Tanter on Rudd and Australian Security Policy

Professor Richard Tanter of the Nautilus Institute at RMIT in Melbourne writes from Australia:

A small note on your comment on Kevin Rudd’s election in Australia.

On the question of security policy, this is what I think will happen in the next half year:

1. Iraq: Rudd is committed to removing Australian troops from Iraq, and that is a popular position. In practice I think this will mean

a. Removing the Operation Overwatch Battle Group from Dhi Qar.

b. Retaining the ADF training group, mainly at Ali Base. For reasons I’ll explain below it may even be boosted.

c. Retaining the RAN naval and RAAF air deployments in the Persian Gulf

d. It is not clear what will happen to the Australian components in the MNC command centres in Baghdad and Basra. My guess would be the latter will go, but the some elements former will stay. However, most of the Australian National Headquarters Middle East Area of Operations in Baghdad will transfer to Afghanistan (see below).

2. Rudd is very much persuaded of the “bad war, Iraq; good war, Afghanistan” position. Australia now has 1,000 troops in Afghanistan. [see Australia in Afghanistan, Nautilus Institute. There will be a redeployment of combat and support forces from one theatre to the other. Australian Afghanistan operations are now taking more casualties, though still nothing like US or Canadian levels. But they have increased sharply recently and this trend will continue. In April this year the Australian Special Operations Task group (SAS and other Army special forces) was somewhat hurriedly deployed back to Uruzgan less than 8 months after they were pulled out. Pulling out of Iraq would allow them and the protective group of the Reconstruction task Force at Tarin Kowt to be rotated more easily. (remember the ADF also has a big deployment [for its small size] in East Tiimor.)

Maybe some specialists will be left in the Camp Victory MNC HQ, but the longstanding concern inside the ADF about running the Afghanistan operation from Baghdad through the Australian National Headquarters – Middle East Area of Operations will result in shifting most ADF HQ functions and personnel to the National command Element in Kabul. There is a huge strain inside the ADF at the moment because of deployments in eight overseas operations, including three big ones – Iraq, Afghanistan, and East Timor

3. Iran: Rudd announced during the election campaign that a Labor government would initiate legal proceedings against Ahmadinejad on a charge of incitement to genocide. There has been no further development on that since then. Should the US attack Iran, Rudd would support the attack diplomatically with enthusiasm. It is unlikely the rest of his cabinet would be so willing, but Rudd will not be leading a Westminster-style government of Cabinet responsibility. He will certainly direct foreign policy. Rudd would be receptive to a US request for Australian military support, but would probably face resistance from ADF senior commanders on pragmatic grounds of over-stretch.

4. Rudd is best understood as Tony Blair, with many of the same skills, dispositions and weaknesses. All Labor prime ministers have supported the Aust-US [A(NZ)US] alliance – that’s de rigueur in Australian politics. But Rudd is probably the most vocal supporter of the US alliance amongst postwar Labor prime ministers, and somewhat shocked many ALP supporters by declaring his loyalty to that alliance in his victory speech on Saturday night. This means he will be working closely with Bush to minimize the impact of the Iraq withdrawal commitment. Hence my thinking that it will be limited to combat troops and they in turn will be used to bolster the increasingly beleaguered, but unscrutinised, Afghanistan deployment. As mentioned he may also boost the training deployment in Iraq as another way of mollifying Bush.

Of course, the big positive gain from the Rudd victory is over climate change: here in Australia we are so desperate that even ratifying the Kyoto Protocol ten years too late (and recall that the deal Australia got at Kyoto was outrageously advantageous to it) will be great symbolically. Hopefully, something more substantive will come out of Bali, or if not Bali (because it’s going to be hard) then in the ensuing protracted negotiations.

FYI, my own take on security policy during the election campaign was on an Australian Broadcasting Commission Radio National debate.’

Professor Richard Tanter
Director Nautilus Institute
RMIT University

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