Chief of Army opening address to the 2016 Chief of Army’s Exercise
Good afternoon heads of delegation, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I wish to start proceedings by expressing my personal gratitude to all of you for accepting my invitation to attend this activity. Thank you for making the journey to Australia; it’s a long way for many.
We have a timely and relevant exercise theme in, redefining boundaries for the 21st century land force, an interesting agenda, and many excellent speakers to look forward to. Equally importantly, in our syndicate discussions, at the various social activities and around the margins of the program, I look forward to the opportunity to engage, discuss and collaborate.
We will soon hear from the Rear Admiral Jonathon Mead, representing the Chief of Navy; the Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Leo Davies; and Doctor David E Johnson from the RAND Corporation to introduce redefining boundaries for the 21st century land force.
They will speak to us about the centrality of joint warfighting and the integration of cross-domain effects. Doctor Johnson will also highlight how we position our forces for the future. And I note that Mr Peter Jennings, of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, will offer us his perspective during the keynote address at the official dinner tonight. I thank all of these gentlemen for taking the time to come and share their views.
This afternoon I am going to outline three issues that I believe are central to the security challenges we will encounter in redefining boundaries for the 21st century land force.
I have characterised them as, ‘empowered individuals, assertive states and an unstable planet’. These three are nested, and ordered in the magnitude of their challenges and the level of collaboration required for success in addressing them.
There is a degree of interplay between all of them, which increases the complexity they offer. All three are ubiquitous, act across boundaries and borders, and are careless of sovereignty. They demand our attention.
The individual has been an actor in defence and security matters since classical antiquity. The sheer breadth of contemporary individual empowerment – information, influence, identification, lethality, mobility, financial and social - is extraordinary. And for the most part this is a very good thing.
The dark side of the issue is that when it is bad - used for criminal or terrorist activity - it is very bad. Terrorism has been with us as long as contested political discourse. It is an enduring concern. This is why Lieutenant General Erwin Syafitra, from Indonesia, will lead our consideration of this topic tomorrow, speaking on ‘extremism and insurgents.’
The contemporary problem is perhaps best exemplified by ISIL (‘Daesh’).
While sometimes effective in the field, although not so often lately I would note, it is Daesh’s unmatched use of the global digital information commons, which has taken terrorism radicalisation, recruitment, finance and propaganda to new levels.
Information technology and its proliferation has done more than allow new means for terrorists. Across the globe, people have routine, affordable and ubiquitous access to capabilities, that a few decades ago only resided in the militaries and security agencies of certain sovereign states.
In the cyber domain this is challenging our conceptions of war, violence and combatants. Information is being used in ways that present novel challenges to our understanding of security. Being a demagogue with hundreds of thousands followers no longer requires the apparatus of a state or a society. A persuasive idea, a device that costs a few hundred dollars and an internet connection will get you on your way. Everyone in the room is aware of these changes. But I am uncertain that anyone, anywhere, has yet grasped their enduring implications. And while I believe the individual doesn’t pose an existential threat to the state, there is enough happening that I think we need to be alert to what is developing.
When the individual is driven by malign intent and empowered by modernity, such problems are ultimately resolved by land forces. But in the main, this is a problem needing a ‘whole of government’ solution, with policing, intelligence services and social policy in the lead. And of course there is a role for empowered individuals as part of the solution.
The second order problem I am going to address is that of ‘assertive states’. Despite predictions of the decline of the state in a globalised world, popular in the latter days of the last century, the state is vibrantly alive and kicking. And in a few cases, it is kicking back with increasing assertiveness.
Since the end of the Cold War we have witnessed a rise in the number of states challenging established global norms, or seeking some form of revision in the status quo. Change, of course, is inherent in the global order. The global order continually evolves.
Over the last half century this evolution has generally been predictable, consistent and within established normative bounds.
Australia (and the Indo-Pacific Region), has benefitted enormously from the circumstance and conditions of the global order largely established from the ruin of the Second World War. Evolving and developing this norm together, we and the region, have prospered.
The present global order can be fairly characterised as having seen record growth in GDP, trade and the sheer number of people being lifted out of poverty through economic growth and development.
That said, some actors (state, non-state and quasi-state), seeking more favourable or more rapid evolution of our international system, act in newly assertive ways, ways designed to drive change, but calculated to avoid provocation of a self-defeating response.
Quite sensibly, these actions are spread across multiple lines of operation and endeavours, in the eternal quest for opportunity. Today’s virtually instantaneous global communications means that almost any assertive action challenging established norms is immediately known. And the pressure to ‘do something’ can mount equally quickly as individuals, media, NGOs and affected states offer their views to governments and partners.
The Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the ANU very recently celebrated its 50th anniversary with a conference in Canberra. I think Professor Bates Gill’s summative assessment of the conference’s findings help us frame the current paradigm. He suggested; the state is back, geography is back, war is back, nuclear strategy is back, great power rivalry is back.
I think Bates Gill points to an important inference for land forces. History didn’t end in 1989, as Francis Fukuyama so famously declared, and the issues which had exercised thought about war and conflict during the Cold War remain alive and well.
How land forces can help build pathways of understanding, cooperation and risk mitigation, as much as be prepared to respond to the unexpected actions of the modern incarnation of the ‘assertive state’, is exercising the minds of many thinkers and policy makers.
I look forward to hearing General Robert Brown, Commanding General United States’ Army Pacific, and Doctor Russell Glenn’s thoughts on, ‘Preparing land forces for hybrid threats’ during tomorrow afternoon’s plenary session.
The third order problem I will address is that of an unstable planet. The instability I refer to is global. It is being caused by climate change associated with global warming.
I note Colonel Sapenafa Motufaga, the Commander Land Forces – Royal Fijian Military Forces, has agreed to speak to us in more depth about this serious issue in our plenary on, ‘The Indo-Pacific region in a global context’.
For the first time in mankind’s history our planet may become unsuitable for habitation in many of the places where large populations presently live. The Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University (ANU) asserts;changes would be irreversible on the time scale of human civilisation and would dramatically change the planet as we know it.
This is an unprecedented problem – the global population and its actions are bumping up hard against the capacity of the planet to sustain us in the present form.
We don’t actually know for certain where the problem of climate change will take us. Much will depend on how correct some of the assumptions in our models are, and how effective are any mitigation and adaptation strategies we develop, and actually implement. But for military organisations that excel in long term planning and harnessing great resource, and which will be expected to assist in some way, these questions are immediately relevant.
Professor Janette Lindesay, from the ANU, highlights aspects of the problem. Globally, 2015 was the warmest year on record since modern record-keeping began in 1880. It was Australia’s fifth warmest. April 2016 was the warmest April month on record globally (and also in Australia). It was the 12th consecutive warmest April on record.
The cost of inaction on climate change is estimated as a 23% decrease in global GDP by 2100. By way of contrast, the cost of action is estimated as a 1.6% decrease by 2050. Of note, the decrease in GDP will be inequitable. The impact will be greater in warmer countries.
The top 10 most-at-risk countries with exposure to sea level rise by 2100 are all in the Indo-Pacific, where over 138 million people are at risk. Additionally, over 500,000 people from the small Pacific and Indian Ocean island states will be impacted as island states may well become uninhabitable between 2050 and 2100.
Writing for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in November 2014, former Chief of the Australian Defence Force, Admiral Chris Barrie, summarised the concern for Armed Forces; Military forces around the globe perceive climate change as a threat multiplier because its impacts can undermine individual and societal well-being. Climate change will affect the availability of food, water and energy, which become basic insecurities, as well as fostering migratory movements forced on people by sea level rise and the greater frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. These pressures have the potential to lead to conflict.
Alarmingly, but I fear correctly, Professor Will Steffen from the Australian National University went as far as labelling climate change as ‘the ultimate threat multiplier’. A title sure to grab an Army Chief’s attention!
Armed forces have their role to play in response to climate change. This clearly goes beyond measures necessary to adopt ‘best practice’ in the environmental management of our estate, infrastructure, and energy needs; which we should do. As weather events intensify we can reasonably expect to see the increasing use of Defence assets in support of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations.
The scale of climate change problems, their unpredictability, and the level of support required from land forces are key issues for us to better understand.
The interplay of individual, state and planet
Each of these three problems is difficult enough in their own right. There is interplay and combinations between them that create further dimensions of complexity. The interaction of state and planet is perhaps offered by the example of Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, in the remote South-East Pacific. The Polynesian state there had created a thriving and industrious society around 700 to 1,000 years ago. However, the introduction of the Polynesian rat and state driven deforestation led to a severe loss of natural resources. This in turn led to the collapse of the Rapa Nui civilisation. The giant head stones of Easter Island stand in silent testimony to man’s folly.
As for the interplay of individuals and states; arguably we can already see the latest results playing out in places such as the Crimea, Syria and Afghanistan.
The premise of my remarks today has been there are three orders of analysis – the individual, the state and the planet, that cut across the security challenges in redefining boundaries for the 21st century land force. All three matter, all three are concurrent and all three interact. They are each difficult to predict in and of themselves and their implications are equally unpredictable. I believe that all three push land forces beyond our traditional boundaries in terms of solutions, modalities of operations, partnerships, and technological and human requirements.
In the context of the contemporary and emerging issues we will examine over the next two and a half days, I doubt there is a single issue for which any of the land forces represented here will have all of the answers.
As we look at redefining boundaries for the 21st century land force, what lies within those boundaries may be as important as what lies on the other side.
Working in multi-agency and multi-national settings is now, and will in the future, have to be the norm if complex problems that defy boundaries are to be resolved.
This is why I look forward to the insights which the Commander Joint Operations, Vice Admiral David Johnston; and the New Zealand Chief of Army, Major General Peter Kelly, will offer when they speak during our final plenary session titled ‘Leading the joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational force’ on Thursday. I similarly look forward to our wider discussion about all these challenges over the next few days with friends from across the Indo-Pacific and beyond.