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The Australian Army’s fondness for all things South-East Asian ebbed and flowed both before and after its involvement in the Vietnam War. The first two decades of the twenty-first century saw most of the Army’s operational experience gained in Afghanistan and Iraq, with little energy left to focus on fostering relations with Australia’s South-East Asian neighbours to its near north. After 11 September 2001, operational commitments removed from South-East Asia resulted in insufficient effort being expended in fostering regional ties for much of the subsequent two decades. This happened despite the obvious importance to Australia’s own security and stability and despite the experience in responding to regional crises in places like Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Philippines, East Timor, Solomon Islands, Fiji and elsewhere.
The world is facing unprecedented challenges, and the need for diplomacy has never been greater. Shaken to its economic and social foundations by the COVID-19 pandemic, the global order is being rewritten by China’s emergence as an assertive and uncompromising power. The challenges to globalisation, the retreat of democracy, the intergenerational impacts of terrorism, population displacement and climate change as well as evolving technologies in cyber and space all pose serious threats to a well-established order. Only through the coordinated use of hard and soft power, including sophisticated diplomacy, can any country effectively tackle these challenges. US President Joe Biden understood this before he took office. He understood that to preserve the United States’ global standing and power – shaken during the years of Donald Trump’s administration – the country had to return to the roots of diplomacy. Biden understood that diplomacy, not force, properly resourced and led by professionals with a unified purpose, had to be the first lever in reshaping the world to the challenges faced today.
In the first week of October 1960, Captains Hutomo Nastap and Harjo Sutarmo arrived in Australia to undertake air support and junior officers’ tactical courses at Australian Army schools.1 As the first members of the Indonesian Army to train in Australia, their arrival marked the start of a cooperative relationship between the armies of Indonesia and Australia which has endured into the 2020s.
In the early afternoon of 25 April 1975, the Australian Embassy to the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) shut its doors for the last time. One Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) C-130 Hercules had departed Tan Son Nhut air base earlier that morning, carrying a mixture of Vietnamese nuns, refugees and United Nations personnel to RAAF Fairbairn in Canberra. Two more left in the late afternoon, carrying the embassy’s Australian staff, their equipment and a handful of other Australians and Vietnamese to the safety of Bangkok. The embassy’s Vietnamese staff were, over the objections of Ambassador Geoffrey Price, not evacuated. Eschewing dramatics, Price sent his final cable to Canberra at 1 pm local time: ‘So I suppose all I need say now is thank you for all your support and close up the shop. Goodbye from Saigon.’ Thus ended – among other things – Australia’s defence engagement with the RVN.
Australia has heavily invested in peacemaking and nation-building across the Pacific, especially in Bougainville and Solomon Islands, where, in financial terms alone, it has directed over $4.1 billion in overseas development aid since 1991. The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has played a critical role in delivering on Australia’s foreign policy objectives in both of these places, most visibly through major, majority-ADF-funded, pan-Pacific coalition operations like the Truce Monitoring Group (TMG) and Peace Monitoring Group (PMG) (Operations Bel Isi and Bel Isi II) in Bougainville between 1997 and 2003, and through its contribution to the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) (Operation Anode) from 2003 to 2013. More recently, some commentators have suggested that the goodwill capital generated through these ADF commitments has been eroded by Australia neglecting its Pacific neighbours. Australia has seemingly also been blindsided by the conflation of two contemporary geopolitical issues – namely, a rise in China’s regional influence and concerns voiced across the Pacific Islands Forum at Australia’s perceived inaction on climate change.
One of the remarkable features of the 2020 Defence Strategic Update is the clarity of its assessment of Australia’s strategic environment. Like all government documents, it is careful in its language but does not seek to hide the enormity of the challenges that changes in this environment present for Australia and the task of national defence. Its broad argument, which builds on the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper assessments, is that the Indo-Pacific is changing profoundly. Over time, these changes may see the emergence of a strategic order very different from the one established in the period after the Second World War. This order was described in the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper as the ‘rules-based international order’, an infrastructure of agreements, legal frameworks for dispute resolution, international institutions and assumptions animating diplomacy about how the world should work. The order, still largely in place but increasingly under threat, is underpinned by US economic and military power.
This story from the Korean War goes to the heart of the unique bond between Australian and New Zealand soldiers, one cemented in mutual respect, expressed by a fierce rivalry and a steadfastness to stand shoulder-to-shoulder against any foe, perceived or real. The old coat of arms for New Zealand carried the motto ‘Onward’ (also the motto of the 1 New Zealand Expeditionary Force during the First World War and of the 1 Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment today). It is a motto of modest intent somewhat in keeping with the retiring, nocturnal and flightless kiwi emblazoned on the sleeves of members of the New Zealand Army.
Between mid-2015 and 2020, as research for a doctoral thesis, I interviewed over 50 military personnel who were directly involved in a role advising a partner security force. This included Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel who participated in mentoring task forces, train-advise-assist (TAA) roles, Defence Cooperation Program (DCP) initiatives and several other one-on-one or team advisory duties. The research also included interviews with allied personnel from the United States Army, particularly where they had been involved in joint initiatives with the ADF. Interviews also included host-nation personnel from the Afghan National Security Forces and Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF), to provide the views of personnel being advised or mentored, to determine what mattered to them and to obtain an alternative perspective. Interview subjects ranged in rank from sergeant to four-star US general, to garner both tactical and command perspectives.
Australia seems to be moving into a period of greater uncertainty and instability. The future now seems less clear than it once was; the events of the catastrophic bushfires in 2019–20 and the return of a global pandemic, in the form of COVID-19, in 2020 serve to remind us that the world in which we live remains subject to challenge and change. For the Asia-Pacific region, this is especially so, given the geopolitical, technological and economic restructuring that is currently underway. As former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright noted in 2020, understanding the ‘interconnectedness’ between politics, economics and technology is critical in anticipating change and disruption in the twenty-first century. That said, these challenges are not without historical precedents. History shows that Australia has faced pandemics, natural disasters, financial disruption and a number of ‘large’ and ‘small’ wars before.
A whirlwind of events at home and abroad forced Menzies’ hand, and he agreed to the deployment of Australian ground troops to Korea. So, in Washington, he took the opportunity to address Congress, both to justify and to talk up the Australian response.
In 1961, the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (2RAR), was placed under the command of the 1st Malaya Infantry Brigade and tasked with combined security operations in northern Malaya, later called Malaysia. An important occasion, this was the first time Australian soldiers had been commanded by their Malaysian partners. While significant, this was not surprising. Australian infantry battalions had spent the previous six years supporting the United Kingdom–led response to the Malayan Emergency. Alongside Malayan, British and several Commonwealth nations, the Australians undertook extensive jungle patrols, ambushes, convoy protection and food security operations as part of the United Kingdom–led counterinsurgency to defeat communist terrorists. Commitment, respect and partnership were defining features of Australian military engagement during this period and remain so through to this day.
There exists an October 1945 photograph taken at Duntroon in Canberra of five members of the Army’s Second World War Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs (DORCA) enjoying a laugh (see Figure 4.1). It was taken at the corner of Wilton and Harrison roads, near the back of the chapel, and one can see the start of the heritage houses down Harrison Road. DORCA was a remarkable organisation, a (uniformed) policy advice bureau (of about 100 staff in 1945) led by Colonel Alfred (Alf) Conlon and working for General Sir Thomas Blamey. The photograph is an important indication of the talent in that organisation of specialists in uniform: lawyers, anthropologists, doctors, Papua New Guinea (PNG) patrol officers and writers. The photograph was taken by Lieutenant John D. Legge, the foundation professor of history at Monash University from 1960 and later the dean of its Faculty of Arts and appointed an officer of the Order of Australia.
On 23 May 2017, known Islamic terrorist Isnilon Hapilon was reported to be in western Mindanao to meet with Omar and Abdullah Maute, leaders of the Islamic State–affiliated Maute group. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police operation to arrest them set in motion a chain of events that thrust the previously little known Philippine city of Marawi into the global spotlight. This raid rapidly escalated into an urban battle that lasted for five months, involving more than 6500 Philippine military personnel. The fighting resulted in the devastation of a major city and the deaths of over 900 insurgents, at the cost of 168 AFP and security services personnel killed and over 1400 wounded.
If I ever had the idea that as a defence attaché I would spend my time attending parades and playing golf during the day and going to cocktail parties at night, it didn’t last for very long.
‘Buy some shoes that you can run in.’ That was the first piece of advice I received from the guy I was taking over from in Jakarta towards the end of 1998. Having been Australia’s Army Attaché at the Australian Embassy for the previous two years, and now as a veteran of the Jakarta riots, he knew what he was talking about.
The importance of regional cooperation is becoming more apparent as the world moves into the third decade of the 21st century. An Army of Influence is a thought-provoking analysis of the Australian Army's capacity to change, with a particular focus on the Asia-Pacific region. Written by highly regarded historians, strategists and practitioners, this book examines the Australian Army's influence abroad and the lessons it has learnt from its engagement across the Asia-Pacific region. It also explores the challenges facing the Australian Army in the future and provides principles to guide operational, administrative and modernisation planning. Containing full-colour maps and images, An Army of Influence will be of interest to both the wider defence community and general readers. It underscores the importance of maintaining an ongoing presence in the region and engages with history to address the issues facing the Army both now and into the future.
Cambodia is a small country in South-East Asia between Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.1 It won independence from France in 1954 and was governed by a popular autocratic monarch, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, until his overthrow in a military coup, in 1970. General Lon Nol established the Khmer Republic and took Cambodia into the Vietnam War as an ally of the United States. Sihanouk, from exile in Beijing, placed his support behind an obscure peasant revolutionary movement in the countryside, his popularity drawing many Cambodians to the Khmer Rouge. They also rebelled against Lon Nol’s government in Phnom Penh because of the extensive bombing by the United States of rural areas across Cambodia.
On 1 March 1848, Lord Palmerston, British statesman and future Prime Minister, told the House of Commons: ‘We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.’ It was sentiment of the ages, one repeated, for example, by Henry Kissinger in 1979, who told the world: ‘America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.’ In a similar vein, on 14 September 1999, Prime Minister John Howard stated: ‘You have ongoing interests and you have special interests but this idea that you have a special relationship … is a mistake.’ Twelve days later, the Prime Minister reflected upon ‘the foolishness of building a foreign policy on the notion of special relationships, and on the compatibility of temperaments and personalities of the leaders of a nation at any given period’. Considered against such sentiments, the Army’s concept of accelerated warfare, with particular reference to implicit themes of persistence – that is, the organisation’s ambition to achieve persistent presence in the region and beyond through access, endurance and people-to-people links – seems problematic.
It was inevitable that the commanders of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) would be learning on the job. This was not just because the nature of the war could not have been anticipated and proved an overwhelming challenge for the commanders of all the armies involved; it was also because at the outbreak of the First World War the Australian Army was still in its infancy and relied heavily on the British Army for its ideas and direction. As Australia was a member of the British Empire, the AIF operated as part of the British Army. Further, the Australian forces were deployed by the British high command without consulting the Australian Government, and the commander of the AIF did not believe that it was his role to become involved in higher level questions of strategy. Even at the lower operational levels, senior Australian commanders were not willing, at first, to challenge the orders issued by their British superiors. Much of this would change during the war.
For more than half a century I have been researching and writing about Australian military history, defence policy and intelligence. My first major article, written while I was a cadet at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in 1969, was on General William Sherman’s command during the Atlanta campaign in the United States Civil War. Since then I have written or edited thirty-five books and almost a hundred journal articles or book chapters. In these, my primary focus has been on two inter-related issues: strategy and command.
In Strategy and Command, David Horner provides an important insight into the strategic decisions and military commanders who shaped Australia's army history from the Boer War to the evolution of the command structure for the Australian Defence Force in the 2000s. He examines strategic decisions such as whether to go to war, the nature of the forces to be committed to the war, where the forces should be deployed and when to reduce the Australian commitment. The book also recounts decisions made by commanders at the highest level, which are passed on to those at the operational level, who are then required to produce their own plans to achieve the government's aims through military operations. Strategy and Command is a compilation of research and writing on military history by one of Australia's pre-eminent military historians. It is a crucial read for anyone interested in Australia's involvement in 20th-century wars.
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