Australia/USA — Admiral Willard’s visit to Australia, WikiLeaks, US Global Force Posture Review

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, Can I offi­cial­ly wel­come to Perth and to West­ern Aus­tralia and Aus­tralia Admi­ral Bob Willard, Com­man­der of the US Pacif­ic Com­mand.
It’s Admi­ral Willard’s first vis­it to Aus­tralia as Com­man­der of Pacif­ic Com­mand but it’s not his first vis­it to Aus­tralia. We wel­come him back and we’re very pleased to receive his vis­it on this occa­sion.

He’s been to Perth before in the 1980s and has remarked to me about the sub­stan­tial changes that have occurred to Perth since the ear­ly 1980s.

In the course of his vis­it to West­ern Aus­tralia today we start­ed the day at Camp­bell Bar­racks in Swan­bourne with the SAS Reg­i­ment, and we’ve just come from Fleet Base West or HMAS Stir­ling, as it’s known to West­ern Aus­tralians.

In addi­tion to speak­ing with the Reg­i­ment at Camp­bell Bar­racks and hav­ing a tour of the HMAS Perth Anzac Frigate at HMAS Stir­ling, we’ve had the chance for a bilat­er­al con­ver­sa­tion about some of the issues that Aus­tralia and the Unit­ed States share.

First­ly, can I say the Alliance between Aus­tralia and the Unit­ed States remains, of course, the bedrock of our strate­gic secu­ri­ty and defence arrange­ments. And in that con­text we wel­come Admi­ral Willard here so soon after the recent AUSMIN Meet­ing in Mel­bourne.

We dis­cussed a range of issues. First­ly, the Unit­ed States Glob­al Force Pos­ture Review, which Sec­re­tary Gates and I dis­cussed in Mel­bourne. The Unit­ed States is at the begin­ning of that exer­cise but, as part of the AUSMIN deci­sions, Sec­re­tary Gates and I agreed that Aus­tralia and the Unit­ed States would have a joint work­ing group to look at the impli­ca­tions for the Unit­ed States and Aus­tralia so far as the Force Pos­ture Review is con­cerned. And next week in Can­ber­ra, that work­ing group will meet for the first time. So we’ve had the chance to dis­cuss those issues.

Sec­ond­ly, I was very pleased that Admi­ral Willard gave me his brief­ing on recent events in the Repub­lic of Kore­an. Aus­tralia, of course, stands shoul­der to shoul­der with the Repub­lic of Korea on these very dif­fi­cult issues. And we again com­pli­ment the Repub­lic of Korea for the restrained way in which it has respond­ed to enor­mous provo­ca­tion from North Korea.

As a con­se­quence of our vis­it to Camp­bell Bar­racks we of course also spoke about Afghanistan and the joint and shared work we do in Uruz­gan Province under the Com­bined Team Uruz­gan in Afghanistan.

And, final­ly, as a result of the vis­it to HMAS Stir­ling, we had a con­ver­sa­tion about the White Paper, Australia’s 2009 Defence White Paper, includ­ing and in par­tic­u­lar our pro­pos­al for 12 new sub­marines, our future sub­ma­rine pro­gram, which, of course, is a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­i­ty that we’ll see a pres­ence in HMAS Stir­ling itself.

So Admi­ral, we’re very pleased to see you here. I’ll cross to the Admi­ral for some open­ing remarks. I’m then very hap­py to respond to your ques­tions about the Admiral’s vis­it. And then if you have ques­tions relat­ing to oth­er mat­ters I’m hap­py to take those as well.

Can I just draw your atten­tion, the Admi­ral has got a plane to catch and we’re look­ing at sort of get­ting away from here not too long after 1.15pm

BOB WILLARD: Thank you Min­is­ter. Thank you very much for those kind com­ments and the wel­come to West­ern Aus­tralia. As the Min­is­ter men­tioned, the last time I was here, I think, was 1989 and I was still a young pilot on an air­craft car­ri­er, and paid a vis­it to Perth. It’s won­der­ful to be back. Your city looks won­der­ful and fly­ing over the state West­ern Aus­tralia itself looks ter­rif­ic.

I’d like to offer my thanks to CDF Angus Hous­ton and to Min­is­ter Smith for hav­ing host­ed me through the sev­er­al days that I’ve been back to Aus­tralia. We’ve had ter­rif­ic dis­cus­sions, bilat­er­al dis­cus­sions, and I’ve had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to vis­it in Can­ber­ra, Dar­win and now Perth.

So this was a rare expe­ri­ence for both my wife and I, and won­der­ful­ly host­ed by our Aus­tralian hosts. Thank you so much.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much.

QUESTION: Min­is­ter, you men­tioned the White Paper. We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly been led to believe that the Chi­nese were uncon­cerned about the White Paper and par­tic­u­lar­ly Angus Hous­ton had made some com­ments in May say­ing that they’d shown no con­cern. The lat­est Wik­iLeaks cables indi­cate that they in fact were con­cerned; there was neg­a­tive reac­tion.

STEPHEN SMITH: Let me make a num­ber of remarks in response to that. First­ly, I’m not propos­ing now or in the future to be drawn on any indi­vid­ual diplo­mat­ic cable or news­pa­per report­ing on that. The Gov­ern­ment has made its view clear about what it regards very strong­ly as the inap­pro­pri­ate release of such mate­r­i­al. And I’ve made that point myself. So far as the White Paper is con­cerned, not in response to any report­ing on any par­tic­u­lar cable, but as a gen­er­al propo­si­tion let me restate the long­stand­ing and well-known posi­tion of the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment. First­ly, in the run-up to the pub­li­ca­tion of the Defence White Paper in 2009, the Gov­ern­ment took the oppor­tu­ni­ty of alert­ing a num­ber of coun­tries to the pro­posed pub­li­ca­tion and briefed accord­ing­ly. That’s on the pub­lic record. One of those coun­tries was Chi­na, and I have read the tran­script from the brief­ing that Chief of the Defence Force Angus Hous­ton gave in May of 2009. I’ve read it very care­ful­ly and peo­ple should do that. And I’ve dis­cussed it with the CDF today and he advis­es me there’s no rea­son why he would change any of the com­ments he made on that occa­sion, nor do I see any rea­son.

I have made it clear, as Min­is­ter for Defence and pre­vi­ous­ly as For­eign Min­is­ter, that when it comes to Australia’s rela­tion­ship with Chi­na, there are some very impor­tant fun­da­men­tals. First­ly, we have a pos­i­tive con­struc­tive rela­tion­ship with Chi­na, both gen­er­al­ly and so far as Defence coop­er­a­tion is con­cerned. That’s the first point.

Sec­ond­ly, Aus­tralia has made it clear to Chi­na, both pub­licly and pri­vate­ly, that as Chi­na emerges as a ris­ing pow­er, as a super pow­er, we expect that as a result of this eco­nom­ic expan­sion there will also be a mil­i­tary expan­sion. But we expect Chi­na to be trans­par­ent about the strate­gic intent behind its mil­i­tary expan­sion.

Third­ly, the White Paper does not sin­gle out Chi­na, as some com­men­ta­tors either in Chi­na or in Aus­tralia would have you believe. It is a strate­gic view of our region and beyond. So I’ve seen a range of com­ments today and they don’t in any way detract from the posi­tion made clear by the Gov­ern­ment or the posi­tion that the Chief of the Defence Force indi­cat­ed to jour­nal­ists in a media brief­ing in May 2009.

QUESTION: So you believe that Chi­na was hap­py with that Defence Paper?

STEPHEN SMITH: As I’ve said on any num­ber of occa­sions, both as Min­is­ter for Defence in this Par­lia­ment and pre­vi­ous­ly, I myself have had con­ver­sa­tions with Chi­nese coun­ter­parts, and those con­ver­sa­tions have been frank. They’ve been frank about Australia’s view that the White Paper is not aimed at Chi­na or any indi­vid­ual nation. Those con­ver­sa­tions have also been frank about the fact that, as China’s mil­i­tary expan­sion occurs, we expect Chi­na to be trans­par­ent about the strate­gic intent behind that mil­i­tary expan­sion.

We remain con­fi­dent that Chi­na will emerge, as Bob Zoel­lick would say, as a respon­si­ble inter­na­tion­al stake­hold­er or, as the Chi­nese would say, into a har­mo­nious envi­ron­ment.

QUESTION: Min­is­ter, what about the claims that there’s a wide­spread view that Afghanistan is a hope­less case inside Gov­ern­ment. How wide­spread is that view?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, again, I’m not propos­ing to be drawn on any par­tic­u­lar cable or alleged cable, or com­men­tary aris­ing from that. But let me out­line to you the very clear and con­sis­tent posi­tion of the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment. First­ly, from the moment we came to office in Decem­ber 2007, we made it clear from the out­set that we regard­ed our effort in Afghanistan as, first­ly, not just being in the inter­na­tion­al community’s inter­ests, but in Australia’s nation­al inter­est. But we also made it clear we regard­ed that as being dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous. There has been no under­state­ment so far as the Gov­ern­ment is con­cerned of the dif­fi­cul­ties or the dan­gers or the chal­lenges in Afghanistan. That’s the first point.

Sec­ond­ly, we have recent­ly seen a ful­ly-fledged Par­lia­men­tary debate on Afghanistan. In the course of that debate I made it clear, both in the Par­lia­ment and pub­licly in my remarks, that one of the chal­lenges we faced in Afghanistan was hav­ing been there for nine and a half years, hav­ing seen the dis­trac­tion of Iraq, one of the fail­ings of the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty was that we did not bring to the table a coher­ent mil­i­tary or polit­i­cal strat­e­gy about Afghanistan until very recent­ly.

Very many of the com­ments that I’ve seen are dat­ed at a time pri­or to the Riedel Review, pri­or to Gen­er­al McChrystal’s Review, pri­or to the Oba­ma Review, and the agree­ment by the Unit­ed States and the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force and the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty reflect­ed through the Kab­ul Con­fer­ence that we saw in July of this year, reflect­ed through the Lon­don Con­fer­ence at the begin­ning of this year, and also most recent­ly reflect­ed by the Lis­bon Con­fer­ence. Final­ly we have a coher­ent mil­i­tary and polit­i­cal strat­e­gy with, as a result of the surge, fol­low­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s deci­sions and NATO’s deci­sions, with the resources to match that.

Yes, Afghanistan has been and con­tin­ues to be dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous. We do believe that in the last six months or so we have made progress. But as I have said pre­vi­ous­ly, the test of that, the next real­ly effec­tive test of that will be when the fight­ing sea­son resumes after the win­ter. And so in the first half of next year we will see whether those advances have been con­sol­i­dat­ed.

But as the Prime Min­is­ter has made clear, as I have made clear, as the Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs has made clear, Afghanistan will con­tin­ue to be dif­fi­cult. Afghanistan will con­tin­ue to be dan­ger­ous. We expect there will be fur­ther casu­al­ties, indeed the prospect of fur­ther fatal­i­ties in Afghanistan. But we are there because we believe it is in our nation­al inter­est to help stare down inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism and to pre­vent Afghanistan from again becom­ing a breed­ing ground for inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism.

QUESTION: Would you refer to Ger­many and France’s con­tri­bu­tion as organ­is­ing folk danc­ing fes­ti­vals in Afghanistan?

STEPHEN SMITH: Again, I’ve seen those reports. Let me again restate what the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment has said about the inter­na­tion­al community’s con­tri­bu­tion to Afghanistan. With the inclu­sion of Ton­ga at the Lis­bon Sum­mit, there are now 48 coun­tries mak­ing a con­tri­bu­tion in Afghanistan. So far as Aus­tralia is con­cerned, we are the largest non-NATO con­trib­u­tor. We are the tenth largest con­trib­u­tor. And in terms of spe­cial forces, we’re the third largest con­trib­u­tor.

Ger­many and France, sig­nif­i­cant NATO coun­tries, make sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tions. Last time I looked Germany’s con­tri­bu­tion was just over 4000 troops, France’s con­tri­bu­tion was just under 4000 troops. Trag­i­cal­ly Ger­many has suf­fered over 50 casu­al­ties, and the French just under 50 casu­al­ties.

Both those coun­tries have made a sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tion, and con­tin­ue to make a sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tion. And Aus­tralia, in the course of the Afghanistan effort, and in par­tic­u­lar since we came to office have worked close­ly with both France and Ger­many on the strate­gic imper­a­tives in Afghanistan and on the con­tri­bu­tion that all three of us are mak­ing there. So rule of thumb, Ger­many and France are in not just the top 10 con­trib­u­tors but in the top five con­trib­u­tors and, as senior NATO coun­tries, that is appro­pri­ate. And we wel­come very much their ongo­ing con­tri­bu­tion.

QUESTION: Admi­ral Willard, can I just ask what exact­ly you’re doing here in Perth? Would you like to see more US forces work­ing out at Gar­den Island?

BOB WILLARD: Well, as the Min­is­ter men­tioned ear­li­er, I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet with your SAS forces this morn­ing. And to the point of Afghanistan, they’ve come away hav­ing com­plet­ed coura­geous mis­sions and had great suc­cess in Uruz­gan and con­tin­ue to do so.

So I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­cuss Afghanistan and under­stand the per­spec­tives of Aus­tralia while I was here. I also had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to vis­it Stir­ling, and to vis­it one of your ships that has been recent­ly upgrad­ed for air defence, and under­stand those upgrades.

As the Min­is­ter men­tioned ear­li­er, the Alliance between the Unit­ed States and Aus­tralia is at least a bedrock Alliance; per­haps, you know, greater, per­haps the strongest Alliance that we have as a nation. And we are very proud of the con­tri­bu­tion and the inter­op­er­abil­i­ty that exists between our two armed forces.

And it’s impor­tant, as Pacif­ic Com­mand Com­man­der, that I take the oppor­tu­ni­ty to vis­it the var­i­ous sites in Aus­tralia where there are force con­cen­tra­tions and to have dis­cus­sions with the senior lead­er­ship there.

As the Min­is­ter also men­tioned, there is a Glob­al Force Pos­ture Review ongo­ing. And, for­tu­nate­ly, our two Gov­ern­ments are going to have those high-lev­el dis­cus­sions begin­ning with the work­ing group that arrives next week. I think that it’s impor­tant that as Com­man­der of Pacif­ic Com­mand with an input to that study that I also take the time to put eyes on var­i­ous loca­tions in Aus­tralia where those dis­cus­sions may cov­er.

STEPHEN SMITH: Could I just add to that. It’s a point I’ve men­tioned in the past. Aus­tralia, of course, regards the ongo­ing pres­ence and engage­ment of the Unit­ed States in the Asia Pacif­ic region as being absolute­ly essen­tial to sta­bil­i­ty in the region. And as we made clear at AUSMIN, we encour­age, indeed encour­age greater engage­ment and par­tic­i­pa­tion, and we’ve wel­comed very much that greater engage­ment that we’ve seen from the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion, and we look for­ward to these con­ver­sa­tions con­tin­u­ing.

QUESTION: Min­is­ter, can I just ask too, the per­cep­tion from the US Embassy that under you as a For­eign Min­is­ter, the Depart­ment of For­eign Affairs was out of the loop, DFAT would often have to go to the Israeli Ambas­sador to see what the Prime Min­is­ter was up to. What is your reac­tion to that?

STEPHEN SMITH: I’m not propos­ing, as I’ve said, to be drawn on any com­men­tary that we find in cables that are alleged to have been cir­cu­lat­ed.

But I make the point that a num­ber of my Min­is­te­r­i­al col­leagues have made in the past, and I’ve made in the past: when it comes to diplo­mat­ic cables, it is very impor­tant that the con­fi­den­tial­i­ty and secu­ri­ty of diplo­mat­ic cables be pro­tect­ed. That’s very impor­tant for the busi­ness and the deal­ings between nation states. And that rea­son, togeth­er with the dan­gers that the release of such cables pose, either to nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­ests or to the safe­ty and well­be­ing of par­tic­u­lar indi­vid­u­als, whether they’re diplo­mats or oth­ers, is a very strong rea­son why we have con­demned so round­ly the pub­li­ca­tion of these mate­ri­als.

But diplo­mat­ic cables, like news­pa­per reports, can either con­tain gos­sip or sub­stan­tive analy­sis. And I’ll leave it to oth­ers to judge whether the mat­ters you’ve referred to, either in news­pa­pers or in diplo­mat­ic cables, are gos­sip or sub­stan­tial analy­sis.

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

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