“Dad’s Army” Down Under

Australia’s army looks bad. And it couldn’t be at a worse time.
From the September 1999 Trumpet Print Edition

Recent disclosures of Australia’s military competency recall the 1970s British TV comedy series “Dad’s Army,” in which a geriatric band of insufficiently armed, bumbling volunteers were pictured as the protectors of the British home front.

Gone are the glory days of the Australian military on which Winston Churchill relied so heavily in vital World War II campaigns. The days when they were known worldwide for their valor in battle, relish of front-line assignments and maintenance of a comparatively low

casualty rate. Today’s force does not come close to resembling those past days of honor.

The Downhill Slide

“Morale has hit rock bottom among Australia’s armed forces personnel. And a major review of Australia’s defense outlook, prepared in 1997, was outdated before it was even published. The underlying assumption of Australia’s defense strategy was in tatters” (The Bulletin, Aug. 3).

As the academics released Australia’s Strategic Policy, charting the country’s defense outlook for the next 20 years, events were about to unfold which would reveal just how much Australia’s defense force resembled “Dad’s Army.”

In Australia’s Strategic Policy, premier defense analysts forecast the following: “President Suharto has strengthened Indonesia’s cohesion and prosperity. As Indonesia’s economic power grows within the next 20 years, Indonesia’s economy will likely become the biggest in our closer region.” This document was written just prior to the Thai stock market collapse, which triggered a knockout blow throughout Southeast Asia, causing the worst economic crisis in the region since World War II. The South Korean economy nose-dived, Singapore’s financial base washed away, Malaysia collapsed, and, worst of all, Indonesia spiraled out of control economically in its worst depression ever.

Australian intelligence had just predicted that “Indonesia’s economy will likely become the biggest in our closer region.” Then the Indonesian economy totally collapsed!

The nightmare didn’t end here for the Australian intelligence officials. Australia’s Strategic Policy went on to say, “It is unlikely that either India or Pakistan will have a major impact on the East Asian security environment.”

Strike two for Dad’s Army.

Just four months after this was written, Pakistan announced it had tested a new range of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads to any part of India. India responded by reminding Pakistan that no part of their country was beyond the reach of Indian nuclear weaponry.

An unnamed government adviser told The Bulletin, “We have had a decade of disastrous intelligence and economic judgments at the bureaucratic and academic levels.”

Australia’s military intelligence performance from the 1980s to the present has been littered with unbelievable error. It has now been revealed that Australian intelligence headquarters, based at the nation’s capital in Canberra, did not come anywhere near predicting the following regional and international events: reunion of East and West Germany; communism’s collapse in Russia; Fiji’s military coup; Bouganville’s independence from Papua New Guinea; the fall of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines; Pakistan’s and India’s nuclear weapons programs; deterioration in U.S.-Chinese relations; possible halving of U.S. forces in Asia; Asia’s financial meltdown; President Suharto’s removal in Indonesia.

Commenting on these intelligence blunders, Labor opposition spokesman Stephen Martin said: “We’ve got a bunch of spooks running around Russell Hill [Australian defense headquarters] who are meant to be telling us what’s going on.” He failed to mention that when the Labor (socialist) government was in power during the 1980s and 1990s they gutted the nation’s security and intelligence organization.

Too Little Too Late

Australia’s armory of seventy-two F-18s, twenty-four F-111 fighter aircraft, two Oberon submarines (which were recently found unfit for combat) and fourteen destroyers acts as the mainstay of the continent’s defense frontier.

Defending a continent as large as the U.S., surrounded by coastline, with only 18 million inhabitants, is a challenging task. Australia has not taken the challenge seriously enough—till now. The prevailing concept was that ever-reliable U.S. and British allies would come to Australia’s rescue, just as they did with Winston Churchill’s deployment of General MacArthur and U.S. troops to Australia, warding off the Japanese forces in World War II.

But times have changed. In November, Australians will go to the polls to vote on the Republic question—distancing itself further from British influence and protection.

At the same time, America’s weakened influence and presence around the world is forcing allied nations such as Australia to improvise defense plans with no real home-grown experience. In light of its intelligence debacles and ill-equipped and ill-prepared military, Australia’s defense department has embarked upon a hurried $40 billion hardware upgrade of all major equipment. The only problem is, this sort of money is simply not in the present budget. In addition, annual defense spending levels have been set at $11 billion. In all, Australia has set the lofty goal of spending $120 billion over the next decade to equip its forces with greater “outward looking” capability.

The reality is that Australia does not currently have the military capability to protect itself. In addition, the country doesn’t have the money to implement its planned hardware upgrades. Left without a strong Britain and U.S. to rely on, Australia is vulnerable to both regional entanglement and potential invasion.

Not since Japanese attacks on Darwin and mini-submarine incursions into Sydney Harbor during World War II has the land down under experienced any threat worth raising an eyebrow about—until now.

Speaking at the 50th anniversary of the American-Australian Association in New York, media mogul Rupert Murdoch emphatically stated, “For instance—and this is not a farfetched idea—what if a total meltdown takes place in Indonesia and millions of people come over the little Timor Sea? Would anyone [in the U.S.] be interested?” This is why Australian defense

officials and policy-makers are scrambling to formulate and implement some form of cohesive military strategy. But is it a case of too little too late?

Australia’s Future

Australia has been caught napping. It has not wisely used the crucial interval from the Vietnam War to the present to fortify its defenses and sufficiently arm its forces. Thus, it has left itself wide open to the ever-increasing potential of regional hostility and entanglement.

“This nation is destined to be overrun by its Asian neighbors. It almost happened in World War II when the infamous ‘Brisbane Line’ was drawn, as Australia admitted that it did not have the military resources or population to mount an adequate defense of its vast empty northern region.” (Request a free copy of our booklet Australia in Prophecy.)

In the immediate future, East Timor is the obvious flash point to which Australian forces would be deployed. Currently, 6,000 personnel are stationed in Darwin and Townsville awaiting dispatch. A $100,000 troop-moving catamaran has been leased to expedite speedy transit of troops to Timor. No matter the result from the coming election in Indonesia, Australian funding and police and military presence will be required to keep the peace in the Java Strait.

Right now, Australia is in a very precarious position militarily. Defense analyst Des Ball, of the Australian National University, summed up the situation when he said, “If there is a total breakdown of regional order and Australia itself becomes threatened, either by direct attack or by someone having the ability to militarily put pressure on us, we may no longer have the complete capability to defend ourselves.”

Watch for Australian forces to be drawn into more regional hot spots in the wake of the continuing destabilizing effect of last year’s Asian economic collapse. As Australia concentrates troops in its largely indefensible north, this leaves huge tracts of its coastal boundaries elsewhere open to incursion. Australia may soon find itself in a position where it cannot even mount a “Dad’s Army” to defend itself.