Recently White appeared on the ABC, where he invariably receives soft questions, and warned of the likelihood of a nuclear war between the US and China.
Interviewed by Mandie Sami on The World Today on May 29, White said: “There is a real risk of a military conflict between them (US and China) which could easily escalate into quite a broadly based war. There’s no reason to believe that conflict might not in some circumstances escalate to the point of a nuclear exchange. And everyone involved in thinking about this conflict and trying to manage it needs to focus very strongly on that possibility.”
So, in late May, White warned about the possibility of a nuclear exchange between American and Chinese military forces.
A month later, the same ANU academic criticised the Prime Minister for exaggerating the national security threat from Islamist terrorist groups.
White was even more dismissive of Julie Bishop. He accused the Foreign Minister of “absurdly exaggerating” the terrorist threat in her speech to the Sydney Institute on April 29. White asserted that Bishop did so “deliberately for political effect”.
White seems to enjoy a similar standing in the strategic debate world as that of Tim Flannery in the climate change debate. For years Flannery engaged in false prophecy, predicting that some Australian capital cities would run out of water. Such hopelessly false predictions have not dented Flannery’s reputation as an expert on the impact of climate change.
In an article in The Sydney Morning Herald on March 24, 2005, White suggested “we may face … (a) naval battle this year … between the US and Chinese navies, ostensibly over Taiwan’s independence”. Then, in The Age on December 26, 2012, White warned readers not “to be too surprised if the US and Japan go to war with China” in 2013.
Then on the ABC’s Lateline on November 3 last year White declared that the situation in Southeast Asia with respect to the US and China “is a little like what happened in 1914” — meaning the outbreak of world war.
Without doubt, China’s actions in recent times have caused concern to political leaders in nations such as Japan, South Korea, The Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore and more besides including the US and Australia.
Even so, few would embrace White’s fear of a possible nuclear war. Yet White accuses Abbott of exaggerating the threat to the West from Islamist groups including the so-called Islamic State or Daesh.
In her speech to the Sydney Institute, delivered immediately after returning to Australia from meetings in western Europe, Bishop warned that Islamist terrorism “could, if left unchecked, wield great global power that would threaten the very existence of nation states”.
Bishop added that this was “the most significant threat to the global rules-based order to emerge in the past 70 years” including “the rise of communism and the Cold War”.
ANU academic Paul Dibb, while agreeing that terrorism “is a fundamental threat to our free society and to the system of the nation-state”, said Bishop had gone too far in her comments.
Writing in The Australian on April 30, Dibb stated: “The Cold War was not a period of comforting stability and mutual understanding of avoiding Armageddon. To the contrary, it was a time of deep strategic uncertainty and extraordinary danger.”
This, however, is not what Dibb said at the time of the Cold War, which ran from the end of the 1940s until the end of the 80s. In his 1986 book The Soviet Union: The Incomplete Superpower, Dibb supported the view that “Soviet crisis behaviour” was “conservative rather than radical, cautious rather than reckless, deliberate rather than impulsive, and rational rather than irrational”. He added that “unlike Nazi Germany, foreign policy expansion is not a vital necessity for the USSR”.
In his controversial speech to the Sydney Institute on Tuesday, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull warned against overestimating the threat of Islamic State. He added: “In (Robert) Menzies’ day our democratic way of life was threatened by two totalitarian ideologies — Soviet communism and fascism. Each were proselytising ideologies. One was defeated in battle in 1945, the other expired, largely from its own contradictions, 25 years ago. China, the last nominally communist superpower, does not seek to export its way of government. But Daesh is not Hitler’s Germany, Tojo’s Japan or Stalin’s Russia.”
Turnbull’s strategic analysis is correct. But today’s threat is different. In 1939, under Menzies’ leadership, Australia declared war on Nazi Germany when Germany and the Soviet Union were allies. It’s just that Menzies did not have to deal with attacks in Australia on Australians by Australians who were aligned with the Nazis or communists.
Neither Menzies nor his brief successor Arthur Fadden or Labor’s wartime leader John Curtin experienced acts of domestic terrorism. The Communist Party of Australia came to support the war effort after Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. Neither Japan nor Germany successfully engaged local terrorists to support their war effort against the Allies on their home front.
Britain is led by David Cameron, a small-c conservative who has some different views on social matters to Abbott. France is led by a socialist president, Francois Hollande. However, the likes of Abbott, Cameron and Hollande are at one in regarding Daesh as an existential threat to the existence of modern democratic societies.
White may have developed a different view from inside the walls of academe. However, to citizens of the West and elsewhere who face a threat from Islamists every day, national security is a life and death issue.