Minister For Defence: Interview With Chris Uhlmann, Abc 24

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8th November 2010, 10:08pm - Views: 3739







CHRIS UHLMANN: Stephen Smith, there’s a lot in that communiqué, can we break it down

piece by piece? There’s a force review by the United States of America.  What does that mean

for Australia?

STEPHEN SMITH: The United States is doing what they describe as a Force Posture Review.

They haven’t completed that, but essentially they’re looking at how they allocate their forces

not just around our region, the Asia-Pacific, but around the world.  

That will have implications for Australia potentially, so we’ve agreed to make sure we work

closely together.  Once they’ve finished their review, we’ll sit down and see what

implications, if any, that has for Australia.

We welcome very much suggestions that the United States will enhance its engagement even

further in our region. We cooperate very fully with the United States. We have joint facilities,

they have access to our ports and the like. There’s a prospect that may be enhanced in terms

of further and greater access. That’s a good thing. But time will tell the precise detail.


CHRIS UHLMANN: Okay, we don’t have the details yet, but is it likely in the long run we’ll

see more American troops stationed on Australian bases. 

STEPHEN SMITH: Not so much stationed on Australian bases. We have no American bases

in Australia and that’s not proposed.  We have joint facilities – Pine Gap is the obvious



American forces have access to our ports – our airports, our sea ports – and also their troops

come in and out for use of facilities and the like. There is a prospect that that will be

enhanced. But that is very much in the nature of doing more than we currently do.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Could they pre-position some of their kit here for deployment?

STEPHEN SMITH: That’s the other thing that we have under consideration, much more

though a pre-positioning of equipment and stores for disaster relief and management. 

We know that we live in an area where Australia wants to be a good citizen and help when

there is a disaster, whether it’s a tsunami or an earthquake. The United States wants to do the

same.  It has interests in the Pacific and in Asia. So that is a possibility, it’s one of the things

that we’re looking at.

CHRIS UHLMANN: The Statement of Principles on Space Situational Awareness. Does that

mean that Americans might use some of our facilities or enhance some of our facilities so that

you can do space mapping?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well again, we’ve got to take it step by step. We know we have a

particular problem in terms of space – one is space debris or space junk – and that needs to, in

a sense, be regulated but secondly, as our White Paper in 2009 showed, space is now a

strategic issue, it’s not possible for Australia to do it by ourselves, so obviously there is

advantage in us partnering with the United States on space awareness, space surveillance and

space issues. So we’re going to work very closely on that.

There is, as the communiqué and the materials released today indicate, a prospect that we

could agree with the United States for some additional facilities which could assist in space

awareness, or debris and the like.  But again, we take it step by step.  But we’re not

envisaging, certainly not envisaging a new stand alone facility.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But the Americans might use one of our bases or have access to it

whereby they would put in some more equipment…

STEPHEN SMITH: That is a possibility, but again, we’ll take it step by step. If in the event

that’s what we agree, then obviously we would make that public and that would…

CHRIS UHLMANN: But it’s more than just space junk, isn’t it? Cause you’re concerned

about an arms race in space?

STEPHEN SMITH: As I say, there are two issues, there’s the space debris, or space junk but

as I say, our White Paper last year made it clear that space, space surveillance, is now a

strategic issue.

So yes, we are very conscious of the use of space for strategic and military purposes. We’re

not in a position ourselves for the obvious technological reasons to do it by ourselves so we

do need a partner, and that’s what we’re doing.


CHRIS UHLMANN: And in cyber space, that’s the other area of agreement, now how might

that manifest itself?

STEPHEN SMITH: Again, we know that attacks on networks, cyber attacks on networks is a

problem. It’s a problem not just for nations, it’s a problem not just in defence or military

areas, but it’s a problem for companies, it’s a problem in the commercial area as well.  

So again, we’re working closely with America, seeing what we can do to try and develop

international norms on the use of cyber space and attacks in cyber space.

So we’re trying to see whether we can, together with the United States, bring our own

expertise to try and develop some international practices and international norms that will

serve nations well, but also serve individuals and companies well.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Is it just defensive, or would you be looking at weapons for cyber


STEPHEN SMITH: We’re looking at very much the defensive, to use the jargon, a defensive

posture here.  

CHRIS UHLMANN: And if you were looking at weapons you probably wouldn’t tell me?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I would certainly respond appropriately to any such question, but

we’re looking at this as a defensive posture.

CHRIS UHLMANN: What about the major threats? Iran clearly came up. The American

President has said they are leaving open every option, which I assume is up to and including

an attack?

STEPHEN SMITH: We had an exhaustive conversation about all of the strategic issues from

Afghanistan to our region, but also some of the potential nuclear threats - North Korean and

Iran. And Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton made it clear that so far as the United States

is concerned, all options are on the table for the President in the effort to stop Iran getting a

nuclear capability.

But their very strong preference and their starting point and we hope the end point, is to use

economic and other sanctions and persuade with diplomatic efforts to have Iran desist from

moving further forward on its nuclear program in defiance of the International Atomic Energy

Agency resolutions and also in defiance of international law. 

CHRIS UHLMANN: And finally Stephen Smith, how would you characterise the world

we’re in at the moment? Are we seeing a big strategic shift in power now from West to East?

Not necessarily saying we have to come into conflict with China, but there is a reality that

China is growing economically and following that we’ll see a rise in its military power?


STEPHEN SMITH: Australia has been saying for the last three years that this will be the

century of the Asia Pacific. It’s not just the rise of power – political, economic, military –

strategic influence is moving to our part of the world – the Asia-Pacific.

Yes, it’s the rise of China, it’s also the rise of India, it is also the ongoing presence and

existence of the United States.  Some people think that just because China is on the rise,

somehow the United States is going away.  Well, to use an American expression, the United

States ain’t going anywhere. 

So those developments, the ongoing superpower status of the United States, the rise of India,

the rise of China, inextricably sees a shift from the Atlantic to the Asia Pacific. And Australia,

the United States, our region and the world has to adjust to that. And that’s why we’ve spent

so much time on trying to get the so called regional architecture right.

The United States coming into the East Asia Summit is a very good development, both the

United States and Russia. I have just come, in the last few weeks, together with Bob Gates

from the ASEAN Plus Defence Ministers Meeting which is the same configuration for

Defence Ministers. That essentially puts, in strategic terms, Australia in the same room, both

on economic prosperity issues and also on strategic and defence and military issues, with the

United States, with Japan, with China, with India with Indonesia, with the Republic of Korea.

So essentially, all of the key players in North Asia and South Asia are in the room at the same

time, having the strategic conversation to manage the adjustment of the world to essentially a

shift in global emphasis and global power.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Stephen Smith, thank you.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much.

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