Australia, an island continent of about three million square miles, inhabited by eleven million people of predominantly West European descent, lies on the southern perimeter of Southeast Asia, which is heavily populated by peoples of diverse racial origins with traditions, cultures and political and economic outlooks differing radically both among themselves and from Australia's.

Until halfway through the Second World War, Australia's defense policy was very much a product of its early history. Although from 1862 Australia contributed financially to the maintenance of its own internal security and external defense forces, its defense thinking was nurtured within the overall pattern of British strategic defense. As a natural corollary, and because of its deep concern over developments in Europe, it supported the United Kingdom in two world wars. Although in 1914 there was no immediate threat to Australia, 330,000 volunteers were sent overseas from a population of 5,000,000; and 60,000 of them died in the war. In 1939, with the British declaration of war on Germany, the Australian Government immediately declared war also and began to build up forces as a contribution to the Allied effort. At their peak, Australian forces totaled 640,000 and in addition we made considerable supplies and services available to Allied forces. Support for the Allied effort in both these wars was based on traditional and emotional ties with the United Kingdom as well as logic.

The unhappy events following the entry of Japan into World War II shattered the old concept that strategic defense could be left to the Royal Navy (augmented by Australian ships and using the Singapore Naval Base) while Australia concentrated mainly on local defense. The "impregnable" naval base was easily breached and taken. Two battleships, the Prince of Wales and the Repulse, were sunk within minutes of each other, a Japanese invasion fleet penetrated as far south as the Coral Sea and Japanese soldiers were able to take over most of the settled part of New Guinea. Thus Australia's primary reliance on a protective power was destroyed. Australian and United States forces were able to hold and then turn the Japanese advance, and as American power developed, the attack was carried back through the islands of the Southwest Pacific to the Japanese mainland. By the end of the war, Australians had formed an appreciation of the immense strength that the United States was able to exert in Australia's area of primary strategic interest.

II

In a broad sense, Australian defense objectives may be described as: 1, to establish the security of Australia and its island territories; 2, to pursue close friendship and coöperation with non-Communist Asian countries; 3, to seek the support of at least the United States and the United Kingdom for promoting coöperative arrangements with Southeast Asian countries for collective security purposes in this area and for the defense and security of Australia; 4, to counter Communist aggression in Southeast Asia; and 5, to support the development of the United Nations as an effective instrument of collective security.

The range of Australian defense policy must be world-wide because our security is threatened by any blow at the United Kingdom, the United States or any other of the countries in the defensive alliances that have been formed in the free world. In the same way our security would be jeopardized by any severe deterioration in the political and economic conditions in the countries of Southeast Asia, particularly if there should be an eruption of Communist power in these areas. Viewed against such a background, Australian defense interests would be best served by a sound system of collective security on a universal basis such as is envisaged in the United Nations. In present circumstances, however, the role of the United Nations in that regard is severely restricted, and this has made it essential for Australia to maintain its capacity for self-defense in association with like-minded states.

The close ties which bound the United States and Australia in the Second World War have been considerably strengthened in the postwar period. Australia was among the first countries to contribute forces in support of the United Nations action to resist aggression in Korea, and Australian units served from the outset with United States forces in that theater. The mutuality of interest and high degree of confidence and friendship which exist between the two governments and peoples are further reflected in the ANZUS and SEATO treaties to which both countries are parties and in their partnership in the struggle against Communist forces in South Viet Nam.

In addition, Australia continues to have a wide identity of basic interests and outlook with the United Kingdom. Both countries are opposed to policies of aggression and retain the deep sense of the right of independent peoples to retain their freedom, territorial independence and political integrity. Hence Australia has committed itself along with the United Kingdom and New Zealand to the defense of Malaysia as a young Commonwealth country against the Indonesian menace. In all these respects, we maintain the closest ties with New Zealand, our neighbor across the Tasman Sea, with which Australia shares a common outlook and a near identity of strategic interest.

Australian defense planners have for many years seen clearly-perhaps more clearly than most-the need for a sustained and coordinated allied effort, involving the major powers as well as indigenous forces, if stability is to be promoted in Southeast Asia. This appreciation has stemmed from two main considerations. In the first place, Australia's geographical position on the perimeter of Southeast Asia has made us acutely aware of the relative weakness and imbalance of the indigenous military resources in the area. Our growing contact with the area and our increased understanding of its basic conditions have served to emphasize the enormous difficulty of expanding these military resources rapidly, given the need and desire of the local peoples for economic advancement and social welfare. The complexity and scale of the developmental problems in a diverse and often divided society have made it easy to predict that the growth of indigenous resources will be subject to severe limiting conditions for a considerable time to come, despite the large military aid provided predominantly by the United States.

In the second place, Australia's defense thinking is conditioned by the obvious war potential and influence of Communist China. The development of Communist China with its present population of over 700,000,000 into a modern industrial state is and will continue to be a matter of primary significance to Australia. The absence so far of overt conventional war does not mean that military danger from that direction has decreased. The military potential of Communist China is increasing rapidly with the modernization of the Army and the development of strategic airfields, roads and railways and of air and naval power. In addition, and in defiance of efforts to restrict the spread of nuclear weapons, China has persisted with a program of developing nuclear weapons. Such a military effort, at a stage when the Chinese economy is heavily burdened by expenditures for developing the industrial base and expanding agricultural output to feed the ever increasing population, cannot be dismissed by any other government as unimportant. It must be assumed that, if China diverts such a large proportion of its economic resources to a military effort, it looks on that effort as extremely important.

Another criterion which the Australian Government must apply in judging the Chinese Communist régime is its political ambition. There is considerable evidence that the Chinese Communists have an ambition to dominate the adjacent island and mainland positions which are still held by non- Communist forces. Although Communist China claims that it has no territorial ambitions, it has built roads into northern Laos, it obviously exercises considerable political influence in North Viet Nam and is able to bring pressure on South Viet Nam and Laos through insurgency and infiltration from North Viet Nam. Peking has published maps showing areas to which it has territorial claims and has given notice that those claims will have to be settled. And finally, China has brought considerable military pressure to bear on India. In the light of these political ambitions, it appears to Australia that the West must remain strong and vigilant.

There is no reason to suppose that at present China has particular interest in Australia, but if it were able to extend its political and military domination through Southeast Asia, Australia's position on the periphery would become very difficult indeed. For this reason, the containment of the Communist Chinese threat has become a primary Australian objective.

The policies of Indonesia have also caused increasing concern to Australia in recent years. Indonesia is our nearest neighbor, and we played a prominent and helpful part in the negotiations which led to its gaining national independence from the Dutch. Contacts between the peoples of Australia and Indonesia have been friendly, but in the last three years the two countries have been brought increasingly into conflicting positions as a result of the policy of "confrontation" which Indonesia seems determined to pursue against Malaysia.

Australia has given unhesitating support to Malaysia in defending its integrity against the unprovoked attacks from the south. Malaysia is a well- governed and friendly Commonwealth country with a sound and developing economy. It showed its determination to resist Communist domination in the long-drawn-out and successful struggle during the 1950s against domestic Communist terrorists.

But there are wider reasons why it is entitled to our support. If Indonesia's aggression against Malaysia were to go unchecked, President Sukarno would be encouraged to proceed on his course. One of the aims of confrontation is to bring about the elimination from the region of British or any other influence assessed by Indonesia as inimical to her interests. These aims lead Indonesia into closer and closer association with the Communist powers, particularly China, and away from friendship with the United States and the United Kingdom.

Australia has tried to graduate its response to Indonesian provocation in Malaysia and to isolate this aspect of our relations. We believe that Australia and Indonesia have vital interests in common which should be promoted. This is at present frustrated by the policy of confrontation, which has brought us to the point where Australian troops are now facing Indonesian troops across the Malaysian border in Borneo.

It is a matter of regret for Australia that it was not found possible to make a full success of the Federation of Malaysia as established in 1963. Nevertheless, Australia is glad to coöperate with both Malaysia and Singapore for their future security and welfare and in forwarding their common interests. Australia welcomed the arrangements for ensuring a common defense effort between the two governments in the combined defense of the region.

In addition to the SEATO and Malaysian problems, Australia has a responsibility on its own doorstep in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. We had an interest in Papua even before it was annexed by the British in 1884 and in New Guinea (a former German territory) since the end of the First World War when Australia became the Mandatory power. During the Second World War, Australian troops were engaged in heavy fighting to wrest these territories back from the Japanese. The political and social development of the local people is now being advanced rapidly so that as soon as possible they may reach the point where they can determine their own future. Australia would react very sharply to any encroachment on these territories and defend them as if they were part of the Australian mainland itself.

Because of the clear need in Australian eyes for a sustained and coördinated allied defense effort in Southeast Asia, Australian governments have played a positive and active part in the development of regional collective security. The Commonwealth defense arrangements between Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, formed following the last war, were largely the result of Australian initiative. The value of this organization and the contribution made to it by the United Kingdom and New Zealand remain undiminished. Australia nevertheless has always been aware of the need to coördinate this Commonwealth defense effort with the military power of the United States.

This was to some extent achieved with the signing of the ANZUS pact in 1951 between the United States, Australia and New Zealand, under which each party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area or on its own forces could be dangerous to peace and security and declares that it will act to meet the danger in accordance with constitutional processes. ANZUS provides an extremely valuable forum for free and frank discussion with the United States and for the coördination of defense policies. The establishment of the United States Naval Communications Station at North West Cape is seen as an expression of this coöperation under the aegis of ANZUS.

SEATO provided something that ANZUS could not provide-that is, a wider association of countries, including Asian countries within the area as well as major powers which could take part in planning for defense of Southeast Asia as a whole. It provided for action by the eight signatories in opposing aggression against any of the parties or against any state or territory designated by the Council. When the proposal for a collective defense system for Southeast Asia was being considered Australia hoped that it would include all the independent countries of the area. In the event, three Asian countries signed the pact-Pakistan, Thailand and the Philippines-together with the United Kingdom, the United States, France, New Zealand and Australia. In spite of the diversity of the countries represented and differences in outlook which have developed since 1954, SEATO has been important in providing a means of defining problems and coördinating planning, and in arranging for military exercises and the development of infrastructure within the theater. Australia, in common with the United States, has indicated that it regards its obligations under the Treaty as individual as well as collective, and we see our present contributions in South Viet Nam and Thailand as flowing from our membership in SEATO.

Australia has steadily increased its contribution of forces in Southeast Asia in support of the regional security arrangements. As early as 1950, Air Force squadrons were stationed in Malaya to take part in the campaign against the Communist terrorists. In 1955 a battalion was deployed, together with escort ships of the Australian Navy, followed in 1958 by two fighter squadrons and a bomber squadron. The Australian forces, together with those contributed by the United Kingdom and New Zealand, were brought together in the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve, to be used in the internal and external defense of Malaya against Communism and to form an initial contribution to SEATO. These forces acquired a new significance and new tasks with the initiation of Indonesia's policy of confrontation. Over the last 18 months Australian forces assisting in the defense of Malaysia have been augmented by minesweepers for patrol duties, helicopters, an Army S.A.S. squadron (a commando-type unit), engineers for construction work in Borneo, and a light antiaircraft battery. The infantry battalion and S.A.S. squadron have just completed a tour of operations in Borneo.

Australia has also committed forces to Southeast Asia in direct support of her SEATO obligations. In 1962 a fighter squadron was sent to Ubon, in Thailand, to help provide security against the external threat to that country, and has remained there since. In 1962 also, the first Army instructors were sent to help in South Viet Nam, and this group has since been expanded to a hundred instructors and combat advisers working with South Vietnamese units. Caribou aircraft have been provided for transport duties. In June of this year, concurrently with the buildup of United States combat forces, Australia committed a battalion of infantry in South Viet Nam. In reaching this decision the Government weighed the gravity of the situation in South Viet Nam resulting from the continued Viet Cong campaign of insurgency and violence; the increasing extent to which that campaign was dependent upon arms and men, including formed units, infiltrated from North Viet Nam; and the importance of preventing an externally directed Communist takeover of South Viet Nam, with the grave implications this would have for other areas. Consistent with our other commitments, we wished to play our part with the South Vietnamese and United States forces in checking aggression in this particular area of Southeast Asia.

As a result of our assessment of the situation, we have accepted obligations and committed forces in Thailand, in South Viet Nam and in Malaysia, as well as making the necessary preparations for the defense of our own territories. It will be apparent that Australia faces military problems of an unusual range and complexity for a country with our population and at our stage of development.

III

The composition and shape of Australian forces are determined by our appreciation of the broad strategic setting, the obligations flowing from collective security arrangements, the need for the protection of our own territory and interests, and the physical characteristics of the area in which Australian forces might be expected to operate.

Since it is unlikely that in the foreseeable future Australian forces will be committed outside the general area of Southeast Asia and the Southwest Pacific, it has been possible to specialize military organization, training and equipment for this theater. While terrain differs widely, the whole area from South Viet Nam and Thailand through to the island territories and the northern approaches of Australia itself lies within the tropics. These lands are mostly underdeveloped, distances are great, roads and railways conspicuously lacking, and there are wide tracts of jungle.

Australian troops are taught to live and fight in this environment. Special attention is given to jungle training and to the development of initiative and the ability of small groups to operate resourcefully and independently. These are qualities suited to the Australian temperament.

Lightness of equipment and air portability are deliberately sought in the personal arms and clothing of the soldier and in weapons, communications and vehicles. Mobility is being steadily increased through the purchase of transport aircraft and helicopters; range and the ability to operate if necessary from rough airstrips are considered important factors in the selection of aircraft. After some experimentation with Army organization, a new structure has recently been adopted with battalions about 800 strong, specially suited to insurgency and limited-war roles in tropical conditions. This organization is compatible with that of our principal allies. Because Australia itself will never be an aggressor, and because of the nature of insurgent warfare, our forces are being developed with particular emphasis on speed of response, so that we will be able to make an adequate contribution in the various situations of strategic concern. This requires well-trained and well-equipped forces in being, able to move quickly to deal with threatening situations.

The continued pressure of Communist aggression in the SEATO area, and the Indonesian policy of confrontation, have in the last few years led to a steady deterioration of the strategic situation in the area of concern to Australia. As a result, the Government has approved defense programs providing for substantial increases in Australian forces, their arms and equipment, and their means for strategic and tactical mobility. In 1962-63, Australian defense expenditure was running at the rate of a little over £ A200,000,000 (about $450,000,000) each year; by 1964-65, two years later, the figure had risen above £A300,000,000; while for the present financial year which began July 21, 1965, £A382,000,000 has been provided, and this will rise again to over £A420,000,000 (nearly $1 billion) next year. These are sharp and large increases at a time when there is no war in the sense in which that word used to be understood.

The most significant changes have taken place in the Army. To appreciate these fully it is necessary to know something of Australia's history. In the First World War, the 330,000 men who went overseas were all volunteers. In two national referenda at that time the Australian people rejected proposals for conscription for overseas service, although this had always been an obligation within Australia itself. In the Second World War, it was not until 1943 that Mr. Curtin, the Prime Minister of that day, was able to win support from his own Labor Party for extending the area of compulsory service to the Southwest Pacific area south of the equator. The Australian tradition, then, has been one of voluntary service by citizen-soldiers. In war they responded magnificently and rose to the highest commands, but in peace returned to their normal occupations. It was not until after the Second World War that the Australian Regular Army included combat infantry formations in peacetime.

In the last 15 months the Government has passed through the Federal Parliament a series of statutes of historic importance which have completely changed the basis of service in the Australian Army. The hard core of the Army consists of permanent soldiers enlisting voluntarily and available for service anywhere in the world. To supplement this force, a system of National Service has been introduced in which young men selected by ballot serve for two years, in Australia or overseas, and become in effect part of the Regular Army. By this means the strength of the full- time Army is being raised to 37,500. The immediate backing to the full-time force is provided by volunteer Emergency Reserves, composed generally of ex- servicemen, who maintain their proficiency with refresher training and are available for immediate call-up at any time for service in Australia or overseas. Finally, in time of war, the whole adult male population from 18 to 60 may be called upon to serve anywhere in the world.

The Navy and Air Force will continue to rely on voluntary enlistment, but their strengths are being substantially increased to about 17,000 for the Navy and 21,000 for the Air Force.

The best modern conventional equipment is being obtained for the Australian forces. In the case of the Army, much of this is built in Australia. New aircraft ordered or coming into service include Mirage fighters built in Australia, FIII for strike reconnaissance, Orion for maritime reconnaissance, additional Hercules, Caribou and Iroquois helicopters for the transport squadrons. The Army has its own light aircraft and helicopters. Navy strength centers around an antisubmarine carrier whose helicopters are now being augmented with tracker aircraft; three U.S.-built guided-missile destroyers, of which the first has recently been commissioned; antisubmarine destroyers and frigates built in Australia; four Oberon submarines being obtained from the United Kingdom; and various transport and supply vessels, minesweepers and patrol craft.

The strength of the indigenous forces in Papua and New Guinea is being increased, and a coastal security force is being formed. Australian-based forces are of course available for the defense of Papua and New Guinea, where considerable airfield building is in progress. Additional airfields are also being developed in northwestern Australia at Tindal, about 150 miles southeast of Darwin, and at Learmonth, near North West Cape.

Australia is not a nuclear power in the military sense and has no intention of becoming one, although this does not of course mean that in no circumstances in the future will Australia be armed with nuclear weapons. Australia has consistently supported all genuine efforts aimed at comprehensive disarmament and the prevention of the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

IV

Having said something of current defense thinking and preparations in Australia, I should like now to refer, very briefly, to some considerations which I believe will have increasing significance over the next few decades.

The first of these is the very size of Australia. It covers an area almost as large as the United States, stretching from near the equator-a matter not unimportant in space technology-for some 2,000 miles to the south, and extending 2,500 miles from west to east. Mere size can be an asset. Britain conducted its first nuclear tests in the Monte Bello islands off the northwest coast of Australia, and later at Maralinga on the mainland. Woomera, the test site for all major British missiles, and for European space research, has a land range extending for 1,200 miles to the northwest coast, and may not yet have seen the full development of its potential.

Contrary to some earlier impressions, Australia is not just a dead center with settlement largely restricted to the southeast corner and fringes along the eastern, southern and southwestern coasts. True, it is not as well endowed as the United States, and above all is lacking in water, but it is rich in many resources. Our wool, wheat and other pastoral and agricultural products are too well known to need mention, except to say that productivity is increasing rapidly with the application of scientific research. Recent years have seen remarkable developments in minerals. Australia is one of the world's leading producers of lead and zinc. The bauxite deposit at Weipa in Queensland is one of the largest single deposits in the world and there are also large deposits in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. Iron ore deposits in Western Australia alone contain about 15 billion tons of medium to high-grade ore. There are large resources of coal and adequate supplies of uranium, and although we are still deficient in petroleum, we have made encouraging discoveries of oil and particularly of natural gas.

In a world beset by fears of increasing population expansion, Australia is one of a small group of nations which seeks rapid population growth. Since the last war it has followed a sustained policy of large-scale immigration, and in 20 years much has been achieved; the population of 1945 has been increased by more than half to the present level of 11,200,000, and more than half of the increase has come from migrants and from children born to migrant parents. The size and skill of the work-force has been greatly increased, aiding the expansion of industry and the general growth of the economy, and greatly increasing our ability to defend ourselves and to help others. The transfer of population to Australia, mainly from Western Europe, constitutes strategically important realignment of potential.

Since the last war there has been rapid development of secondary industry in Australia. There is now a thriving motor industry producing cars and trucks with almost entirely local content. We have sizeable industries in aluminum production and fabrication, oil refining and petro-chemicals, synthetic rubber, heavy and fine chemicals, precision engineering, shipbuilding, aircraft production, and many other branches of sophisticated manufacturing. Capital resources are growing fast, assisted by a high rate of overseas investment from the United Kingdom and the United States. Manufacturing now absorbs close to 30 percent of the work-force, half of which is in engineering and chemicals.

In defense science and industry there have been notable developments, such as the Ikara antisubmarine torpedo-carrying missile, designed and developed in Australia, which is being adopted by the Royal Navy. In space research programs, particularly those of the United States, facilities in Australia- in many cases the only suitable location technically-are playing an increasingly important part.

What I am suggesting in these paragraphs is that Australia, by virtue of its size and resources, the rapid expansion of its population, the vigorous growth of its industry and science, and above all its location on the periphery of Asia, can make a unique contribution to policies aimed at the security and stability of Southeast Asia. The very pace of our development does, of course, bring difficult problems for the Government in determining priorities in allocation of resources between current defense needs and the essential requirements for continued rapid growth.

For the future, Australia will continue to play its part in maintaining the security of Southeast Asia against Communist expansion or nationalist aggression. We believe that it is necessary to look at Southeast Asia as a whole and that the interrelation of events in South Viet Nam and Malaysia will become increasingly evident. The success of aggression in any part of Southeast Asia would gravely affect security throughout the region, and would have repercussions on the political and strategic balance in the Indian Ocean-an area whose strategic importance is likely to grow-and in the Pacific Ocean.

It will be essential that the power and support of countries outside the area, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom, continue to be available to Southeast Asian countries in order to secure them from aggression while they strengthen their own political institutions and develop their national economies.

Australian policy recognizes the position of the United States in providing the leadership of the non-Communist world in political and security matters. This is not, of course, a situation which is peculiar to Southeast Asia. Europe likewise has relied on the protection of American power since the Second World War. At the same time, Australia retains strong traditional ties with the United Kingdom. There is no longer an assumption that the United Kingdom can ensure the security of Australia and New Zealand; but Britain's position in the Asian and Indian Ocean area is based on long historical association and is recognized as carrying considerable power. It follows that the continued alignment of policy in Asia between the United Kingdom and the United States is of very great importance to Australia.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now