For its first event of the year, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, with the kind support of Hewlett Packard, hosted a luncheon with Australian Defence Force Chief General David Hurley and Chief of the British Defence Staff General Sir David Richards. A panel discussion, moderated by the Australia Network's Catherine McGrath, covered a broad range of issues, including the recent hostage crisis in Algeria, the crackdown on insurgents in Mali, Syria and other areas like Yemen, Somalia and Iran, and the wind-down in Afghanistan, the Solomons and East Timor in 2013.
African security issues were prominent, including the recent Algerian hostage incident and the conflict in Mali, with General Hurley referring to Australia’s mining interests and the 5,000 expatriates working in the sector. General Richards praised the Algerian government for sending a clear message to insurgents in the region in their handling of the recent hostage case. In the context of the ongoing fight against extremism, he reflected that we can't reasonable aspire to ‘kill an idea’, but we might aim to suppress it enough ‘so as not to affect our daily lives’.
Insurgency and ‘green on blue’ attacks in Afghanistan continue to be an area of concern, although both Generals agreed that real progress had been made in developing Afghanistan's capacity to provide for its own security. Pakistan was also raised as a country to watch in 2013.
The Generals also addressed recent defence budget cuts in both countries, with Hurley saying the ADF will be ‘adequately resourced’ for the next few years, until it looks to expand and upgrade its materiel. Richards stressed that the UK remain the fourth largest defence spender, but also reiterated its NATO obligations. In his view, the UK Joint Expeditionary Forces would be a suitable vehicle for Britain to discharge its responsibilities and protect its overseas interests. He surmised that ‘cyber security and ISTAR [intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance]’ would be pillars of Britain’s strategic future, and would receive a larger share of its defence resources.
In a broad ranging discussion, other issues covered included Asia-Pacific engagement, the South China Sea and the impetus provided by the recent Australia-UK Ministerial talks, with both Generals expressing a mutual desire to reinforce an Australia-UK relationship that has been somewhat ‘disjointed’. Hurley noted that it is critical to engage with the region, naming Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand as prospective partners, and said that Australia should also look westward towards the Indian Ocean, as well as to the Pacific. Australia will do what is ‘appropriate’ in the South China Sea (namely engagement with the Philippines). Both Generals emphasised the importance of grand strategy in respective future defence activity, seeing strategic policy as a ‘handrail’ for tactical elements of force and capability.