the British and French fleet at Chanakkale, decisively ending the allied attempt to force the straits.

As a result of that defeat, four days later the fateful decision was made to commit to amphibious landings at Gallipoli

But Turkey’s initial ability to deny the Allied fleet, especially though the shrewd use of naval mines, was also a clear and successful early example of what we now term the tactic of anti-access and area denial – a tactic that occupies much of our military thinking today.

Fast forward to the 21st Century and there are a number of emerging technologies that hold the potential to radically alter existing balances in military technology.

There is the exponential growth of unmanned and increasingly autonomous robotic systems, and the potential of new forms of manufacturing to usher in a new industrial revolution.

Then there is the possibility that directed-energy weapons could dramatically alter the offense-defence balance in key military competitions. These weapons could be capable of attacking targets at the speed of light and may significantly impair the effectiveness of many weapon types, especially ballistic weapons.

The development of hypersonic missiles will lead to countries, other than major powers, having long-range strike capabilities that are more readily within their reach.

A key question for our Defence White Paper is to ask how the Australian Defence Force should best use emerging technology in coming years.

It should be noted that our Defence Force already has very capable platforms that are in – or soon to enter – service.

Over coming years, Australia will also acquire significant and sophisticated new platforms, including new submarines, frigates, the Joint Strike Fighter and replacements for the land vehicle fleet.

Focussing on enablers

However, succeeding in the future operating environment will depend on more than just high‑end platforms.

Australia has a relatively small defence force, with 30 times fewer personnel than the US military and three times smaller than those of the UK.

As those in the United Kingdom know, all militaries throughout the world must prioritise their investments.

Countries that can bring their different capabilities together to operate as a coordinated joint force, as well as effectively with the forces of allies and partners in coalition operations, will enjoy an advantage over countries that pursue ad hoc military acquisitions without properly supporting or integrating them with their existing capabilities, or those of their strategic partners.

There is significant scope to improve the way in which key platforms work together, so that the combat power of the whole force remains grater than the sum of its parts.

For Australia, this will be achieved largely through greater investment in enabling capabilities such as intelligence, surveillance, information dissemination, cyber, electronic warfare, infrastructure and training systems – the glue that binds front-line capabilities together to maximise the effectiveness of the force.

It’s the ability to integrate and share information between platforms and systems in a timely manner that will give the Australian Defence Force a distinct edge.

At the same time we must recognise that our reliance on key enablers for modern operations is also a potential vulnerability that needs to be acknowledged and consciously managed.

Conclusion

In closing, as we commemorate the events of World War One, and the centenary of Gallipoli, we reflect on the terrible cost of war. But that experience tells us that if we want to live in a more rules-based world, then we must also invest in the power-based component of the international security order.

As the Australian Minister for Defence, it is my responsibility to ensure that the Australian Defence Force and the Department of Defence generate and sustain the capabilities required to protect Australia’s national interests.

We committed to return the Defence budget to two percent of Gross Domestic Product within the next decade to provide a stable and sustainable funding growth path.

At the same time, there is a continuing imperative to be as efficient as possible with the money available, while investing in people, training and infrastructure.

Importantly, this forthcoming Australian Defence White Paper will be the first to be fully costed. External providers are undertaking cost assurance of capability and enterprise elements to support rigorous financial planning being done by Government agencies.

As the Australian Government plans how best to provide for Australia’s future national security, we are seeking to understand the implications of changing strategic, security and economic circumstances. We understand that these changes pose challenges and opportunities for Australia and its Defence Organisation.

Through the 2015 Defence White Paper, the Australian Government will set out its plan to address these challenges over coming decades.

In doing so, we seek to fulfil the primary duty of a national government, the safety and security of its citizens and the defence of its territory and interests.

END


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