- Date, John C., RANVR (Rtd)
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- April 1992 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
On 21 and 22 November 1991, an International Maritime Change Issues for Asia Conference was held in Sydney, jointly hosted by Vice Admiral Ian MacDougall, Chief of Naval Staff, RAN and Mr Ken Harris, Managing Director of Australian Defence Industries Ltd.
The Conference was held at a most opportune time, when dramatic events were unfolding within the boundaries that we have known as the Union of Soviet Socialistic Russia, thus changing the Soviet role in Asia.
As stated at the Conference by Admiral R. J. Kelly, Commander in Chief, US Pacific Fleet, ‘faced with severe economic and political problems on the home front, the Soviet Navy is pulling back to the contiguous waters of the Soviet East Coast. The Indian Ocean is now devoid of Soviet Ships, the Soviet base at Cam Rank Bay, Vietnam is being drawn down and with the exceptions of a few research vessels, we have probably seen the last out of the area deployments by Soviet Pacific Ships, at least in the near term. With an economy that is shrinking at 10% per year (or whatever), sustaining existing levels of activity will get harder every day.
One thing for sure … the Soviets, or more accurately the RussianRepublic has no intention of deserting the Soviet Far East and pulling back towards Moscow … quite to the contrary … the wealth of their country lies in Siberia and along the Eastern Shoreline … and there are still hardliners within the Russian hierarchy.
It makes a lot of sense to accept economic strength of the world is going to be centred around trade in the Pacific.’
Following are some of the main issues that were highlighted at the Conference:
- Conflicting sovereignty and unilateral claims requiring careful handling in view of the different cultural and ideological backgrounds of so many differing countries, associated so closely together.
- Conflict of ownership over the SpratlyIsland in the South China Sea, as well as ownership over the ParacelIslands, which can threaten peace and region stability. There is an overriding imperative to settle disputes in an amicable matter.
- The slumbering trade war between Japan and the United States could well undermine any effort to transform south east Asia, so full with promising potentials, into a stable and prosperous part of the globe, For example, in 1990 the major ports in Southern Asia and the Far East handled a total of about 28 million shipping containers, which over the last three years showed an increase of 25%.
- The rights of passage for vessels through other countries territorial waters and particularly the submerged transit of submarines, which is a controversial issue that may disturb relations in the near future. Thus many determinations are still to be made in applying the law of the sea to help provide a matrix for optimal cooperation and collaboration between states.
The role of the Royal Australian Navy is therefore to be ready to help fill the vacuum of declining super powers, be aware of the rise of new major powers, to safeguard increasing free trade in the Asia area and acknowledge that new ideologies brings rise in tensions. Our planning must focus on regional issues and we must do this while meeting our greatest challenge – declining dollars.
Much to our favour was Australia’s preparedness for immediate commitment in the Gulf War 1990/91, and the RAN must now more than ever before, be equipped and able to play our part in Asian stability in the coming years.
As stated by RADM Richard Hill RN (Ret) ‘arms control while a state of the art was a very complex situation all over the world, not just confined to Asia. There are so many uncertainties to which rather than theorising too much, one had to be flexible.’
Encouraging remarks came from Mr Ken Harris, Managing Director of ADI, in suggesting that ‘’defence-related industry in the countries represented at the Conference could make a broader contribution to marine cooperation in this region. Certainly ADI and, I believe, most Australian industry is open to exploring avenues for practical endeavour with regional counterparts. In some respects, the maritime support industries in many of our countries have complimentary capabilities and skills. There can be substantial mutual benefits from joint research and development, joint production and joint support arrangements.’