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The ANZUS Treaty and Regional Air Superiority

Air Power Australia - Australia's Independent Defence Think Tank

Air Power Australia NOTAM

  1st May, 2012

Peter Goon, BEng (Mech), FTE (USNTPS),
Head of Test and Evaluation, Air Power Australia

Contacts: Peter Goon
Carlo Kopp

Mob: 0419-806-476 Mob: 0437-478-224

  (Imagery via Air Force Link).

Open Letter to the Hon Stephen Smith, Minister for Defence, and the Hon Jason Clare, Minister for Defence Materiel, Parliament of Australia, Canberra

Dear Minister Smith and Minister Clare,

It is often said that “the biggest lesson from history is that humans rarely, if ever, learn the lessons from history”, with the blame for this, more often than not, laying squarely at the feet of an inability to communicate. Good communication, or rather the lack thereof, is almost certainly contributory if not central to what is broken and ails the Defence Portfolio, today.

The information asymmetries that exist between the various levels of governance within, over and around Defence Matters don’t help, either, with proponents of any form of feedback loops (e.g. Red Teaming/IV&V) as part of the governance structure of Defence having been ignored and sent to Coventry, often with extreme prejudice, over the past decade or so.

The concerns, complaints and consequences of the deskilling in Defence and its support Industry confirm and validate these observations.

In the business world, as elsewhere, communication is a two-way process of reaching mutual understanding, in which participants not only exchange (encode-decode) information but also create and share meaning.

With these thoughts in mind, the following is our most recent attempt to communicate with you both.

Now, when you embarked on your crusade to reform the Defence Portfolio, you called for a “One Defence View”. This, no doubt, seems to be a laudable aim.

But Defence suffers from the institutionalised version of an organisational disease Professor Irvin Janis described as Groupthink wherein putting ‘self-before-service’ and blind allegiance to the groupthink, along with the conformity and compliance these mutually reinforcing attitudes demand, now dominate the attitudes and resulting behaviours in Defence, and have done so for over a decade.

Thus, the extreme level of risk to such a laudable aim is that you and the people of Australia will continue to get more of the same of this past decade or so; but only more myopic and moribund in its planning, and dysfunctional in its delivery.

All star rank officers in Defence, today, know about Janis’ Groupthink. If they claim they don’t, then, as junior officers, they weren’t paying attention during their taxpayer funded basic staff course training.

Though hard won through many, many hours of pro bono effort on the part of those who have, the reasons why the handful or so of defence officials you interact with regularly have not communicated this situation to you in the objective, professional way they should may now be easily explained.

Their attitudes and the resulting behaviours are, as those of their predecessors were, the result of the same groupthink driven culture that has been dominant in the organisation since what is now known as the Purge-in-Defence between 1999 to 2002.

In the meantime, the need that former serving Australians and, through them, currently serving warriors as well as members of Industry have been advising successive Parliaments, Governments, and Defence Ministers, like yourselves; namely, the need for “One Australia Defence View”, focused on the data and the facts by employing evidence based critical thinking to achieve what is right and what is best for the defence and security of Australia and its allies, for the principal purpose of maintaining and sustaining peace and security in our region, in fact embodies and aligns with the core tenet of the ANZUS Treaty.


Even a casual read of the wisdom in the words of this document, crafted by the hand and reflected-experience-forged will of Sir Percy Spender and his post war generation, shows the maintenance and sustainment of “peace and security” to be their core aim.

We draw your attention to Article II and Article III of the Treaty.

Invoking these two articles of the ANZUS Treaty, in the characteristically Australian ways that mates do, talking robustly and straight with each other (a.k.a. no beating around the bush) and also being good at thinking and sharing ideas that are outside the box while having a healthy irreverent intolerance for “a total indifference to what is real” (a.k.a. the B-word), would realise three things that could lead to the creation of mutually rewarding outcomes, especially security wise and economically as well as beneficial opportunities for Australia in the diplomatic and industrial arenas.

Firstly, as mates, we shouldn’t let our American friends shoot themselves in the foot, let alone both feet, if we can help it; particularly since our own feet are in the firing line when it comes to the JSF and the Super Hornet. We should say things the way they are as the Treaty shows we have agreed to do.

Doing so should set in train the process for reversing the damage done by the JSF Program which, inter alia, is rapidly eroding America’s and our own technological and strategic edge for maintaining and sustaining air superiority in the Pacific. Broadening the discussion to include the parlous though readily fixable state of Australia’s submarine capabilities is another opportunity worth mentioning.

Secondly, by honouring it so, we would ensure the ANZUS Treaty could remain a viable, effective and contributory means for ensuring and assuring peace in our region rather than it ending up not being worth the paper it is written on, except as an artefact of history.

Finally, adopting an Australian approach to problem solving may result in a little embarrassment for a few and some gloss off the reputations of others, on both sides of the Pacific. But what’s more important – the egos and sensibilities of those who have held some of the highest positions of trust in our lands, or, the future defence and security of our sovereign nations for generations to come?

Surely, the latter must be the primary imperative in policy and action. Those who might put fear of personal embarrassment ahead of this imperative have no place occupying positions of trust in organisations such as Defence.

Just as surely, this has got to be a no-brainer. . . to paraphrase others challenged by this need!

Adopting the Australian approach to solving these problems would also have the effect of creating antibodies against the disease of institutionalised groupthink so rampant in Defence; for creating a better environment with the accountabilities for fixing what is broken and ails the organisation, today; and, for putting in train fixes which themselves become self actualising.

Put simply, eradicating groupthink from an organisation is Management 101 stuff. For obvious reasons, though, the hardest part is in acknowledging and accepting the organisation is imbued with this disease. When that is done, the rest is relatively easy, simple, cheap and quick to do. If not done, as all the case studies in history show, disasters and tragedies will be the norm.

Fortunately, the sign posts of history are right before us, in the embodiment of the ANZUS Treaty.

Being Australians, shouldn’t we be confident and independent enough as well as prepared to be up to the challenge of honouring this Agreement, just as our predecessors who forged the ANZUS Treaty intended and were?

Yours Sincerely,
On behalf of fellow Australians deeply concerned for the future of our Nation

Peter Goon

Principal Consultant/Advisor Head of Test and Evaluation Co‐Founder,
Air Power Australia

"Our role is to be so capable and so well prepared that the other guy doesn't even think about taking us on."

Australian Defence Force Leadership prior to 2000

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