Australia — Minister for Defence Stephen Smith on AUKMIN

TOPICS: Aus­tralia-Unit­ed King­dom Min­is­te­r­i­al Con­sul­ta­tions; Aus­tralian Defence Force sup­port to Queens­land flood relief and recov­ery effort
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Top­ics up for dis­cus­sion at the AUKMIN talks will include Afghanistan, Chi­na and glob­al coun­tert­er­ror­ism efforts. For more, Defence Min­is­ter Stephen Smith joins us now from Syd­ney. Stephen Smith, good morn­ing and Hap­py New Year to you.

STEPHEN SMITH: Good morn­ing, Vir­ginia, and Hap­py New Year to you as well.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: The UK is now talk­ing about a 2011–2012 with­draw­al time­line. What, if any­thing, does that mean for us? Talk­ing about Afghanistan here, of course.

STEPHEN SMITH: The Unit­ed King­dom, like Aus­tralia and the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, is com­mit­ted to a tran­si­tion to Afghan-led and Afghan respon­si­bil­i­ty for secu­ri­ty pur­pos­es. So, we’re both com­mit­ted to that tran­si­tion at the end of 2014.

Aus­tralia con­tin­ues to believe that we’re on track for our train­ing effort in Uruz­gan Province where we’re train­ing the Afghan 4th Brigade to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for those secu­ri­ty arrange­ments. So that reflects the NATO-ISAF Meet­ing in Lis­bon at the end of last year where the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty agreed to that effec­tive strategy.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Yes, but the UK is talk­ing now specif­i­cal­ly dates and a time­line for with­draw­al. We don’t real­ly have one yet.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the UK has indi­cat­ed a point in time where they’re look­ing to a draw­down, and the Unit­ed States has done exact­ly the same. There’s nev­er been an incon­sis­ten­cy with a draw­down and the tran­si­tion strat­e­gy and the com­mit­ment that the Afghan Gov­ern­ment has and the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty has to a 2014 transition. 

We’ve always known, for exam­ple, that that tran­si­tion would be at a dif­fer­ent time in dif­fer­ent places, that var­i­ous parts of the coun­try would be appro­pri­ate and right for a tran­si­tion ear­li­er than oth­ers. So there’s no incon­sis­ten­cy with such a drawdown. 

The key thing is that the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, includ­ing Aus­tralia, includ­ing the Unit­ed King­dom, is absolute­ly com­mit­ted to a tran­si­tion to Afghan-led respon­si­bil­i­ty in Afghanistan. Aus­tralia can’t be there for­ev­er, nor can the Unit­ed King­dom, nor can the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty. But what we do know is we can’t leave tomor­row and that’s why we’re all com­mit­ted to that tran­si­tion strategy.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Sure. It’s not about try­ing to point out incon­sis­ten­cies here, it’s more that they’ve got dates and we don’t.

STEPHEN SMITH: As we’ve made clear, as the Prime Min­is­ter has made clear, the For­eign Minister’s made clear, as I’ve made clear dur­ing the Par­lia­men­tary debate, we are com­mit­ted to a con­di­tions-based tran­si­tion in Uruz­gan Province to Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces — the police, the army and the like. We believe we’re on track to effect that by 2014. 

But we’ve also made the point that as that tran­si­tion comes, we don’t see Aus­tralia leav­ing Afghanistan overnight. We believe there will be things for us to con­tin­ue to do, par­tic­u­lar­ly on the long-term devel­op­ment assis­tance front, and that view is also shared by the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty. And that was also reflect­ed at the Lis­bon Con­fer­ence that the Prime Min­is­ter and I attend­ed at the end of last year.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: On that score, and ask­ing you, I guess, as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of that inter­na­tion­al coali­tion that all has the same ambi­tion here for Afghanistan, are we cre­at­ing a sus­tain­able Gov­ern­ment there? Are we get­ting the pol­i­tics right?

STEPHEN SMITH: We believe that we’ve got the strat­e­gy right. I mean, I made the point in the Par­lia­men­tary debate, and I think I’ve made it on your pro­gram in the past that, regret­tably, it’s tak­en the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty a long time to get the cor­rect polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary strat­e­gy so far as Afghanistan is con­cerned. That was­n’t helped by diver­sion into Iraq. But we’re now very con­fi­dent that we have the right mil­i­tary strat­e­gy, the right polit­i­cal strat­e­gy and the cor­rect allo­ca­tion of resources from the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty to enable the Afghan peo­ple, the Afghan Gov­ern­ment, the Afghan Secu­ri­ty Forces to take that respon­si­bil­i­ty. It has tak­en way too long. And when peo­ple look back on this peri­od, that will be one of the analy­ses. But we deal with the cards as they fall for us, and we’re now con­fi­dent that we’ve got the cor­rect pol­i­cy, the cor­rect polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary strat­e­gy in place to effect that transition.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Yes. But still, even tak­ing account of the fact that, as you say and oth­ers acknowl­edge, it’s tak­en too long. Right now, there’s still so lit­tle Afghan admin­is­tra­tive pres­ence in the provinces that when that time comes for with­draw­al, what can you real­ly be con­fi­dent about what you’re leav­ing behind?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, that’s not true. Across Afghanistan, as a whole, we know it is uneven. We know the capac­i­ty of the Afghan Secu­ri­ty Forces across the coun­try is at dif­fer­ent lev­els. We know the capac­i­ty of the Afghan Gov­ern­ment, both at the cen­tral lev­el and the provin­cial lev­el is uneven, but we are, for exam­ple, pleased with progress that is being made in Uruz­gan Province. We’re also pleased with the progress that’s being made on the secu­ri­ty front in the south of Afghanistan, and that’s been reflect­ed not just by what the Unit­ed States and the Unit­ed King­dom and Aus­tralia say about progress, but also by inter­na­tion­al observers as well.

So yes, gov­er­nance, gov­ern­men­tal capac­i­ty is uneven, but that’s the rea­son why we are now, and the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, absolute­ly com­mit­ted, not just to a mil­i­tary strat­e­gy but to a polit­i­cal strat­e­gy, grow­ing the capac­i­ty of the Afghan insti­tu­tions to take care of these mat­ters for themselves.

And last year, for exam­ple, we saw the Afghan Par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, and one of the pleas­ing fea­tures of that was the capac­i­ty of the Afghan author­i­ties to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for secu­ri­ty arrange­ments of that Par­lia­men­tary elec­tion on the day. That was sig­nif­i­cant progress. And we’ve seen the Afghan Elec­tion Com­mis­sion there and the Afghan Elec­tion Com­plaints Com­mis­sion also tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for those mat­ters. But we, obvi­ous­ly, acknowl­edge — and I’ve made the point pub­licly and pri­vate­ly to Afghan offi­cials — that we do need to see sub­stan­tial progress on these fronts: on gov­er­nance, on cor­rup­tion, on the treat­ment of women and girls, on gov­er­nance, cor­rup­tion mat­ters, nar­cotics and the like.

Yes, it’s clear that a lot of progress needs to be made on these fronts, and that is very impor­tant to, ulti­mate­ly, suc­cess in Afghanistan and mak­ing sure that Afghanistan does­n’t again become a breed­ing ground for inter­na­tion­al terrorism.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Min­is­ter Smith, turn­ing now to Chi­na, it’s been described, of course, as a great pow­er that wants a great armed force to go with that. Does the UK and Aus­tralia have a sim­i­lar view in regard of that ambition?

STEPHEN SMITH: We know that this is the cen­tu­ry of the Asia-Pacif­ic, and one of the rea­sons that For­eign Sec­re­tary Hague and Defence Sec­re­tary Fox are com­ing to Aus­tralia is to send the mes­sage that that influ­ence, that eco­nom­ic growth, polit­i­cal growth, mil­i­tary growth influ­ence is mov­ing to our part of the world. Yes, a lot of that is about the rise of Chi­na, but it’s also the rise of India, the rise of the ASEAN economies combined.

On the Chi­nese mil­i­tary front, we absolute­ly accept, as does the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, that as Chi­na grows, as its econ­o­my grows, it’s enti­tled to grow its mil­i­tary capacity. 

What we do say to Chi­na, as we say again when we meet with them for­mal­ly, but as we also say pub­licly, all we expect from Chi­na is that they are trans­par­ent about their mil­i­tary strat­e­gy. And we were very pleased recent­ly to see what we regard­ed as a suc­cess­ful vis­it by US Defense Sec­re­tary Gates to Chi­na. It’s very impor­tant that not only is there eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal coop­er­a­tion between Chi­na and the Unit­ed States, but also defence and mil­i­tary cooperation.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Min­is­ter, I know you’re under pres­sure and I’ve got to let you go, but just very quick­ly, does the Defence Force have any more capac­i­ty to spare if Queens­land needs even more help with the clean up of these mon­strous floods?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we’ve com­mit­ted our­selves to 1200 per­son­nel on the ground deal­ing with the clean up and the ear­ly stages of recov­ery, but we’re also see­ing a transition. 

Today, as we speak, we’ve got around 1600 peo­ple on the ground there, some con­tin­u­ing to do the search and res­cue and recov­ery effort, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the Lock­y­er Val­ley, some con­tin­u­ing to engage in trans­porta­tion. But the vast bulk are now engaged in the clean up in Bris­bane and Ipswich and the ear­ly stages of recovery.

So we’re very con­fi­dent that we’ve got the right resources on the ground. That will even­tu­al­ly, over the peri­od of the next few days and weeks, come down to around 1200. But as we’ve made clear, what­ev­er is required, we’ve got the capac­i­ty to do it. And I’m very pleased with the ter­rif­ic work that Defence Force per­son­nel have been doing in Queens­land gen­er­al­ly all of this year. It’s been a ter­rif­ic effort on their part, and we’re very pleased and proud of the effort they’ve been making.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Stephen Smith, good to talk to you again, thanks so much.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much, Vir­ginia, thank you. 

Press release
Min­is­te­r­i­al Sup­port and Pub­lic Affairs,
Depart­ment of Defence,
Can­ber­ra, Australia 

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