Wars of conscience: human rights, national security and Australia's defence policy

Author/s (editor/s):

John Hutcheson

Publication year:


Publication type:

Policy paper

Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence No. 140

The interdependent nature of international affairs means that Australia, in pursuit of its national interests, will depend on being free from any disruption that may emanate from within a country as a result of violations to international human rights and the breakdown in the social and political relationship between people and their government. In most cases the majority of conflict is often the result of governments' inability, or desire not to, guarantee the basic human rights enshrined in the International Bill of Rights. This observation is exacerbated by the emerging threat globalisation poses, and by default security, in that it is fracturing societies and groups of societies into 'have' and 'have nots'. The expense associated with the resulting refugees and illegal immigrants seeking a better life can be measured in direct, and indirect, economic costs and/or negative social and cultural consequences of receiving immigrants, or providing limited national resources to not only prevent the influx but also provide support to regional and international initiatives to solve the problem. The solution is to put more energy, resources and focus into facilitating the development of social cohesion within and between states as a basis for achieving Australia's national security.
The role of the ADF, as part of that national security goal, should be to assist in seeking to manage that instability by developing and maintaining the ability to make responsible contributions to ensuring regional and international peace and security. This aim is, however, going to be difficult to achieve at a time when the tempo of operations is increasing but available healthy young smart Australians and real time funding is decreasing. The result is that the ADF is expected to do more with less. The challenge for Australia's defence policy makers is to provide a cost-effective defence strategy that is supported by a force structure that is adaptable enough to defend Australia, to fight 'wars of necessity', and flexible enough to be able to do other tasks that may not be in the national interest, such as fighting 'wars of conscience'. In most cases those 'wars of conscience are not constrained by the limits of traditional military campaigns, involving imposing the 'rule of law and order' and providing security during the period of reconciliation to support the building of legitimate social and political structures.
This monograph seeks to examine the internationalisation of human rights since 1945 and the link between international human rights, globalisation and security before proffering a particular option on how Australia's defence policy makers can accommodate the short term desire for humanitarian intervention, whilst still allowing it to achieve its primary raison d'etre€“ defending Australia. The solution that focuses on a strategy of regional defence of Australia with a military capability to be able to do other tasks, and designing a integrated two tier modular ADF to facilitate the need to have a capacity to surge and sustain operations. Such a desire can only be met by developing a conceptual framework around a second tier of more skill-specific personnel that are drawn from the wider community to supplement a first tier of trained and deployable 'warfighters'. The success of those changes will require the ADF to face some contentious issues and overcome significant cultural constraints, balance its training requirements, reinforce doctrine, ensure adequate funding, leverage the advantages associated with the RMA, and educate the public and government. If the ADF can do this it will be able to fight 'wars of necessity', and adapt down to fight 'wars of conscience'.

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