Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030 Defence White Paper 2009 Southeast Asia
4.28 A secure and stable Southeast Asia is in Australia's strategic interests as neither a source of broad security threat, nor as a conduit for the projection of military power against us by others. Southeast Asia should remain largely stable, and reform-minded enough to sustain reasonable rates of development. The global financial and economic downturn is likely to impinge on political stability in regional countries to varying degrees.
4.29 Power relativities in Southeast Asia will shift, but less than in Northeast Asia. Southeast Asia will benefit from its proximity to China and India, but will also feel their competitive pressure. China will make its presence felt through soft as well as economic power, including aid, multilateral diplomacy and extensive bilateral cultural and educational links. But China will have even more interest in convincing regional countries that its rise will not diminish their sovereignty.
4.30 Economic progress and social development will continue to be priorities for the countries of Southeast Asia. They will continue, in differing degrees, to be beset by security problems such as terrorism, insurgency and communal violence, but regional governments as a general rule appear to be able to contain these problems. Burma remains a serious challenge for the region with the potential for instability to spill across its borders.
4.31 Counter-terrorism responses in Southeast Asia will most probably continue to limit the expansion of local Islamist extremist networks; although vigilance will be required for many years yet before the threat can be declared to have diminished to negligible levels. The risk of terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia with a potential to affect Australian interests, or threaten Australians, will remain of concern for the foreseeable future.
4.32 Indonesia has made remarkable gains in the past decade. It has managed a successful transition to multiparty democracy, embarked on the long journey of economic reform, and proven to be a strong partner in the fight against terrorism. It is likely that these positive trends will continue, and that Indonesia will continue to evolve as a stable democratic state with improved social cohesion. As the largest country in Southeast Asia, it will continue to play a crucial role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), while also seeking other avenues to play a constructive role more broadly in global affairs.
4.33 Although considerably less likely, a weak, fragmented Indonesia beset by intractable communal problems, poverty and failing state institutions, would potentially be a source of threat to our own security and to Indonesia's other neighbours. An authoritarian or overly nationalistic regime in Jakarta would also create strategic risks for its neighbours. Indonesia's democratic development therefore continues to be very welcome. The evolution of democracy gives Indonesia a sound foundation for long-term stability and prosperity, and positive relationships with its neighbours. This is in keeping with Australia's strategic interests.
The South Pacific and East Timor
4.34 Australia is linked to the South Pacific and East Timor by shared geography and history. For both humanitarian and strategic reasons, Australia has an enduring interest in helping to build stability and prosperity in this region. Australian interests are inevitably engaged if countries in the region become vulnerable to the adverse influence of strategic competition.
4.35 Unfortunately, many South Pacific island states and East Timor will continue to be beset to some degree by economic stagnation and political and social instability. Weak governance, crime and social challenges will continue to jeopardise economic development and community resilience, against a background of climate change (to which many of these states are vulnerable) and more frequent natural disasters. On occasion, these factors will cause security problems of the kind to which Australia may need to respond directly with appropriate forms of humanitarian and security assistance, including by way of ADF deployments.
4.36 Papua New Guinea's long-term prospects are enhanced by its significant resources and relatively large population and land area. But it faces huge challenges, including very high unemployment, criminality and rates of HIV/AIDS. Many of Papua New Guinea's basic social and economic indicators are declining from an already low base. Major efforts are required to build and maintain basic infrastructure, improve law and order, and improve education and health standards.
4.37 East Timor is likely to remain, for some time, challenged by significant hurdles to progress in political, security and social reform, as well as difficulties in ensuring food security, adequate infrastructure and employment. Enduring cultural and political divisions will create the conditions for potential periodic outbreaks of violence. Solomon Islands will continue to face significant political, social, economic and security challenges. Fiji, which has the resources and population base to be the most self-sufficient of the island states, is plagued by a military that illegally interferes in the democratic process. This has had serious consequences for living standards, economic prospects and the rule of law.
A Secure Immediate Neighbourhood
5.7 Our next most important strategic interest is the security, stability and cohesion of our immediate neighbourhood, which we share with Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, New Zealand and the South Pacific island states. While we have a wide range of diplomatic, economic, cultural and other links with those countries, from a strategic point of view what matters most is that they are not a source of threat to Australia, and that no major military power that could challenge our control of the air and sea approaches to Australia has access to bases in our neighbourhood from which to project force against us.
5.8 Australia has an enduring strategic interest in preventing or mitigating any attempt by nearby states to develop the capacity to undertake sustained military operations within our approaches. That means that it would be important for any such developments to be detected with as much warning time as possible. Our military superiority in the immediate neighbourhood would increase the threshold of military modernisation required by nearby states to be able to develop such a capacity.
5.9 We would also be concerned about challenges to the stability and cohesion of our neighbours, not least because that could make them vulnerable to external influences that might be inimical to Australia's interests. Australia should continue to play a leading role in supporting internal stability and effective governance within the countries of our immediate neighbourhood, which makes sense from both a humanitarian and a strategic perspective.
5.10 Of particular salience in this regard is the continued stability of Indonesia, one of the most important features of our strategic outlook. It is in Australia's vital strategic interests to see a stable and cohesive Indonesia. The Government's policy remains one of strong commitment to Indonesia's territorial integrity. A weak and fragmented Indonesia would be a strategic liability for our security and would almost certainly require a heightened defence posture on Australia's part. The Government was conscious of this when considering the future development of the ADF.
5.11 We share many of these strategic interests with New Zealand, and maintaining a strong bilateral defence and broader security relationship with that country is itself in our strategic interests in terms of ensuring a secure immediate neighbourhood.
Contributing to Stability and Security in the South Pacific and East Timor
7.10 After ensuring the defence of Australia from direct attack, the second priority task for the ADF is to contribute to stability and security in the South Pacific and East Timor. This involves conducting military operations,in coalition with others as required,including in relation to protecting our nationals,providing disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, and on occasion by way of stabilisation interventions as occurred in East Timor in 1999 and 2006, and in Solomon Islands in 2003.
7.11 Australia will continue to have particular responsibilities to assist our neighbours in dealing with humanitarian and disaster relief needs, and to support their stability and security. Given our size and resources, Australia will be expected to take a leadership role within the South Pacific if these states are overwhelmed by a natural or man-made crisis.
7.12 Such operations need to be very closely integrated with efforts by civilian agencies, with the ADF taking the lead particularly where there might be a need to demonstrate a willingness and capacity to employ military force, or where its substantial level of capacity is required in circumstances that are beyond that of other agencies. In other cases, the ADF will take a more secondary role, supporting other agencies. The ADF's arrangements for enhancing interoperability and coordination with the Australian Federal Police in such operations are a good example of what needs to be done to build such linkages, and Defence will do more in the area of building civil-military coordination capacity and inter-agency linkages.
ALLIANCES AND INTERNATIONAL DEFENCE RELATIONSHIPS
South Pacific and East Timor
11.30 Australia's security interests in the South Pacific require that we continue to lead efforts to promote economic security, good governance and internal stability. Stabilisation operations will remain an option in extreme cases of instability. But for Australia to make any lasting progress in helping our immediate neighbours our efforts must encompass elements from across government to build capacity and administrative, economic, legal and police institutions. While continuing to lead by example, a key to the success of our efforts will be enlisting the support of regional governments and coordination with other donor countries in the Pacific, including the United States, France, Japan, China, and New Zealand.
11.31 We will continue to work closely with the Government of East Timor and our international partners to adjust the ADF presence as the security situation improves. As this plays out, the focus of our defence engagement will transition to capacity building in order to develop the professionalism and capability of East Timor's defence force, including its capacity to protect East Timor's significant maritime resources.