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CAEX12 opening address

Chief of Army delivers the opening address at CAEX12.

Opening address by the Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO at the Chief of Army's Exercise, Melbourne, 29 October 2012.

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To the many distinguished guests who have travelled, in some cases almost a world away to be here in Melbourne; to the Defence attaches who make up so much of the important business that is conducted, not just in Canberra but across the country; to senior officers in the Australian Army; to members of academia and members of the media who have been invited to participated in the CA’s exercise—welcome.

I had intended, somewhat bravely, to run through the list of distinguished officers who are here. But I have chosen not to do that in the fear that I may miss someone. That there is a walkout within the first three minutes of my Exercise. And that the whole tone of the next two days is soured forever. So I’m not going to do that.

But I would acknowledge that there has been a commitment by many countries. Countries, obviously from the Asia Pacific region. But also from countries that are well removed from Australia—from North East Asia, from China, from the UK, from Canada. And of course from both the US Marines and Army in the Pacific, as well as from the West Coast of continental USA with the Commander of First Corps here today.

When I sent out the invitations some time ago, clearly you would understand that I was somewhat concerned that while the invitations would be given due acknowledgement by the recipients, that various prevailing conditions across the globe would mean that countries couldn’t contribute at the level I was looking at. But that has not been the case, in fact, while some of the Chiefs of Army who were invited are understandably not able to attend, they have sent such senior and distinguished representatives that I am humbled to be in the same room with senior members of countries’ militaries with which Australia has had long and enduring relationships.

And I am very grateful for people’s commitment of time and jetlag to be here today. So, thank you.

It’s important for me to take the first step in welcoming you to Australia and Melbourne and this Exercise. As a first step in opening this Exercise, by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land in which we gather today. The first people of Australia, our Aboriginal and Torres Strait brothers and sisters held this land to be sacred. And I want to honour and acknowledge their custodianship of this land and honour their elders, past and present.

And while there would be some perhaps, in this audience, who would see this as a somewhat politically correct start to a conference such as this, it is heartfelt by me. The Australian Army, indeed the Australian Defence Force, has been trying for a considerable period of time to increase the number of Indigenous members who are part of our Army and our Defence Force. It is a slow road, but it is a very important one in being an inclusive and racially diverse Army and Defence Force, which I hold to be a very important part to our future.

Now, I’m going to, before I start to actually follow a formal address—and while my staff who’ve helped prepare this speech have got their hearts in their mouths wondering what I’m going to say next—I may as well say a few things.

Firstly, about the format of the conference. I have attended many in my time, and I’m almost sure that all of you in the audience have as well. And it has been a relentless series of ‘transmit and receive’—that is, that someone stands at the front and transmits, and that you sit in the audience and receive. But those types of conferences have never worked particularly well for me.

And given that what I want to achieve out of the next two days is a better understanding amongst our militaries, and that engagement is an absolute essential for that to occur, the format for this exercise will be centred around only three formal addresses—one provided by an Australian academic, Dr Mike Evans, this afternoon; one by a retired Indonesian Lieutenant General and academic, Agus Widjojo; and one tonight by a senior member of the People’s Liberation Army of China, General Ren.

For the remainder of our time together, we will spend it either in smaller groups where key matters will be discussed, and then we will return to a plenary session to share those ideas. Or tomorrow there will be opportunities to listen to and then quiz two expert panels who will deal with two weighty issues that I think are germaine to all of our militaries, irrespective of where we are across the globe.

The second point I would like to make is that it is indeed fortuitous that I open the Chief of Army’s Exercise on the day after the Government releases its White Paper on the Asia Pacific century.

For our visitors, you may have already seen some of the media commentary about that White Paper, both on television and in print. I should like to point out both for your assistance and edification, that Australians are by nature a cynical people. That is both to our detriment and to our advantage. Our detriment is realised because we are somewhat shy of new ideas. We step back. We find it easier as a people to perhaps criticise than engage, particularly in intellectual pursuits.

And it’s to our betterment as well, because as a nation it stops us getting ahead of ourselves. And we do try and look at things with other aspects of our character. An openness, a degree, I think a high degree, of transparency, a real curiosity to engage, and indeed a desire as a people to make a positive difference not just in our region, but in our world.

Now I’ll make some specific reference to the White Paper a little bit later in my speech, but I’ve got to tell you that I think it’s a great thing. And while there has been some cynical comment made about it, it reaffirms this nation’s and its Government’s desire to engage as an active contributor to security and stability in the Asia Pacific region. It does so in a whole-of-nation sense. There are some specific issues that deal with defence and security, but there are many others that deal with education, and trade, and medicine, and social engagement. And while, perhaps, not all of the objectives will be realised soon, or easily, it is nonetheless a plan. And all of the military officers in this audience, would, I think, understand the importance of a plan, even if it’s only the first point from which you diverge—a plan for Australia’s future in the region.

And it is wonderful to be a senior member of the ADF and the security apparatus in this country at a time when the Government is committing to that plan.

Now, the opportunity to open my own conference as Chief of Army is both a thrill and an honour. Leadership of the Australian Army, I’ve got to tell you, is one of the most onerous, sometimes more onerous than others, yet distinguished positions. And for our visitors, I would like to impress on you that the Australian Army is as old as our Federation.

The Army came into being while the colonial armies of Australia, prior to 1901, were committed to operations in South Africa. Indeed, my Army came into being while we were in operations, 112 years ago. And it remains. And indeed the actions of our men and women in many operational theatres over the last twelve years has reaffirmed its place in Australian culture. I say with very considerable pride that we are a great national institution. And as I sit at the professional head of it, it is wonderful to be able to share that responsibility with all of you in the room.

I think that I have a very solemn obligation to the nation. And I think that that obligation is brought into even starker relief when you consider where our primarily young men and women, soldiers all, are currently on service at the nation’s call—in Afghanistan, in the Solomon Islands, in Timor Leste, and in a host of UN and multinational missions around the world. The death of yet another soldier in Afghanistan late last week, the return of his body yesterday, just reminds, I think, all of us of the moral obligation we share as soldiers to the nations that we belong. To the families of our soldiers who make up the extended Army family. And that means, to me, that we should be unsparing in our commitment of intellect and professional focus in terms of preparing for and conducting military operations, including war.

One of the major themes that I want to address this conference is how an Army is a part of a robust maritime strategy. This is term that we, in Australia, are coming to grips with. And I’ll spend a little bit of time on that in a moment. But, if I could call up the only slide I’m going to show, this is how Australia sees the world. There is an awful lot of blue. But what I’m about to talk about is not a naval strategy, in fact far from it. It is a maritime strategy, which, in its very context, is a joint strategy.

I have said in a number of public addresses that I have made this year, that Australia needs its Australian Defence Force more than it needs Navy, and its Army and its Air Force. And while we, of course, are primarily Army officers, I think that by what constitutes an army we are essentially joint from the outset. We are very reliant on Navy and Air Force assets to do our work, but modern operations have underscored the importance of not just being able to work in a joint environment, but indeed a joint coalition and interagency environment. And without that, I don’t believe a maritime strategy can be properly prosecuted.

Now, I am honoured, as I said, that many of our friends and allies have seen fit to be represented by such senior officers at this gathering, and I’m very keen for you to share your ideas about what might be your role in a maritime strategy. Australia clearly, as the slide behind me shows, is an island continent, but we are not insular. In this so called Asia-Pacific century we understand that access to the perspectives of other military professionals and strategic thinkers from across our region and the globe are absolutely indispensable if we are to understand our role in relation to security and prosperity in Australia.

Now I just want to turn to the White Paper that was released yesterday and highlight some key points with regard to its implications for the Australian Defence Force. I take my comments from those that my Minister, Stephen Smith, will be making public today. And I just want to touch on about six bullet points, and I’ll do it very briefly. It’s about:

Promoting cooperative arrangements among major powers in the region, including promoting the development of the expanding East Asia Summit as a crucial regional institution. And I think we’re well on track for that now.

Working with the United States to ensure it continues to have a strong and consistent presence in the region, including through the enhanced practical cooperation between Australian and the United States.

And it’s here that it’s worth pausing, just for a moment, to underscore for all of those who are visiting Australia, the depth of the relationship as it exists between the United States and my country. The United States fought with us in the First World War. It fought for us in terms of existential threats for this county in the Second World War. We have been a willing and active partner with the United States in Korea, in Vietnam, in Iraq, and currently in Afghanistan. We bear our relationship with that country deeply, and without any equivocation, the ANZUS Treaty as it sits between us and the United States, and indeed New Zealand, is absolutely the bedrock of our security relationships, not just regionally, but globally. But that is not an exclusive partnership. Indeed, it is one that is inclusive, and that is definitely one of the themes I want to explore during the course of these next couple of days.

The White Paper certainly supports China’s full participation in the region at both the strategic, political and economic level.

It’s about maintain Australia’s strong support for global, regional and bilateral security framework norms based on our contributions to the United Nations. And that, of course, has been brought into stark relief by Australia’s recent elevation to membership of the UN Security Council.

And it’s also about pursuing practical cooperation and building local capability with regional partners. And I don’t think that I would be overstating that this Exercise, to say that this next two days, and indeed for those that will stay on for the Land Warfare Conference this week, is our contribution to just that.

Now I think that there is a distinct Australian policy perspective that provides a fitting backdrop to the contributions that we will make over the next couple of days. I do want to acknowledge the contributions, in anticipation, of two distinguished people who are going to speak. I mentioned both of them—Lieutenant General Ren from China, and good friend retired Lieutenant General Agus Widjojo who has come from Indonesia to offer both an Indonesian, and of course from General Ren, a Chinese perspective. And I think that when they speak to us they will provide that all important balance for Australians in the audience.

My own more modest task is to welcome in anticipation, Dr Mike Evans who will speak to us after lunch, and who will be introduced by our other distinguished guest, senior official from Indonesia, Lieutenant General Muhammad Munir. And I thank him for that.

Mike has been a prolific writer doing much to overcome institutional inertia about the maritime strategy among our policy and analytical communities. It is a subject that I spoke about last Friday at Canberra University, and it’s one that I will continue to speak about while I am the current Chief of Army. Because I am absolutely certain that the application of a maritime strategy is in the utmost interest of Australia in securing our security and prosperity into the future.

While I genuinely believe that neither Australia nor its Defence Force is insular, there is more than a grain of truth to the assertion by my friend and colleague, the Chief of Navy Admiral Ray Griggs, who bemoaned a dispiriting degree of ‘sea blindness’ amongst both our policy elites, and indeed amongst our wider population.

In a speech last December, Ray made a telling jest that the words of our National Anthem should state ‘girt by beach’ rather than ‘girt by sea’ on account of our collective sense of inhabiting a vast and daunting continent. Should any of you be fortunate to travel widely in my vast and beautiful, but endlessly fascinating country you will soon see why that feeling is so natural. But it does risk simplifying the extent to which we are indeed a classic maritime power.

Whether we possess sufficient of what that great naval strategist Mahan referred to as ‘sea mindedness’, our prosperity and security is absolutely dependent on the sea lanes in our immediate neighbourhood and beyond. In this era of what is glibly termed the globalisation era, we are deeply immersed in the global trading system. Our survival is contingent on the good order at sea to which all of your nations, I know, both aspire and contribute.

Our extant strategic guidance commits the Australian Defence Force to a maritime strategy to defend the archipelagic approaches to this continent. Thankfully this is no longer controversial and, I think, enjoys considerable bipartisan support from both sides of government in this country.

However, as Mike Evans may remind you—this consensus has been a relatively recent advent. Despite an almost uninterrupted history of seeking security through off-shore and coalition operations to support the global order, we lost the capacity to conduct amphibious and off-shore operations for a period of about three decades. But the demands of our full spectrum operations away from our Australian bases since the mid 1990s have necessitated a return to first principles in terms of our understanding of maritime strategy and the amphibious operations which are subsumed by it.

And that has indeed been the professional journey that I have made since I was a lieutenant colonel all the way through operations in our achipelagic region and further afield now that I sit here as the professional head of the Australian Army.

Ever since Federation we have consistently implemented a maritime strategy whereby Australian governments of all political persuasions have contributed naval, military and air forces to operations abroad in support of the global order, underwritten by the pre-eminent maritime power of the day. I had cause to reflect on this last week at El Alamein in Egypt where I attended the seventieth anniversary of that momentous battle from 1942. There I looked at the graves of many young Australians buried far from home. Why did they come to that space? At one level it seems to beggar belief.

Yet even the most rudimentary understanding of the history of The Long 20th Century—as some scholars classify it—imbue their sacrifice with meaning. They willingly went with a clear-eyed view that that Nazi hegemony in Europe would prove inimical to the best interests of this nation. That they gave of themselves, that some gave of their lives, simply underscores Australia’s commitment to a benign global world order. Does any one today seriously dispute their judgement? Their presence in the Middle East was based on the same hard-headed calculus that dispatched their fathers to Gallipoli, the Western Front and the sands of Beersheba.

Australians are justifiably sentimental and proud of the sacrifice of our men and women in the numerous wars in which we have fought. But more than sentiment gives coherence to our overseas commitments.

As a small to medium power we can merely support rather than maintain the stability of the global commons upon which our security and prosperity depends. If that was true in 1915, imagine how much more validity it possesses in the intricately linked global system that has emerged since the end of the Cold War. To paraphrase that vastly underestimated strategic thinker, John Donne—‘No island is an island’.

Hence our deployments to Cambodia, Somalia, Bougainville, Rwanda and ultimately East Timor and the Solomon Islands, and even to the Indonesian archipelago during natural disasters that afflicted our friends there, is an understatement of the application of that strategy.

The modest amphibious capability that we seek to develop has as much application to humanitarian support in natural disasters as it does to securing the immediate approaches to our country. And I know that my Government is anxious for it that message to be conveyed very clearly to you all.

However, in developing the capability to implement our Government’s maritime strategy we are on a steep learning curve. The significant joint, coalition amphibious operations that were characteristic of our mature force projection operations by the end of the Second World War are lost in the mists of memory. The ADF has been inhibited by two pernicious trends that has led to a loss of this capability. Firstly, our individual services developed a preference for, and expertise at, training and operating with their Service equivalents amongst our Allies and our neighbours.

And for a significant period, our policy makers talked about a maritime strategy, but actually developed a force structure that could only implement a naval strategy. There is of course a substantial theoretical difference, and it has serious consequences in the real world where I operate. Indeed, when I asked my staff to provide me with a joint doctrinal definition of maritime strategy they could not find one.

The gap between action and thought, between policy and practice, is grist to the mill for me as a Service Chief. I improvise and manage that gap to achieve our nation’s objectives, while trying to keep our soldiers alive. And, hence I prefer the pragmatic to the doctrinaire. So the absence of a jargon-laden definition did not immediately cause me alarm. In fact, I wondered whether it might not have reflected our origins as a colony of a great maritime power of the 18th and 19th centuries. Neither the British Army, nor the Royal Navy, have tended to articulate grand theories of strategy. A number of scholars have observed that, by and large, a national trait of the British was the need not to articulate things that enjoy the status of shared tacit assumptions. The Royal Navy and the British Army have never been doctrinaire—preferring learning by doing, as if through osmosis, amongst a community bound by coherent strategic practice.

As an aside the continental powers seem to have produced the great theorists like Clausewitz and Jomini. Some of the aspiring scholars among you may wish to pursue that further. But it is possible to detect the same sort of improvised expedient strategic behaviour in the way Australia has sought security away from our continent through off-shore operations, through work with coalitions in order to achieve the prosperity that this nation desires.

Again, it is now mainly of academic interest, but the only time we have deviated from such intuitive, pragmatic strategic practice was at a time of extended period of peace which Australia enjoyed through the seventies following the cessation of our military operations in Vietnam through to the late 1990s. Abstraction tends not to survive initial contact, in my view. Hence my sanguine approach when my staff revealed our current doctrinal poverty. What I did not reveal to you is that my secondary guidance was that if they couldn’t find an authorised formal definition of constitutes maritime strategy, then they should feel free to make one up! Well they struck a nice compromise. While they could not find current Australian doctrine they offered that classic exposition of maritime strategy provided by that great British strategist, Sir Julian Corbett. And he said:

“By maritime strategy we mean the principles which govern a war in which the sea is a substantial factor. Naval strategy is but that part of it which determines the movements of the fleet when maritime strategy has determined what part the fleet must play in relation to the action of the land forces…it is almost impossible that a war can be decided by naval action alone.”

It was a self-evident truth that led Corbett to this conviction. And I go on to quote him:

“Since men live upon the land and not upon the sea, great issues between nations at war have always been decided—except in the rarest of cases—either by what your army can do against your enemy’s territory and national life or else by the fear of what the fleet makes it possible for your army to do.”

And Corbett of course was the Official Historian of the Royal Navy in the Great War.

What Corbett, devoted naval man that he was, grasped, which many civilian planners and scholars in Australia still do not, is that the employment of robust agile land forces is intrinsic to a maritime strategy. It is the employment of land forces in concert with naval and air forces that constitutes true maritime strategy—and why I say again, that Australia needs its ADF more than it needs its Navy, and its Army, and its Air Force.

To many of you this is of course self-evident, but after many years of neglect, the Australian Defence Force is now obliged to relearn many of the lessons from our past. We have much to learn from you in doing so. I am deeply grateful that you have come so far to our island continent, girt by sea as it is, to assist us in this process.

Now it gives me great pleasure to conclude this opening address—to declare the Chief of Army Exercise for 2012 officially open. I would like to thank, in anticipation of what I know will be a splendid two days, the hard work that has been done by my staff in Army Headquarters, and more broadly outside AHQ, the Defence community. Much support has been provided by Navy and Air Force, as well as our public servants, and I am sure that for the effort and time that all of you have committed to be here in Melbourne on this lovely late October day in 2012, it will prove both intellectually stimulating, but also build on the companionship and camaraderie that underscores all we do as professionals in the world of security for each of our countries.

Thank you very much for attending. I’m really looking forward to the next two days.