TRANSCRIPT: Interview with Lyndal Curtis on ABC24
TRANSCRIPTION: Proof copy E & OE
DATE: 16 September 2011
TOPICS: AUSMIN; Cyber Security; East Asia Summit; US Global Force Posture Review; Joint Strike Fighter; Afghanistan.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Stephen Smith, welcome to ABC News 24.
STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure.
LYNDAL CURTIS: It's the 60th Anniversary of ANZUS, you've held the AUSMIN talks I think in the building where the Treaty was signed. The threats and challenges that both countries face have changed a lot over that period. What are the main threats or challenges that the two nations face now?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well you're quite right, it's the 60th Anniversary of our Alliance with the United States, with our ANZUS Treaty which came out of World War 2 where the challenges were the traditional ones of nation state against nation state using traditional weaponry and the like.
A day and a decade ago we invoked the Treaty for the first time in the face of something that the people who drew up and signed the Treaty had not envisaged, namely international terrorism, and today as part of our AUSMIN meeting we declared that an attack by the way of cyber could also invoke the Treaty because that has the potential to degrade or undermine or wipe out a nation's communication system, particularly its military communication system.
So the Alliance has served us well for 60 years and continues to be the bedrock of our security strategic and defence arrangements, but there are new threats and cyber is one of them, and we've addressed that today.
LYNDAL CURTIS: You also talked a lot about countries in the region. The biggest country in the region is China, you talked about enhancing trust and confidence through greater dialogue on strategic security. Do you do that through the East Asia Summit, is that effectively the security complement to APEC?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we're very pleased that the United States and Russia will join and expand its East Asia Summit, that will occur at three levels, at President and Prime Minister level, so at leaders level, at Foreign Ministers level and also at Defence Ministers level. At Defence Ministers level we describe it as the ASEAN Defence Ministers Plus. And we had our first meeting of that in Hanoi in October November last year.
So that's a very important piece of regional architecture because it gets all the key players from the Asia Pacific region in the same room at the same time able to have a conversation about peace and security, but also able to have a conversation about investment and prosperity, so that's a very very good development that sees the United States, China, Japan, India, Republic of Korea, Indonesia, India, Australia, Russia all in the same room at the same time, so that's a very good vehicle and we welcome that very much.
LYNDAL CURTIS: And able to essentially reassure other countries in the region that things Australia and the US are doing together that might happen out of the Global Force Posture Review shouldn't be seen as threats?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well on the contrary we've always said, and we very strongly believe that the ongoing presence of the United States in the Asia Pacific region, in the Pacific in particular has been since the end of World War 2 a force for peace and stability and security and a force for prosperity, and we want the continued United States involvement.
So far as the United States' Global Force Posture Review is concerned, yes we've had a working group looking at the possibilities between Australia and the United States, we set that up in the aftermath of last year's AUSMIN meeting in Melbourne, we had a very productive meeting today, got good reports from our officials, both civilian and military, as to the progress they've been making, and we're looking at what more we can do in terms of greater training together, greater exercises, the possibility of pre-positioning stores and the like for humanitarian and disaster relief.
So we still have some more work to do before we can come to [indistinct] on that front but that won't in any way be, in my view, of any concern to the region. Whilst it will be in practical terms the single biggest practical development of the Alliance since our joint facilities program in the 1980s, it's very much an extension of what we've previously been doing in terms of joint exercises with the United States, and it won't come as any surprise that Alliance partners do this sort of thing in the modern day.
LYNDAL CURTIS: You've also had a chance to talk to the new US Defense Secretary Panetta about the Joint Strike Fighter, something that there has been some concerns about, both the cost and the schedule. Have you had any reassurance from him?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well Leon Panetta, the Defense Secretary, and I spoke about the Joint Strike Fighter, we also spoke about Submarines, but on the Joint Strike Fighter I made a point, as I have previously in the United States, that I'm very concerned about the schedule, very concerned about the delivery of the Joint Strike Fighters and made it clear again that one thing I won't allow is a gap in our capability, a gap in our air combat capability.
There are a number of variables, one is the extent to which the program itself will be adversely affected by the budget cuts, which we know have to come so far as defence and military are concerned. So we'll be doing what we describe as an all in assessment, a risk assessment of where the delivery of the Joint Strike Fighters is in the course of the end of this year and early next year, and make a judgement next year about whether we need to acquire some other planes to make sure there's no gap in capability.
I've always been of the view and remain of the view that the project itself will get up because the United States is dependant upon it for its own air capability and the entire weight of the United States system is behind it, but there are risks, firstly to delivery and schedule and secondly to cost, and in the first instance I'm very focused on issues of scheduling and making sure we don't have a gap in capability.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Both countries are closely involved in Afghanistan. Have you received an update on the United States plans and will Australia closely link its plans for withdrawing troops to the US plans? And a second question. There was an attack this week in Kabul, is there some way to go before even security and stability in the capital are good enough to consider withdrawing?
STEPHEN SMITH: We're both committed to transition by 2014 which is the international communities' timetable. We believe we're on track, and we spoke also about on the basis that a successful transition is made to security responsibility for the Afghan authorities, the Afghan Army and the Police, the National Police and the local Police, what role will there be for the international community after? And the things that we've spoken about in very preliminary terms are potential for some Special Forces to remain, potential for training to continue, specialised or niche training and obviously development assistance and capacity to build. So we've got to start thinking about what we might do after transition, but we are confident that transition is on track.
We also spoke about the high profile propaganda style attacks that the Taliban have been waging, and whilst they're regrettable and whilst we certainly condemn the fact that civilians are killed when these attacks occur, we know that one of the reasons the Taliban are doing it is because we have degraded their capacity to come back at us on the ground. They are resorting to these high profile attacks as much for propaganda purposes and the effect they have on TV.