Saturday, October 19, 2013


The original's always the best .

But personally, I like Frankie Goes to Hollywood's version of the song .

Take your pick.

The problem is, once the next war starts, there's no obvious way back.

It's something the drafters of our new Defence White Paper might like to consider, as this article in today's Canberra Times points out . . .

Unexamined consensus

Sometimes, when it's dark at night, the wind is howling and you can't immediately lay your hands on Teddy, quite naturally irrational fears rise up. It’s at times like these the mind roams, considering the possibilities we normally banish from our rational minds. You know the sort of thing: the prospect of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, or a sudden outbreak of global conflict.

Later, as the bright light of morning wakes the city, we remember the increasingly interconnected nature of the world and dismiss the chance of another war. After all, how could any nation possibly risk their own survival by resorting to war? Especially countries that depend upon one another intimately; such as the US and China.

Yet it's at times like this that it pays to remember predictions from a century ago. In the decade before World War One exhaustive, seemingly conclusive books were published insisting the growth of international trade and communications finally meant conflict had become unthinkable. As well as that, Admirals and Generals were completely aware (theoretically, at any rate) that the invention of submarines, aircraft and machine guns had radically transformed the nature of war. War was, surely, impossible.

Yet less than a year later the world was plunged into its biggest conflagration ever. And why? All because a landau (carriage) carrying the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire took a wrong turn in the small Serbian town of Sarajevo and a terrorist, who'd earlier abandoned an attempt to assassinate the Archduke, just happened to be wandering down the street. Hardly a logical reason for Australian diggers to die in front of Turkish machine guns at Gallipoli, is it? More importantly, do you really think another terrible accident couldn't lead to another war today?

Back then, if the nations of the world had really thought, just for a moment, why they were sacrificing a generation pointlessly in the trenches, they might never have chosen to go to war. The problem was the structure of alliances and the very pace of events ensured there was no chance to step back once the conflict began. Similarly with the Second World War. It's not surprising that the three S’s – Sweden, Switzerland and Spain – did the best out of that particular world conflict. That's because they stayed out of it. The US came in late to both fights and its homeland was never seriously threatened with invasion.

Of course America won the Second World War and the Cold War that came after it. But now, as everyone's aware, the world order is again under threat, this time from China. The big question is, will Beijing rise peacefully? An increasing number of disputes over ridiculous things, such as lumps of rock in the ocean only visible low tide, coupled with the increasing militarisation of Asia, seem to suggest the world is again preparing for war.

It's against this background the new government’s preparing the new Defence White Paper. This will chart our way through the next few decades. The most frightening possibility, during this period, is of course the potential for unintentional conflict suddenly escalating into a full-blown war. Recently, for example, a Chinese warship illuminated a Japanese vessel on its radar. This is normally done just seconds prior to launching a missile at the target. The best defence in such circumstances is attack but fortunately, the professionalism of the Japanese captain meant he didn't panic and accidentally start another war by responding. It is, however, increasingly difficult to be sanguine about the possibility of inadvertent conflict being avoided in future. Today’s danger – an enormous, supreme danger, given the lethality of modern weapons – is that the next war could result in the end of the world as we know it. It would indubitably be utterly disastrous for any country engaging in the conflict. And yet here we are, with both political parties determined to bind us irrevocably into the folds of the US alliance come whatever may - no matter how stupid the original reason for the conflict; no matter how unwise its result.

A true White Paper for Australia would begin by examining the option of armed neutrality. Anyone who dismisses this out of hand has either no imagination or no concept of the current danger. What could possibly be worse than conflict; particularly when we can, protected by the implicit US nuclear guarantee, be relatively certain no other country is likely to invade us.

This is by no means any suggestion that we should repudiate our commitment to western values or abandon the United States. Nevertheless it’s worth nothing that Chinese is now, according to the 2011 Census, the second most-common language spoken at home. China takes our minerals and provides our imports. We have no obvious quarrels with the People’s Republic, and yet that is the unspoken country our expeditionary forces are designed to fight against if there is a major war.

Armed neutrality has suited New Zealand and might be right for us as well. Unfortunately the forthcoming White Paper won’t even consider this possibility.

1 comment:

  1. Ah Nicholas...and if there was no war there would be no army and where would you be then ? Your earlier years of adventure were due to your active membership of nthe Australian Army and from there it took you to London and Europe. As for the People's Republic of China, the increasing push by the Chinese for a stronger role in the world has the same hallmarks of dominating spheres of influence just as the former Soviet Union and the United States have done. China's natural sphere runs across ASEAN and APEC to our borders.- and Australians have fought the Chinese twice in the Boxer Rebellion and in the Korean Police Action. And in a world of water and food security issues, armed neutrality may not be an option.