TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH DAVID SPEERS, AM AGENDA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 21 MAY 2012
DAVID SPEERS: Minister, thanks for your time. Firstly, just tell us what you want to see achieved over the next couple of days here in Chicago.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as the Prime Minister indicated there are a number of things that are important to us. Firstly, just to do a review on how transition has gone since the Lisbon summit which we both attended in November 2010. So far as we're concerned, in Uruzgan things have progressed very well and we're included, as you know, in the third tranche of provinces to transition from the middle of this year.
Secondly, to make sure that just as Australia has made a contribution to the resourcing of the Afghan National Security Forces after transition in 2014, that the international community supports that. The experience when the Russians left was that the Russians sustained the Afghan National Security Forces for a number of years but when the Soviet Union collapsed and the cheques stopped coming, we then saw the collapse of security and the rise of Taliban.
Thirdly, we do have to start thinking about what is the post-2014 international community presence. What is the basis for that presence; is it an ongoing United Nations mandate; is it a Status of Forces Agreement? To start that conversation and we've made clear that not only do we want to have a long-term strategic partnership with Afghanistan, but also ongoing development assistance but also ongoing advice, training and potentially Special Forces if there's an appropriate mandate and role for that.
DAVID SPEERS: Well, just going back to the first objective, this reviewing the transition that was already agreed on end of 2014. The French are now going to pull out their combat troops earlier than that. What impact will that have?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as the Prime Minister has said, she's seeing the new French President, President Hollande, tomorrow; I'm seeing as well tomorrow the new French Defence Minister. And so the Prime Minister's made it pretty clear that we'd like to have a conversation with them directly first, so we're not proposing to give gratuitous public advice.
But I think there are a number of important points that can be made in general terms. It's up to the French President and his Ministers to indicate to the summit how they're proposing to discharge an ongoing obligation to Afghanistan, which they say they want to, and at the same time meet the commitments they made to the French people at the election.
So we should all patiently wait to hear from the President and his Ministers.
DAVID SPEERS: But if they can pull their combat troops out of their frontline role, which is the most dangerous role, why can't we at the same time?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, secondly, the province that they are in, Kapisa, is also included in the third trance, so they are transitioning on a good timetable as well.
But as we've said in the past, it's possible for a country to make a contribution in Afghanistan which is different from or goes beyond a simply a combat role. As transition effects, whether it's in Kapisa or in Uruzgan, the upfront combat role naturally recedes anyway. Of course, countries need to be combat ready, as the International Security Assistance Force and NATO countries put it.
But we've seen, for example with other countries who finish a combat role, who continue to make a substantial contribution. So Canada, for example, ceased a combat role but they've got nearly 1000 people in Afghanistan continuing to do training and the like. So I'm expecting that-
DAVID SPEERS: But if it's a greater burden though on countries that are doing the combat role, like Australia and the Americans?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we've got a large number of NATO and International Security Assistance Force countries. They all make a contribution in a different way, a very small military or combat contribution, and others like Australia have a larger one. We continue to be in the top 10 military contributors. We're also in the top three Special Forces contributors.
But countries make their contribution in a different way, I think, and to be fair to the new French President, it's really a matter for him to outline what he has in mind to meet the two strands, which he articulated to the French people.
DAVID SPEERS: But post-2014, it's very clear the French aren't going to have Special Forces doing any sort of combat role.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we're not envisaging that all countries, or indeed very many countries, will necessarily have a Special Forces or make a Special Forces contribution.
DAVID SPEERS: But will Australia and should Australia if the French aren't?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, one of the things that has been a very good Army and Defence experience for us out of Afghanistan has been the way in which, over the last decade, we have continued to work very closely with other Special Forces countries, in particular the United States, but also the United Kingdom.
So we have carved out a very well regarded niche or capability in Special Forces. We're highly regarded and so-
DAVID SPEERS: You're saying the Australians will be needed because they're more skilled than some others?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, some others don't make Special Forces their specialty or one of their high-level capabilities. The French of course have a Special Forces capability. But it's one area where we think we can make a contribution. But the important point is to make sure in the first instance that there is a proper mandate for that.
Now, that mandate could be United Nations mandate ongoing, as we've had for a decade, or it could be a status of forces agreement with the government of Afghanistan. And the Special Forces role could be for counterterrorism purposes or indeed for training purposes or both.
DAVID SPEERS: Now, the Taliban. Your counterpart, Leon Panetta, the US Defence Secretary, has suggested that there's no deal yet in prospect in terms of a peace deal with the Taliban.
Do you see that as important to secure a lasting peace in Afghanistan?
STEPHEN SMITH: Australia's been saying for a number of years, starting with the London Conference on Afghanistan back in 2009, that Afghanistan would not be won in an enduring sense by military means alone; there ought to be a political settlement.
And so we've been strong supporters, not just of improving the security atmosphere and arrangements in Afghanistan, but also the need for a long-term, enduring political settlement. Now, that requires some people who run with the Taliban to lay down their arms, to abide by the conditions and the framework of the Afghan constitution. Some clearly won't do that.
But there does need to be a political settlement as well, and whether it's the government of Afghanistan, whether it's the United States, whether it's NATO, whether it's Australia, we will support and urge that. In the first instance, of course, it's a matter for Afghanistan itself to resolve. It's clearly supported in that effort by the United States and others.
DAVID SPEERS: But if there is some sort of peace settlement with the Taliban and they have some involvement in government, is there a danger that the gains that have been made on education, women's rights, and other areas, would be wound back?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the Afghan constitution and the long-term strategic partnerships that Afghanistan has entered into, whether that's been with NATO, whether it's been with the United States, whether it's with Australia and we're looking forward to the Prime Minister and President Karzai signing up an Afghanistan-Australia partnership agreement - all of those documents envisage ongoing improvements in the life and livelihood of Afghans in particular.
DAVID SPEERS: So Australia's ongoing support will be tied to some of those gains remaining in place?
STEPHEN SMITH: We have made it clear to President Karzai and to the Afghan authorities in the past that we continue to expect to see improvements in the conditions and circumstances of the people of Afghanistan, particularly when it comes to women and girls, and particularly when it comes to their opportunities for education, but-
DAVID SPEERS: Otherwise our support could evaporate?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we want to ensure that not only do the conditions for security improve in Afghanistan, which they have considerably over the last two years, but also the opportunities for their people occur, improve, and that particularly applies to women and to girls. And we've made that point in the past.
DAVID SPEERS: Stephen Smith, thank you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, David. Thanks very much.