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Santamaria: The Price of Freedom

Paul Monk

An Address at the Land Warfare Studies Centre

Royal Military College


3 September 2003.

Opening Remarks

            Let me begin by saying that it is a considerable honour to have been invited to address you here, this morning, at the Land Warfare Studies Centre. As I understand it, I was invited to do so chiefly on the strength of an essay in Quadrant, in April 2001, ‘Twelve Questions for Paul Dibb’ and an essay in The Australian Financial Review, on 6 June this year, ‘A Strategic Changing of the Guard’. They both centred on Paul Dibb. So, why have I come here today to talk, not of Paul Dibb, but of Bob Santamaria?

            The answer is that we are at a profound watershed in our national security policy and in need of a deep sense of perspective on it. We could gain that in a number of ways, but I do not think that Paul Dibb has written anything that would enable us to get it. Bob Santamaria did so; however much one might disagree with a number of his views.

His book of essays and addresses, The Price of Freedom, first published by the Campion Press in Melbourne in 1964, provides an integrated view of Australia’s national security from the point of view of The Movement, better known as the NCC. That view, looked back on after almost 40 years of extraordinary changes, seems to me to offer a useful foil to the thinking we need to do as we enter a new epoch.

The very title The Price of Freedom is evocative. From Santamaria’s point of view, writing as far back as 1959, Australia was under threat of seeing the whole of Asia overrun by Chinese inspired communism and of having its own liberties extinguished by the determined sedition of the Australian communists. No-one fears such things in 2003. Yet we are again confronted by the sense that our tenure on freedom and the future of global security are problematic. I think it is instructive to ponder the differences between Santamaria’s fears in the early 1960s and our present circumstances, in order to get a deeper perspective on both.

Santamaria was also deeply concerned about citizenship and the formation of young people for public life. He believed, of course, in a very particular approach to both of these things, but at least he addressed them and integrated them into his reflections on where the country was heading and what we needed to do, if we were to take responsibility for our future and, to the greatest extent possible, take command of our own destiny. This is the second reason why I have chosen to reflect, here today, on The Price of Freedom.

There is a third reason, though, why I have chosen to reflect on The Price of Freedom and it is somewhat more personal.   I grew up in an NCC household, in which Santamaria’s ideas were ever present. My father had worked closely with Santamaria in the 1950s and early 1960s, at the time The Price of Freedom was being written and published. He subscribed to the NCC’s journal, News Weekly, throughout my childhood and adolescence, so it was always around the house. Santamaria’s weekly TV program, Point of View was a fixture in the family week.

In addressing Santamaria’s worldview and concerns for this country’s future, therefore, I am also coming to terms with my own upbringing as both a Catholic and an Australian citizen. Above all, though, I am seeking to define the terms of debate for an integrated sense of national security in 2003 and in the years ahead.

Not communism but terrorism is the threat now most evident. Not revolution but anarchy, not totalitarianism but state failure; not Chinese Maoism but Chinese hegemonism looms over the horizon. Yet within Australia the challenge now, as then, has to do, first and foremost, with the nature of our internal political culture and strategic thinking. These were at the heart of Santamaria’s concerns. They are also at the heart of my own.

The Price of Freedom

            For many years, as an adolescent, I argued with my father about politics and religion, the NCC and communism, Australia and Vietnam. During those years, Santamaria’s The Price of Freedom sat on the family bookshelves, but I did not read it. Nor did I read it as a university student. I blush to say that I disdained to do so. I didn’t think I had anything to learn from it.

After Santamaria died, I asked Peter Westmore, at the NCC, for an old copy of the book that he had sitting at the NCC offices. Yet I did not read it even then. It was only this winter, after being invited by Michael Evans to come up here and give a talk, that it occurred to me to open the book and actually read what the old man had written all those years ago - when he was the age I am now.

Coincidentally, but perhaps fittingly, I read it during a business trip to Canberra and Sydney by road, during which I drove through large stretches of rural Victoria and New South Wales, finishing the book in a small hotel at Cann River a fortnight ago. That trip was an excellent occasion for reflecting on what sort of country Australia is and what made it so, where it is heading and what challenges we face in the near future.

Reading the book, I found myself anything but dismissive of its content. I was impressed by Santamaria’s erudition, his moral passion, his patriotism, his eloquence and his civilized and magnanimous manner of addressing audiences. I did not skim the book, mind elsewhere. I read it closely and annotated it extensively, as is my habit in reading generally. It is the fruits of that close reading that I’d like to share with you here this afternoon, as food for thought.

The book is divided into four parts: Actualities, Ends, Means and Epilogue. The Epilogue is the title essay ‘The Price of Freedom’. Actualities consists of two chapters, ‘Issues in Australian Politics’ and ‘The Movement 1941-1960 - An Outline’. Ends consists of six chapters: ‘Realities of Power in Asia’, ‘The Idea of a Pacific Community’, ‘Principles of a National Defence Policy’, ‘The Under-Developed Nations in the Light of Mater et Magistra’, ‘Nationalism’and ‘Migration and Australia’s Future’. ‘

Means consists of seven chapters: ‘Religion and Politics’, ‘The Tactics of Sectarianism’, ‘Catholics and Protestants’, ‘Nazis, Communists, Catholics and Jews’, ‘Equality in Education’, ‘Public Leadership in a Democratic Society’ and ‘Training for Public Leadership’. Sixteen chapters in all. Of these, some are more dated than others. Seven of them are, I think, of particular interest and I shall dwell chiefly on aspects of these.

What this set of essays embodies is a whole social philosophy and an integrated approach to public policy and politics in Australia. I believe we need a similarly integrated approach in 2003. We face significant challenges and it is widely perceived that both major political parties are all but moribund at the grass roots level.

Let me be clear in stating that I am not here to declare that we should all adopt the specific social philosophy that Bob Santamaria espoused. Only that we need to think, as he did, at the system-high level if we are to get a grip on the challenges that we face and which we must address.


The Issues in Australian Politics


            In his opening essay, originally an address to the Canberra Press Club on 27 July 1964, Santamaria wrote: “One definition of politics current in our political science schools is that ‘politics is about power’. It is partially true, but totally inadequate. Just as important as power are the ends it seeks and the terms on which it can or should be held.” This is surely so and reflection on this point is as vital in Australia in 2003 as it ever has been.

            A leading Liberal politician came to me recently, earnestly wanting to discuss political philosophy. He had, he told me, been reading Plato’s Republic and believed that the great philosopher had been correct in saying that only the best people, qualified to govern, should be permitted to do so. He was sincere and troubled by the condition of his own party, not supercilious or a born-to-rule type. I thought it was rather interesting that he had turned to Plato.

I suggested that he turn from Plato to Aristotle, read the latter’s Politics and then read The Federalist Papers, in order to see how concerns about the ends of power and the terms on which it can or should be held had shaped both classical and modern thinking about constitutional government - what is loosely, in our time, referred to as ‘democracy’.

            Santamaria was not, however, pitching his address at quite that level of generality. He was concerned with two highly specific issues in Australian politics: what he took to be the overwhelming danger of communism, centering on Mao’s China and what he saw as the fatefully flawed condition of the Australian Labor Party. China sought to neutralize Australia, he said, by detaching it from the American alliance. This would require that one of the major parties in Australia should become a neutralist party. He feared that the Left would make the ALP that party.

            A generation before Paul Dibb, Santamaria declared that three policies were “fundamental to Australian security and complementary to each other”. The first was that Australia develop “its own completely adequate and independently controlled military…so that it is able to defend itself without allies, if necessary, and so that it is able to commend itself to allies if they are available.”

            The second was that “Australia should endeavour to stimulate the creation of a Pacific Community of nations”, including India and Japan. The third was that both of these policies “should rest upon the foundation of a binding American alliance, which should be regarded as so fundamental to Australian security that no Australian government would ever equivocate about the alliance or the obligations which flow from it.”

            It is interesting to reflect that all this was written in 1959 and published in 1964. It took another generation for APEC to emerge. During that time, there had been major domestic ructions over the American alliance, occasioned by the Vietnam War and American bases in this country. The ALP was at the centre of those ructions, though it was the Left in particular that caused them.

Partly as a consequence of them and in belated response to the Guam or Nixon Doctrine, the Defence of Australia doctrine emerged, ie the idea of Australia actually developing “its own completely adequate and independently controlled military…so that it is able to defend itself without allies, if necessary”. Yet, for reasons that those present this morning are largely aware of, this development has not occurred.

The resources for such development have simply never been allocated. The basic statistics are fairly familiar. Even if one granted the strategic premises of the Dibb Review, the requirement was that not much less than 3% of GDP be spent annually on defence. It has not been. The cumulative shortfall, since 1987, has been in excess of $100 billion.

The current defence financial situation is, in consequence, so serious that just a fortnight ago, the Treasurer publicly declared that the $50 billion defence capability plan set out as recently as 2001 “is undeliverable, unaffordable and uncertain.” As Patrick Walters reported, in The Australian, on 20 August, we face drastic cuts in core capabilities in all three services as a direct consequence of budgetary shortfalls.

I shall come back to this matter of defence funding. For the moment, the point to be made is simply that of the three goals Santamaria set out in 1959, one (a Pacific Community) has been achieved well beyond his expectations; another (bipartisan commitment to the American alliance) has wavered and wobbled a bit but has pretty much held up, but the third (an independent and robust military capability) has never been achieved and is in some disarray.

In the intervening years, of course, China has ceased to be a power of the kind it was in 1959. It has become much more interesting from a national security point of view. The ALP has not been able to shake off its neutralist wing on the Left. What is even more interesting is that it has fallen into the doldrums for reasons that cannot be blamed on Santamaria. As John Button wrote last year, in his Quarterly Essay Beyond Belief: What Future For Labor?, “the party is at an all time low in its morale, its ideas and its democratic participation” - rather, I am tempted to remark, like the Carlton Football Club in the wake of John Elliott.

A few months ago, a leading Labor politician told me that the ALP, throughout the Cold War, had had three main factions: the Fabians, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats. Since the end of the Cold War, he said, they have all lost their way and have fallen to squabbling with one another. What they need to do is to rethink the century old agenda of the ALP in a twenty-first century context. 

Santamaria, in 1959 and 1964, saw the structure of the ALP as being at the root of its problems. In particular, he argued that the disproportionate influence of the trade unions on the Federal Conference of the party left the party a prey to factional maneuverings that undermined its capacity to make sound policy. John Button and others, in 2003, are arguing basically this very thing.

In 1959, of course, the ALP had only a few years before been split, as a direct consequence of Doc Evatt’s decision to turn against the Movement. This had resulted in the formation of the Democratic Labor Party, which, as ALP people well remember, played a key role in keeping the ALP from political power until 1972.

Santamaria remarked, in 1959, that the split had been, even then, “a great pity for Australian labor and for Australia” and that if the ALP was able to reform its structure and remove the baneful influence of communists in its ranks, then 80 per cent of DLP voters would rejoin “a united Labor Party which had clearly fought the Communists, which adopted a foreign and defence policy removed from the nonsense of neutralism or neutralization and which provided tangible guarantees that this was not merely an electoral manoeuvre.”

There is an analogous problem in 2003. The DLP has long since faded away, but the ALP has lost considerable electoral ground in part because it has lost credibility on national security affairs, because too many of its members flirt with neutralism in the name of an independent foreign policy; and because its Federal structure remains dominated by unelected trade unionists and political apparatchiks. Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating have all come and gone without the underlying problems being solved.


Realities of Power in Asia


            It was against the background thus broadly sketched out that, in 1962, Santamaria wrote a substantial review of George Modelski (ed) SEATO - Six Studies (F. W. Cheshire, Melbourne, 1962), George K. Tanham Communist Revolutionary Warfare - The Vietminh in Indochina (Methuen, London, 1962) and Richard Rosecrance Australian Diplomacy and Japan 1945-1951 (Melbourne University Press, 1962), under the heading ‘Realities of Power in Asia’.

            His fundamental claim, in this review, was “The realities of power in Asia show our nakedness.” SEATO and ANZUS, he argued, were the basis of “a dangerous illusion” - “the popular belief that our existence is protected by a pair of water-tight alliances with the United States.” His description of SEATO as “a paper tiger”, on the grounds that its Asian members were weak and its Western members divided by conflicting geopolitical interests, is a case study in the failures of collective security and reminds one of the very real problems with the UN for decades.

            Drawing on Modelski, he pointed out that “In the seven separate situations to which SEATO might have been relevant, the procedure has always been the same - meet, confer, do nothing, issue a reassuring communique.” As a consequence, the United States did not take SEATO seriously. It also came to realize that, when action was called for, it would have to be taken outside the SEATO framework “so as to avoid the British and French veto and the undignified Australian attempts to straddle the fence between the American and British viewpoints.”

            Many of those present, I suspect, will immediately think, listening to these lines, not so much of SEATO in the 1950s as of NATO in the 1990s, but even more of the UN, not least in regard to the events of the past twelve years respecting Iraq. Santamaria’s concern centered, at that time, on Indochina, where he believed it was necessary to break the strength of the Communist guerillas, as had been done in Malaya and the Philippines, rather than concede the ground. Our present concerns are not with Indochina or with Communism, but similar themes lie at the heart of the dilemmas we confront and the choices we must make - and have been making.

            Santamaria was not an advocate of mere brute military power. He declared, “The basic problems of East and South East Asia are obviously economic as well as political, military and diplomatic. What is needed is the development of a single integrated concept which provides a coherent and harmonious solution for each of these problems, treated as aspects of a single crisis.”

His concern was that “the nations of East and South East Asia will develop a medley of contradictory programmes, seeking now to solve their economic problems, at another time their political and military problems, but in isolation, not understanding that steps taken in one field will fatally compromise those which should be taken in the others.”

            The solution he proposed was the formation of a Pacific Community, centering on the United States, Japan and Australia. This was still an idea that lacked currency within either of the major parties in 1963, when Santamaria was writing. His observation regarding the origins of ideas, as compared with their reasonableness, is still worth reflecting on. He wrote: “If the idea of a Pacific Community should be disfavoured because it was the Democratic Labor Party which first suggested it, it might be some solace to realize that the original proposal for Pacific Pact came from the Chifley Labor Government.”


The Idea of a Pacific Community


            He was not, of course, optimistic that the Pacific Community could be created and Communism defeated. His essay ‘The Idea of a Pacific Community’, an address to Christian Social Week, on 1 September 1963, forty years ago almost to the day, pivoted on the claim that “the situation is dark and getting darker.” He saw Mao’s China as a state having “the central political direction which permits it to maximize its resources along the lines of any chosen policy.” He saw an Indonesia ruled by “an ageing rou, with Hitler’s demonic powers of mass hypnosis” and a decided leaning towards Communist China. He believed that, if not checked, China would extend its direct influence over the whole of South East Asia.

            Checking the rise of Communist China, he argued, required “a vision as distant and a patience as complete as that of the Communist.” It required recognizing that the Old European Order and the ephemeral Japanese New Order would be replaced by a Communist Order unless a Pacific Community was created that would offer the people of the region a better alternative. That alternative, he argued, would necessarily have to involve greater access to the markets of the advanced countries for the developing countries of the region and a pro-active commitment on the part of the advanced countries to the security, development and democratization of the developing countries.

            He believed that the emergence of the European Economic Community and the European Commission provided a basic model for a Pacific Community, if only because Europe faced the threat of the Soviet Union, while Asia faced the threat of Communist China. In addition to the US, Japan and Australia, he expected that India would be a frontline state (if only because it had been attacked by China in 1962) and that South Korea, South Vietnam, Taiwan (which he called Formosa), the Philippines, Thailand, Malaya and New Zealand would all play a role.

            Looking back 40 years, it is striking that while a Pacific Community of a kind eventually emerged, it did not do so until Chinese Communism had ceased to be a serious threat, it drew China in rather than holding it at bay, it included Indonesia in its ranks (as, indeed, Santamaria anticipated that it might, once Sukarno had passed from the scene) and it diverges markedly from the European model.

He was perfectly aware of the “difficulties which make the Pacific Community so much more difficult of realization than the European project - the lack of a common language, of a common religion, of a common culture”, but felt that a common interest in survival could override all these. He argued that, provided the United States was prepared to support the idea, there were possibilities that should be explored. In time, of course, they were.

This is worth looking back on, I suggest, for several reasons. First, because so much has changed since 1963, almost entirely for the better, that we can appreciate how far we’ve come. Second, because China as a potential or aspiring Asian hegemon is almost as much on the minds of strategic thinkers in 2003 as in 1963, despite the fact that Communism has ceased to be a significant consideration in strategic calculations. Third, because while we still need an overarching vision, it is not evident that the EU provides a useful model and it is not “survival” that is at issue so much as progress.


Principles of a National Defence Policy


            “The concept of a Pacific Community,” Santamaria declared, in an address to Christian Social Week, in Melbourne, in August 1962, “performs two functions. It defines a type of international association for the non-Communist nations of East and South East Asia which, in association with the United States, is essentially capable of meeting the security problem of the region. It [also] supplies the perspective against which the development of the various aspects of Australian policy should be planned. But as no alliance can substitute for a nation’s own independent power of self-defence, the premises of Australia’s defence policy need to be considered.”

            Here we come to the heart of the matter, from the point of a view of current debates over Australia’s strategic policy, defence budgeting and force structure development. Santamaria, as we have seen, believed that Australia’s very survival was in jeopardy, at least as a Western democratic state. He allowed that “Those who do not see our problem in this way either will give a totally different answer to the need for a defence policy, or, perhaps, will give no answer at all.” But he believed they were in error.

            Santamaria was haunted by Pearl Harbor and the Japanese blitzkrieg through South East Asia, in early 1942. He quoted the chief American Lend-Lease administrator, a man by the name of Wasserman, who arrived in Australia after the fall of Singapore and the Dutch East Indies, as having reported, “Almost immediately upon my arrival, one of the Ministers came to see me…He locked the door and, in an awed whisper, said to me ‘Mr Wasserman, Australia is completely defenceless. In my opinion, we have three more weeks of liberty, after which time the Japanese invasion will commence.’”

            Now, as most of you will be aware, we were not so completely defenceless as the Minister of the day feared. Not because we were well prepared to defend ourselves. We were not. But because our geography made a Japanese invasion extremely difficult. The Japanese, even when lodged in the Dutch East Indies and Papua New Guinea, were so badly overextended that their forces were grinding to a halt and vulnerable to a damaging counter-offensive. When that counter-offensive came, one after another Japanese occupation forces were overwhelmed, suffering casualties an order of magnitude larger than those of the Allied forces.

            Yet that counter-offensive would not have occurred had it not been for the power of the United States. Even that power might not have turned swiftly to counter-offensive, had it not been for the cryptological edge the US gained over Japan, enabling it to crush the Japanese navy in a series of crucial battles in 1942. Australia was very much a peripheral player in all of that. Had Japan been able to maintain its naval capability for another year; had it won the battle of the Coral Sea or Midway, Australia might, after all, have been invaded.

            This scenario, this memory of fear, underlay his advocacy of what he called “an adequate and independent military force” - including acquisition of tactical nuclear weapons - to guard against Australia proving defenceless, should Communist China come to dominate Asia as Japan had done. Years before the American debacle in Vietnam, he argued that, just as we had relied on British military power to protect us, until the shock of the fall of Singapore, so we now (in 1962) relied on American power to do so. We would be foolish, however, he asserted, to assume that American power would provide any more infallible a defence than British power had. We needed to look to our own defences.

            The two countries which he identified as potential threats to Australia’s security and territorial integrity were, of course, China and Indonesia. His reasons for fearing China are clear enough. His reasons for fearing Indonesia are, also, anything but mysterious. The perceptions and assumptions he was working from were quite common currency in the 1950s and early sixties. They are not altogether out of date even now.

Sukarno, he argued, was able to take West New Guinea “only because he was given very strong military support by the Soviet Union.” One might add that Australia was discouraged from even attempting to do anything to defend the self-determination of West New Guinea, by the decision of Washington and London to throw West New Guinea to Sukarno as one might throw a bone to a dog.

            It had not been the preference of Sir Robert Menzies or Sir Arthur Tange to see West New Guinea ceded to Sukarno. The subject had been debated at the highest levels in Canberra, for a decade prior to 1962. As some of you will be aware, a Top Secret report completed for Tange in 1957 recommended that Australia seek to interest the Dutch in developing West New Guinea and Papua New Guinea in concert, with a view to self-determination for a unified Melanesian state.

            In late 1961, however, Menzies received an Eyes Only letter from Harold MacMillan, which went approximately as follows: “Dear Bob, I’ve had a chat with Jack in Bermuda about this New Guinea situation. We think that, on balance, it would be best for all concerned if you were to roll over on this one. If we support the Dutch, we only give the Communists an opportunity to charge us with imperialism and make common cause with Indonesian nationalists. If we throw Sukarno this bone, we’ll rob the Communists of a stick to beat us with. We can then find other means for dealing with the problem of the Indonesian Communist Party.”

            Santamaria was not sanguine, in August 1962, that such other means were to hand. He correctly described the Indonesian Communist Party (the PKI) as “undoubtedly the most powerful outside the Iron Curtain” and as “ably led by well-tried veteran revolutionaries”. “No one can predict with any confidence”, he judged, “either that there will be a conflict between it and the Army after Soekarno; or that, if this conflict eventuates, the Army will win it.”

            It is worth noting that the same judgements were made by the CIA’s Guy Pauker, in a major report, written at Rand in 1964. Yet the Army won the conflict hands down, of course, following the controversial events of September 1965. The PKI was decimated and has never recovered. The Army, led by Suharto, established a regime which sought to become respected in the region, friendly with Australia and economically developed. It also made a habit of crushing all domestic resistance the way it had crushed the PKI.

From an Australian point of view, the most troublesome and troubling of such cases was that of East Timor, from 1975. But West New Guinea has never been authentically pacified, Aceh remains chronically rebellious and other outlying provinces of Indonesia have been strife torn in recent years, as the Suharto regime crumbled and the centralism it had ruthlessly upheld cracked.

On the whole, realistic though his basic assessments were, Santamaria’s worst fears regarding both Chinese and Indonesian threats to Australia proved unfounded. He did not foresee the destruction of the PKI, though he did foresee that, if this could be accomplished, Indonesia might become a friend rather than a threat. He did not foresee the Chinese fear of the Soviet Union and Mao Zedong’s consequent overtures to Nixon and Kissinger, in 1971-72.

He did not foresee the reform and opening of China from within, after the death of Mao in 1976. He certainly did not, in 1962, foresee the demise of Communism due to its own inner weaknesses. He attributed far too much resilience and coherence of vision to the leaders of the Communist world and did not foresee that they would themselves decide that their system did not work and that radical reforms of it were unavoidable. Finally, he did not foresee the unipolar world that arose with the collapse of Communist self-belief.

There was much that he did not foresee. Yet he was not alone in that regard.  His good fortune was that he failed to foresee not unfortunate developments, but fortunate ones, from Australia’s strategic perspective. None of his benign failures of foresight, I suggest, was quite so spectacular as that of Paul Dibb, who wrote, in 1986, in the preface to his book The Soviet Union: The Incomplete Superpower:


The Soviet Union’s internal political system is not considered here, because no fundamental changes are to be expected…What has been built so painstakingly over the generations, with much sacrifice, ruthlessness and conviction will not be allowed to disintegrate or radically change. The USSR has enormous unused reserves of political and social stability on which to draw and in all probability it will not, in the next decade, face a systemic crisis that endangers its existence.”


I love that passage! It’s simply remarkable to think that it was written at all in a critical examination of the weaknesses of the Soviet Union, but all the more so given that, a little over five years after it was written, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

But I digress. In 1962, given his rather pessimistic outlook, Santamaria argued that Australia needed to develop an independent and adequate military strength, so that it could defend itself “in the last resort, even without allies”. With such strength, he believed, Australia could both have something to offer to a Pacific Community in collective security terms and also exert a strong influence on American policy in the South West Pacific.

“This is the precise opposite of the situation which prevails at the present moment,” he went on to claim. “To all intents and purposes, we have no armament at all. An official statement of Australia’s military strength allots us two battle groups (with a doubtful capacity for reinforcement) and certain minimal naval and air forces…Our entire military policy is based on the assumption that the problem of defending this Commonwealth is so great that we cannot defend it except with the assistance of the United States.”

“When Soekarno began his unprovoked and aggressive attack on West New Guinea, what would have happened if Australia had felt that this advance should be stopped? Could we have in fact stopped it? Did we possess sufficient military force to enable us to back up such a limited policy? In fact, we did not…[So] if the policy of the United States runs counter to our own wishes, as it obviously did in West New Guinea, what then? The answer is nothing. There is nothing that we can do independently.”

Now, we could debate whether disregarding the advice of both Washington and London on West New Guinea in 1961-62 would have been a prudent course of action for Australia, even had we possessed the sort of military power to which Santamaria was alluding. But regardless of how that specific debate might be resolved, the underlying point must be addressed. What military capabilities would Australia require, in order to be able to defend itself, in the last resort, or to defend what it believed to be its irreducible regional interests?

West New Guinea, 1962; East Timor, 1975, were both cases where this question arose. In 1999, with the INTERFET operation, we decided to use our military forces in the region, after a great deal of shilly-shallying by senior bureaucrats in DFAT and Defence, who had first suppressed intelligence reports indicating that Indonesia would lose the plebiscite and then wreck East Timor.

We have, this year, after several years of similar hesitancy and denial, intervened on a substantial scale in the Solomons. An ABC report that this intervention was prompted by discovery that Indonesia was considering intervening adds a most interesting strategic dimension to the case. We have, at the very same time, finally seen a frank admission by the Federal Government that even our existing defence capability plan is unaffordable.

We are, in fact, at a watershed in our defence policy and must decide where we go from here. Santamaria, forty years ago, invoked the examples of Israel and the Republic of China on Taiwan as contrasts with our relatively supine defence policy.  Here, he pointed out, were two small states, heavily dependent in important respects on the United States, but resolute in developing and maintaining formidable military forces.

We have seen, especially over the past two years, a rudimentary strategic policy debate. On one side, Paul Dibb and Hugh White, with their bureaucratic and service epigones, have clung to the Defence of Australia doctrine, in a long series of rearguard actions. On the other side, we have seen the cautious advancement of a reframed strategic policy that would have us more pro-active and flexible in our strategic posture and engagements.

In the light of these debates, it is interesting to reflect on Santamaria’s description, in 1962, of what a serious, independent Australian Defence Force should be capable of doing.

He wrote:

Competent military advice suggests that such a force should include the existence of five Australian battle groups, with adequate reinforcements and logistic support. These military forces should be part of a coordinated development of land, sea and air forces of the type which would enable the various arms to be deposited swiftly in danger points, before ‘brushfire’ incidents affecting the security of Australia could develop and gather momentum.

He acknowledged that this would be expensive, perhaps costing half a billion pounds per annum out of a GDP of 7.5 billion pounds, or rather more than 6% of GDP. This is about the proportion of GDP that South Korea spent in the 1980s and 1990s. We cannot escape the fact that serious military capabilities are expensive - increasingly so, in terms of both personnel and platforms.

            Thus, both elements of our current dilemma were present in Santamaria’s 1962 vision, even though the circumstances and strategic contingencies he feared were quite different from those we now confront. What is most striking, I think, is that the sort of capabilities he called for not only were not adequately developed in the 1960s and 1970s, but were scaled back and undermined by the Defence of Australia doctrine in the 1980s and 1990s.

            If, in some respects, the architects of the DoA based their strategic doctrine on Santamaria’s premises regarding China and Indonesia, they clearly did not based their force structure planning on his premises regarding the need to be able to intervene in brushfire situations around the region swiftly and sustainably. Yet it has been precisely these requirements that have been most needed in the 1990s and in the first years of the 21st century.

            As the Chief of Army, Peter Leahy wrote, in the first issue of the Australian Army Journal, in June this year:


“In the 1994 Defence White Paper there was statement that the Army would develop its force structure for the defence of Australia with no exception other than at the margins…The offshore operations of the 1990s were, in fact, a profound challenge to the continental defence orthodoxy of most Australian strategic planners. How could the strategic reality of operational commitments in support of interests be reconciled with a rigid strategic doctrine that upheld defence of geography? Ultimately, strategic planners developed a logic that forces structured for the defence of continental Australia could be peeled away to perform offshore tasks as a matter of routine.

The reality was starkly different. The experience of offshore operations seriously undermined the assumption that a land force structured primarily for continental defence could easily accomplish complex offshore operations. In truth, over a period of two decades, the Defence of Australia construct seriously eroded core land force capabilities…We gradually lost strategic agility; our units became hollow; and our ability to operate away from Australian support bases declined to a dangerous degree. Moreover, our capacity to generate, sustain and rotate forces in the field diminished alarmingly. When the ADF went to East Timor in 1999, it was only the tremendous efforts of our personnel in the field and in the rear that concealed these deficiencies in the Army’s capabilities.”


It is not, of course, my purpose here to argue that any specific proposition by Santamaria was true, or has stood the test of time, much less to suggest that his specific force structure recommendations are what we need for 21st century manoeuvre operations in the littoral environment. I simply found his reflections of forty years ago stimulating, reading them belatedly, in 2003.


Public Leadership in a Democratic Society


            Passing over many interesting essays in the book, let me turn to Santamaria’s reflections on public leadership and training for it, since it seems to me that this is, more than ever, a great need in Australian society. There is, in our time, widespread cynicism about the political parties and political leadership. Yet there appears to be a dearth of qualified people who are both willing and able to step forward and provide better leadership.

            Santamaria was historically and politically literate enough to appreciate that democracies decay and perish when this trend passes a certain point. Yet the political parties could not, even as a matter of principle, automatically find solutions to the social and security challenges of a democracy, he believed. He stressed that he held this opinion “as one who has an immense respect for the parliamentary system”, but also as one who saw that more was needed than the political party machines.

            The critical weakness of democratic governments, he thought, was that they became prey to special interest groups that thwarted sound policy, or ensured passage of unsound policy, or by their conflicts with one another induced a certain paralysis of the whole policy process. He drew here, not on quasi-fascist theoreticians, as is sometimes alleged, but on Walter Lippmann’s The Public Philosophy and on the Greek classics, especially Thucydides and Aristotle.

            Somewhat to my surprise, he made no reference to precisely this process in the decay and collapse of the Roman Republic in the second and first centuries BCE. Nor did he make mention of the fact that it was chiefly this great and protracted drama that exercised the minds of modern constitutionalists, between the 16th and 19th centuries, as they pondered how to replace absolute monarchies with commonwealths or republics that might endure.

            In any case, his point was that there was a clear need for what, in the 1990s, with reference to changes in the Communist world, we came to call “civil society”. Santamaria believed that there was a profound need to educate what he called “a force of men who will act publicly in public bodies, not for individual or even corporate material interest, but for what they regard - correctly or mistakenly - as the public interest of the whole community.”

            He immediately commented, “There is a great danger here of self-delusion or humbug. There is a great danger of repeating what has already been done: of speaking in moral terms when the end is really private or sectional interest.” He wanted, he insisted, to see the rise of a calibre of person who would with integrity address matters of public interest. He believed that the Christian faith was the best available source of the motivation for such integrity and commitment to the public interest. Yet he also accepted that the rise of the political machines meant that individual action on these lines was doomed to be largely ineffective. Organisation was vital.

            As he was well aware, from the behaviour of Dr Evatt and his partisans in the ALP, there were those then, as there are now, who “literally shudder at the thought of the organization of Christians for action in public life.” He was undeterred. He was convinced that such organization was a vocational call and that it demanded adequate funds, organizational staff, research staff and offices. That was the basis, of course, of the NCC.

            He did not believe that it was sufficient to give people “a solid spiritual and intellectual formation, with a particular emphasis on Christian social teaching, and then turn them out into the world…each to make his own individual impact.” No, he advocated the engagement of people so trained in concrete, imaginative objectives that could engage their whole loyalty and commitment.

            This was, of course, the root of both his achievements and the considerable opposition he aroused, between the late 1930s and the 1990s. It is not my intention to dwell on the history of those achievements or that opposition, only to ask where we are in 2003 with regard to education for public leadership. For the need has certainly not diminished.

            My own sense is that we lack such education. It isn’t that no-one makes any attempt, only that such attempts seem to be quite discombombulated and sectional. There are still, of course, here and there those who seek to awaken young people to political awareness and action. But an assured curriculum for doing so systematically is lacking.

            If we are to sustain a democratic Australia whose citizens will willingly run for office and defend the public interest, we need to do better than we are doing. Yet, since the classical world, we have always needed to do better. That was what prompted Plato to write his Republic long ago. It is what prompted Augustine to write The City of God 700 years later. It is what prompted John Locke to write Two Treatises of Government nearly 1300 years after Augustine.

It is what prompted Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay to write The Federalist Papers, a century after Locke. A minimal requirement, in any curriculum that would prepare Australian citizens for public leadership, would, I think, be that they be familiar with such classics as these. Neither our schools nor our universities currently guarantee any such thing.

A second vital component of such a curriculum is, surely, involvement in some form of community work and experience in taking responsibility for decisions and their consequences. It was Alexis de Tocqueville who wrote, in the 1830s, that the great constitutive power of the American republic was its town councils and rural communities, in which small assemblies of citizens took counsel for their immediate good. We lack too much of that and it would seem to lie at the root of the devitalisation of the major political parties.



The Price of Freedom


            “The Australia which will not be defended”, Santamaria declared in September 1959, in an address titled ‘The Price of Freedom’, “is the Australia of milk bars, television and hire purchase; the Australia whose sole objective is the highest possible standard of material consumption for a relatively few people…and which…proceeds to that end by building an insulated economy, buttressed by rising tariff and import restrictions.”

            Santamaria believed in an Australia of robust ideals, strong character and generous commitments to the region. He called for tariff reductions, increased immigration, an end of the White Australia policy, a strenuous increase in the national savings rate in order to raise capital for national development, a ten fold increase in our foreign aid program and a pro-active policy to exhibit to Asia the virtues of Christian and democratic society.

            He was gloomy about the possibilities of most of this being incorporated into the public platforms of the major political parties, because he considered that “A programme designed to save Australia is also a programme designed to lose elections; and democratic parties naturally aim to win, not lose elections.” To close the gap between the pragmatism of party machines and the apathy of the mass of voters, he believed, the energies of small dynamic groups outside the narrowly electoral process were required.

            Santamaria drew on Jacques Maritain, Arnold Toynbee and Bertrand de Jouvenel in advocating the formation of such free associations of highly motivated citizens. Maritain called them “prophetic shock minorities”, Toynbee the “creative minority”, de Jouvenel the “vis politica”. Santamaria saw the NCC as being such a force - an organized group whose purpose was to rouse the citizenry from their “congenital sleeping sickness” for the public good.

            The willingness to take such initiatives, to make democratic demands on the political parties, to stand for the public interest; the willingness to give energy and time to such endeavours, is the price of freedom. In closing his address, in 1959, Santamaria quoted John Ruskin’s remark, “For the triumph of evil, nothing is needed but the inactivity of the good.” He also quoted Edmund Burke’s maxim, “When evil men combine, the good must associate, else they will perish singly ignoble victims in an ignominious struggle.”

            These are maxims well worth recalling in 2003. Both in our domestic affairs and in our foreign entanglements, these maxims apply. They apply to our need to revitalize our democracy, just as they apply to our involvement in the coalition of the willing in Iraq and in East Timor and the Solomons. Nor can I think of many better places in which to invoke such maxims than before an audience of military officers and analysts of strategic affairs.

            Santamaria trumped both the Ruskin and Burke quotations, however, with a famous passage from William Butler Yeats, which also resonates rather powerfully in present circumstances. I, too, shall conclude with these lines from Yeats, because they are so resonant and because they are a challenge to all of us to reflect deeply on what we are committed to and why and what means we have in common to address the challenges we face in the 21st century:


Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.


Thank you for the profound courtesy of your attention.