The Guardian • Issue #2031

CPA: submission to the Defence Strategic Review

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2031

USS Blue Ridge entering Sydney Harbour before the start of the Australia-US exercise Talisman Sabre 2015. Photo: Royal Australian Navy – (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Communist Party of Australia (CPA) is a democratic, transparent and accountable organisation. We are member led and governed by a Central Committee elected every four years from our membership. We are committed to the working class of Australia with no other motivation than to act in their interests.

The 2013 Defence White paper that precedes this review found Defence had an unaffordable investment program. Since then, the dollars spent on military have been steadily rising with a planned expenditure for the next ten years of quarter of a trillion dollars placing a significant burden on the back of the working class of this country.

Military spending by successive Australian governments has outstripped funding for climate action, industries, education, and healthcare. More and more, successive governments of both major parties have embraced the concept that government cannot take responsibility for anything beyond defence and should leave it all to the markets. This had led to dangerous failures and sets Australia on the same path as the US towards growing structural violence and the threat of internal instability.

Neglecting social expenditure places a massive strain on our future economy and environment. It also masks the shift in expenditure away from the life necessities of the people such as health and education under the premise of limited dollars. It would be much more productive and give greater protection to plan for peace.

We make this submission to the Defence Strategic Review in the hope of broadening the discussion on what constitutes security in the interests of the Australian people.

If the Defence Review is to be anything more than a paper tiger, it must carefully examine what real threats exist and what we can do about them. The review must analyse the triggers for war, our role with partners and allies and what is in the interests of the Australian people.

The terms of reference of the review are to consider what force posture and force structure are now required to ensure that Defence has the right capabilities to meet the growing strategic challenges that Australia and its partner countries will face in coming years. The review commits to being a holistic consideration of those terms.

We raise our concern here that in the call for submissions the review named Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) as a think tank of note. ASPI acquires their funding from a range of sources including the Australian department of defence, foreign governments and their departments such the US department of Defence, private interests such as Lockheed Martin, Thales and BAE systems applied intelligence. Invested interests must be considered when evaluating submissions from bodies funded by manufacturers and dealers of weapons.

Professor Tanter suggests that we might keep in mind the example of Costa Rica which got rid of its military and spent the money on education and health instead. They couldn’t win a war but having no military made it impossible for anyone to invade on the grounds that it was a threat. They have been safe ever since.


Crucially for the Review, the time has surely arrived when we should re-evaluate our defence relationship with the United States.

The Defence Review must start from scratch without preconceived assumptions or encumbered by past practice and beliefs.

However, we share the concern that the Review will be used to double down on the status quo (our alliance with the US) rather than considering how Australia can best maintain its security and prosperity as the balance of power within the global system continues its realignment from a unipolar to a multipolar system.

The US is the most violent and aggressive country in the world. The US has never had a decade without war. Since its founding in 1776, the US has been at war ninety-three per cent of the time in most areas of the world. The US maintains 800 military bases or sites around the world, including in Australia. The US has massive deployments of materiel and troops in Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Guahan (Guam).

We are attaching ourselves uncritically to a declining but dangerous hegemon engaged in a struggle for supremacy. The Review must examine how much we are willing to sacrifice for the perpetuation of American global supremacy.

Australia remains subservient to US foreign policy objectives and as a result defence budgets have been skewed to suit US military and economic objectives. This has meant that Australian government outlays on the military are both astronomically expensive and mostly inappropriate for Australian peoples’ needs.

The CPA supports Australia’s independence in military decision making which must include a space for both a parliamentary and public voice. We oppose joining offensive wars and encourage the notion of common security based on the principle that that no nation, community or individual can be secure without other nations, communities, and individuals enjoying the same level of security.

Comprehensive security goes beyond the traditional realist state-centric and military approach and includes human, economic, and environmental dimensions as well as a subjective feeling of security or insecurity of individuals. We support human security as a people-centred approach to foreign policy and argue for sustainable stability based on protecting people from threats to their rights, health, and life.


In AUKUS we are effectively fusing our Navy with that of the US so that we can operate together in the South China Sea and threaten China. We are surrendering more and more of our strategic autonomy by encouraging the US to use Northern Australia as a forward base against China as if the US does not have enough giant military bases ringing China.

It is well known that the need for the submarines stemmed from concerns in the US defence community years ago about the so-called “submarine gap” in the containment ring around China – which they intended Australia to fill. And we would pay for it!

The risks of the AUKUS project for Australia are strategic, financial, technological, regulatory, and deformations of force structure and opportunity costs. It is a project the Review should clearly reject.


If Australia wishes to review its defence strategies realistically, the Review must reject unsubstantiated accusations against China, think more independently and not toe the American line

China is not Australia’s enemy. If it is an enemy and Australia continues to trade with China as it does, it reflects a schizophrenic attitude that we have to sort out before spending vast amounts of money preparing to fight an enemy that is of our own making.

The US is goading and provoking China and wants Australia to join it. And we are obliging. The Review must recognise that our alliance with the United States is the greatest single risk factor for a conflict with China.

If China and the US went to war, China would then, but only then, have a motive to attack Australia and would certainly do so if only to take out American assets like Pine Gap, the Northwest Cape, Amberly, and perhaps Darwin where US marines are based.

The threat we face from China is if we continue to act in our region as a proxy for the US. Other regional countries are not doing so.

The Review must take into serious account that a deteriorating relationship with our major trading partner China (where our trade interdependence is growing) as well as increasing isolation from regional countries is detrimental to Australia’s prosperity and our chances of dealing with the real risks to Australia’s energy, water, soils, and climate. Australia cannot fight a war with China and avoid devastating our economy.


Prime Minister Albanese in his update noted that previous “Defence planning has assumed a ten-year strategic warning time for a major conventional attack against Australia. This is no longer an appropriate basis for defence planning.” He identified the greatest threats to “Australian interests” as direct and indirect targeting by coercion, competition, and “grey-zone” activities.

While we agree with the above statements, we note that this review appears to have a narrower focus on conventional military planning and expenditure and a more of the same approach with a focus on weapon expansion and bases despite the commitment that it would be holistic.

We note also that the identified threats fail to recognise climate change, disruptions to supply chains, housing shortages, resource constraints and growing inequality as threats. The CPA believes the latter presents the greatest threat to all Australians and must inform any future strategic security expenditure. The security of the nation state should not be a goal in itself, but must be for the benefit of the society.

Prime Minister Albanese went on to say “Australia cannot rely on a timely warning ahead of a conflict occurring, because of growing regional military capabilities and the speed at which they can be deployed, and therefore Australia cannot assume it can gradually adjust military capability and preparedness in response to emerging challenges.”

The CPA says, nor can it or should it assume expenditure on submarines and bases will meet the requirements of a conflict especially when threats may come in the form of blockades, externalities such as disease, and environmental catastrophes.

We assert that the military itself is a threat to climate. It consumes huge quantities of oil in research, testing, and production in preparation for war and war itself has rendered large areas uninhabitable as well as created tens of millions of refugees. This has the effect of making huge demands on forest, water, and other resources, leading to land degradation and pollution. Indeed, all military activity is highly polluting, highly damaging to the environment and a major contributor to climate change.

The Federal budget tells a clear story of Australia’ misplaced priorities. The money that Australia spends on environmental protection is $3.4 billion. The money spent on the military is $48 billion this financial year and an estimated quarter of a trillion dollars over the next 10 years.

Climate change must now be given top priority on the political agenda as the greatest threat to security. Worldwide population growth and the rise of a global urban middle class are driving an enormous increase in demand for energy, water, food, minerals, land, and other natural resources. The transition to renewable energy sources is an urgent challenge.

It is essential that funding is not diverted away from essential resources to fund weaponry for the defence of an unliveable environment. More and more climate catastrophes such as heat waves, drought, fires, and floods will drive migration, along with the growing number of people moving from unstable states confronted with protracted internal and regional conflicts.

The OECD forecasts that by around 2030 almost half of the world’s population will be confronted with the negative effects of the rising sea level and that this will cause huge numbers of people to seek their fortune elsewhere.

Submarines and missiles will never provide solutions to this insecurity. The greatest co-operation is needed now. Developed countries must address their own emissions and start supporting developing countries with infrastructure to transition to a low emissions world. In that way the pressures of displacement that will inevitably drive conflict can be managed for more peaceful outcomes.


It should be obvious by now that countries trying to outspend one another by buying more and more deadly weapons systems does not create peace or security. It has not worked in the past and it never will.

Longer term strategic investment, Globalisation and the emergence of new economic powers has seen the relationship between economic and military security become a far more prominent issue. Flow security is increasingly important and was very much evident in the early days of the COVID pandemic which saw many Australians faced with shortages such as pharmaceuticals which had never been experienced before.

Safeguarding global flows of goods and services, infrastructural hubs and systems must now be seen as having utmost importance and cannot be addressed by protecting national territory against hostile armies.

Priority expenditure in the interest of security must include the establishment of an Australian merchant fleet to meet the challenges of flow security. National and international security are linked to the security of the society and the individual.

Another emerging threat is cyber security with approximately ninety-five per cent of all intercontinental communication dependant on the 600,000 miles of submarine fibre optic cable and some twenty-four cable landing points. An attack on this infrastructure could cause enormous damage for the global economy because of the total reliance of worldwide electronic data traffic on it.

None of these threats can be dealt with by conventional wars. Only comprehensive security can bring sustainable peace.


The Review faces a profound difficulty in reaching genuinely independent recommendations due to the undue influence of a foreign power – the United States.

Our military and defence leaders are heavily dependent on the US Departments of Defence and State, the CIA and the FBI for advice. We act as their branch offices.

The US funds our War Memorial and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and many other fronts for US military and business interests. The US Studies Centres in Sydney and Perth are agencies of foreign influence.

We quote here from an article by John Menadue:

The Washington Post has found that a retired US Admiral is ‘now a Deputy Secretary of Defense for Australia’ … [and] exposed how retired US Admirals have been employed as highly paid consultants to shape our policies on submarines.

This is more than “foreign influence.” It looks more like foreign control.

… the abdication of responsibility of our politicians, public officials and journalists …. They have been captured by American interests, particularly the US military and industrial complex that former President Eisenhower warned us about.

But all the $10 million of funding to US Admirals is of lesser concern than the peddling of US interference in our national security debate.

This is not just a national disgrace. It is positively dangerous.

Malcolm Fraser called the US a dangerous ally.

Our future is not to be a spear carrier for the US in our region. Our future is learning to live securely in our own region.


The CPA proposes that if the government is committed to a holistic approach and real preparedness for conflict, it must choose comprehensive rather than conventional security.

This must begin with the acceptance of a multipolar world. Always the best security is co-operation and diplomacy. In a comprehensive defence approach, besides considering military aspects of countering threats, threats against human security must be considered. A comprehensive defence approach tries to distinguish threats against national security emerging from the human security domain. This requires their effects on national security to be analysed to develop and propose the ways to counter these threats.


Courage will be needed to choose between allocation of resources to what makes Australia strong and healthy as a nation on the one hand, and deeper spending on military capabilities on the other.

What the Defence Review should achieve is a review of Australia’s overall strategic circumstances. Australia must be worth defending, we must have economic, environmental and social policies to improve our sustainable development. That raises questions of the proportion of public monies that should go to defence rather than national improvement.

The CPA advocates for the redirection of the enormous military budget to a peace budget for healthcare, housing, education, social services and sustainable development. That is the road to real security and peace.

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