01 June 2009

Roundup of May Posts

A lot was happening in the defence realm during May and this is reflected in the major posts for the month. The big event for the month was the release of the Defence White Paper, the first in almost a decade, and an overview assessment of this is provided at Defence White Paper: an appraisal. There a good things to be said about the Defence White Paper, but the story it tells about how the major intended upgrade of defence capability is to financed is unconvincing.

Much of the re-equipment is to be financed from savings, the achievement of which could politely be termed an enormous challenge. This issue is discussed in Defence Savings: The Strategic Reform Program, which outlines how the Minister intends that the savings will be achieved, and provides an example of a previous brave attempt that came to grief. The conclusion is that the numbers do not add up, as outlined in Defence White Paper: the numbers do not add up.

This is a serious problem, made more serious by the fact that the Defence Minister seems to have the attitude that new equipment for the Australian Defence Force is some kind of reward for good behaviour, rather than an essential underpinning of national security – see Defence: Did the Minister really say that?

A substantial contribution to the savings program is expected from the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO), but as reported in Defence Materiel: DMO gunning for efficiency?, the basis for and achievability of the expected savings is highly dubious. Alliance contracting is reported to be the wave of the future for major defence acquisitions, but AWD: who is building those ships? reports that in the case of the Air Warfare Destroyer build the involvement of DMO in critical project decision-making diffuses responsibility for outcomes, and seems to ignore one of the key (and hard-learned) lessons from the Collins class submarine project. There are in fact fundamental methodological problems with alliance contracting in the Commonwealth sphere, as noted by the Australian Government Solicitor in 2001. An analysis of these problems appears at Alliance contracting in Defence.

The problems of seeking savings through attempting to control the risks inherent in complex acquisition projects are further illustrated in Project Wedgetail: a cautionary tale.

Another aspect of the White Paper which requires much more work is its account of how the Australian Defence Force is to recruit the personnel it needs for its expansion. There are areas in which crewing problems are already critical, notably the submarine service – see the April post Managing the submarine workforce.

One aspect of the White Paper which achieved some notoriety was the extent to which the expansion of the defence force was predicated upon a supposed threat from China. As reported in Defence White Paper: the China Syndrome this was overblown by the media, but it was clumsily handled by a Government which appeared reluctant to try to put the “In Fear of China” genie back in the bottle. An earlier post on this issue was Is China really the enemy?

In the non-Government area of defence support, Australian Industry & Defence Network (AIDN) draws attention to the leading national industry association for defence suppliers.

A very important international issue for Australia, although we will be a marginal player therein, is the resolution of Middle East issues, most of which revolve around the triangular United States-Iran-Israel relationship. One of the strategic issues which is attracting more attention is the optimum sequencing of consultations and negotiations: does the road to normalisation of relations with Iran run through Tel Aviv, or does the road to Palestinian peace run through Tehran? This issue is addressed in Middle East: sequencing the talks.

One way or another, normalisation of the U.S-Iran relationship is a critical component of the overall settlement. Iran: Hillary’s envoy (contd.) follows on from the earlier post Hillary's envoy: not everyone is cheering in suggesting that Secretary of State Clinton’s choice of envoy to Iran is a less than felicitous one for the pursuit of this goal.

Iranian domestic politics – particularly the outcome of the Presidential election on 12 June - will have an important bearing on the future of the U.S.-Iran relationship, although not as important as one might at first think – the Supreme Leader, rather than the President, will be the one who calls the shots, but personalities are important and it is the President and people responsible to him with whom President Obama and his team have to deal. Iran: election watch provides some sources for monitoring this fascinating race. Iran: election watch – Mohsen Rezaei gives some background to the principal conservative rival to incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Iran: the Roxana Saberi case puts the arrest, trial, appeal and release of this Iranian-American journalist into the context of the election and the potential for improved relations between Iran and the United States.

As for the U.S.-Israel side of the triangle, Shimon Peres: man of peace? throws some interesting historical light on the handwringing by Mr Peres about the Middle East finding itself in “the shadow of a nuclear threat”: Mr Peres was after all a central figure in the development by Israel of its nuclear force. He also played an important role in the recruitment of Israel by France for the disastrous invasion of Egypt in 1956 following Nasser’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal Zone.

Middle East: the Obama-Netanyahu meeting made some observations about the key issues, ahead of the recent talks. It addresses in particular the issue of Israeli settlements, and provides important historical background to the U.S. guarantees of Israel’s security. Apart from historical ties and sentiment, the Israeli nuclear strike force severely constrains the capacity of the United States to suggest that it would ever leave Israel to defend itself; that strike force has been placed on high alert on two occasions, 1967 and 1973, and the thought of that situation recurring is a nightmare scenario for the United States (and everyone else).

West Bank Settlements: full marks to Mrs Clinton notes the very strong follow-up message delivered to the Israelis following Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama, and suggests a method of dealing with the settlers who are regarded as such an obstacle to any prospect of Middle East peace.

On a different subject altogether, Resettling for Uncle Sam notes the request from the Obama Administration that Australia assist with closing the detention facilities at Guantánamo by resettling 17 Uighurs (Chinese Muslim minority from Northwest China) who have been held there for seven years despite having been cleared years ago of any links to terrorism. It notes that this is not the first time that the United States has asked Australia to share the burden of a Cuba-related mess of its own making, and recounts a tale of a Mariel refugee who was resettled here in the 1980s. The difference is that it was known at the time that some of the Marielitos were undesirables; these Uighurs seem to be innocents who were sold for cash as a result of the U.S. willingness to pay substantial cash bounties for “terrorists”.

Reducing rural industry research notes with sadness the Government’s decision to abolish Land and Water Australia, and wonders why the Government chooses to stimulate consumer spending to the point where it feels it is necessary to bring about the abolition of the jobs of people who are currently employed in contributing to the business of government, such as people working on rural R&D programs, people collecting essential data for the Bureau of Statistics, or self-employed contractors working for government agencies.

Life is not meant to be all Sturm und Drang, and Aussie Observer does spare a moment from time to time to draw attention to some of the things that make life worth living. Books: that obscure object of desire points to an online bookseller that provides access to a worldwide network of new and second-hand booksellers and makes it easy to acquire books that are out of print or otherwise difficult to acquire, as well as providing the opportunity for price comparison.

In the recorded music sphere Cherkassky plays Schubert notes the release of a BBC live broadcast of a concert by the outstanding Ukrainian-born pianist in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 1 November 1970; this concert included the beautiful late Schubert Sonata in A major D.959. Andres Segovia: the American Decca recordings notes the re-release on six CDs of the recordings made by the great Spanish guitarist at the height of his playing career.

Finally, Eleftheria in Melbourne notes the return visit of outstanding Greek chanteuse Eleftheria Arvanitaki to the great Greek city that is Melbourne, and compliments local group The HaBiBis on the outstanding performance that opened a great evening.

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