New domains of warfare have appeared across the global commons. Attacks occur almost daily in cyber space. In outer space a secret war is being waged. The loss of space as an avenue for communications, navigation and finance would have a catastrophic impact on life as we know it.
Restriction of our rights and liberties
Islamist fundamentalists are a real and enduring danger. ISIS is not dead and al Qaeda is still out there. I have no reason to change my 2014 prediction that the war on terror will last for at least 100 years. Meanwhile, we struggle to reconcile the means of countering the terrorist assault with the inevitable restriction of our rights and liberties.
In Australia we have been slow to react to these new threats and challenges and the changing nature of national security.
Kevin Rudd delivered a national security statement into the Parliament in December 2008. The intent was good, but its scope was limited and its execution flawed. There was no homeland security apparatus and the national security adviser’s role and position didn’t last long.
Julia Gillard improved the position with a national security strategy in January 2013. Finally, we had a workable definition of national security and a fledgling strategy, but still no comprehensive architecture to deal with the myriad new threats and challenges.
Successive Liberal prime ministers have issued security statements that have focused on the threat from terror rather than comprehending the totality of the national security problem. But at least they gave us a Department of Home Affairs – a seriously good idea. It has had a promising start but is challenged, not so much by concept and need but by bureaucratic turf battles, departmental jealousies and unco-ordinated budget allocations.
Now to the dilemma presented by the broader definition of national security as so comprehensively outlined by the Prime Minister yesterday. How are policies to be set, priorities decided and resources allocated? Importantly, how are these many diverse and complicated actions of government to be co-ordinated and integrated.
To be truly safe and secure Australia can and must improve its approach to national security.
First, we need a national security strategy. Strategy is about the calculation and co-ordination of ways and means to achieve ends. In Australia we struggle to think independently and take a big-picture view and as a result we are prone to accept other people’s strategies. With new threats and challenges, we need to think broadly and base our outlook and strategy on an agreed and clear statement of Australian values and distinct and agreed national interests.
Second, we should appoint an independent national security adviser with a professional staff and the mandate to provide direct national security policy advice to the Prime Minister. Individual departmental white papers are not enough. A controlled and deliberate whole of government approach is required.
Third, we should implement a national security budget to ensure the efficient allocation of resources and tasks across the myriad of federal, state and territory agencies involved in the national security mission.
None of this is new. What is needed is the resolve to make it work and the adoption of an enduring and consistent approach. This will be difficult for our politicians who are transfixed by the immediate and transactional nature of politics. Where is their vision and consistency? They need to lift themselves above the immediate and opportunistic nature of politics as they have defined it and think consistently, long-term and strategically. Our national security depends on it.
Peter Leahy is a professor and director of the National Security Institute at the University of Canberra. He was Chief of Army from 2002 to 2008.