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Rudd's risky fear of Beijing 'bastards'

  • 03 June 2010

Kevin Rudd is not like an earlier generation of political leaders who feared that impoverished Asian hordes would pour down and eat our lunch. His worry is that their offspring can now afford to come armed with the latest weapons and steal our lunch.

His solution, however, is much the same. We must 'populate or perish', and also revive the doctrine of 'forward defence'.

Rudd doesn't use this dated terminology, but the substance of what he says is often redolent of the 1950s and '60s. When interviewed on the ABC last October about a projected population increase to 36 million by 2050, Rudd said he made 'no apologies' for believing in a 'big Australia' because it would be 'good for our national security'.

With opinion polls showing that voters want a much slower rate of growth, Rudd now soft peddles this belief, but has not backed away from his claim about its importance to national security.

For 40 years prior to Rudd, Australian defence planners and intelligence analysts gave little weight to population. Countries with smaller populations have shown they are no pushover. For much of the cold war, Sweden's population was only 7–8 million, but it had a formidable air force and could mobilise an army of 800,000 in a week. Despite a population of only 7.5 million and a smaller defence budget than Australia's, Israel has the strongest conventional military forces in the Middle East.

To an extent not seen for decades, Rudd is basing defence policy on a fear of change in Asia. He is reviving the doctrine of forward defence — that it is 'better to fight them up there than down here'. The doctrine was put to the test during the Vietnam War. The communists won, but the fears about the threat to Australia soon evaporated. Vietnam now hosts visits by US warships and is happy to buy Australian exports.

Coalition governments abandoned the forward defence doctrine in the late 1960s in favour of the direct defence of Australia. All subsequent strategic analyses concentrated on developing a force structure primarily designed to deter or defeat an attack across the approaches to Australia. This always contained elements that could be deployed much further afield, such as currently in Afghanistan.

But Rudd is going much further, radically restructuring the navy so it can fire missiles into our biggest customer.

Rudd's fears centre on claims that Chinese