Talking to the chiefs: Angus Campbell (part 2)

Strong personal relationships between Australian military personnel and those of the countries in our region are profoundly important, says defence force chief Angus Campbell.

General Campbell tells The Strategist he’s very supportive of the idea that the military does not just build technical knowledge through exchanges and courses and exercises. ‘You build relationships that can have profoundly positive effects on the development of your capacity to pursue your legitimate interests, your common interests and ultimately what may be your operational interests’, he says.

‘We put a great deal of time and effort into creating opportunities both for partner nations to come and study and train and work in Australia with the Australian Defence Force, and for ADF personnel to go to training institutions, exercises and engagement opportunities internationally’, Campbell says.

The benefit comes not only from the knowledge gained but also, crucially, from the relationships that are developed, he says. ‘Then you can very comfortably call someone who immediately remembers you and reflects on you as a friend, as a person they trust so that they’re willing to listen and understand a point you’re making which may well be in our national interest.’

Such a call may be to clarify differing perceptions that two countries or their militaries or agencies have on a particular issue.

Campbell says he’d maintained a close friendship with a young officer from a regional nation when they were both at military college in Australia. The officer went on to become the head of international engagement in his army. Both men became major generals and Campbell served as the deputy chief of the army and chief of army. ‘When I visited that country, he made sure I met every single senior official in the national security community every time. And that was very unusual, but he did it because he thought I was a good bloke, and we were friends, and that’s what friends do. That’s incredibly valuable. It was reciprocated in that I’d seek to ensure that those visiting Australia from his country were given a very fair hearing and had access.’

Campbell was for a time an instructor at the ADF’s staff college. One of his foreign students went on to a senior position in his country’s defence force.

‘Again, we very comfortably share reflections and create connections for each other that are quite appropriate. It’s about pursuing the relationship between the two countries that you could never do if it were some person arriving on your doorstep unknown with no relationship and no sense of pre-existing trust or camaraderie.’

Campbell says Australia has a very strong network of relationships, activities, exercises and engagement with its South Pacific partners. ‘And I do very much mean partners. They are important nations in our region, they are important to us geostrategically, they are important in and of themselves.’

Students from across the Pacific study at the ADF’s staff college and defence college. The air force, navy and army exercise in those countries. ‘We have a very substantial program to see the redevelopment from the Pacific Patrol Boat Program to a much more sophisticated Pacific Maritime Security Program. Over five years, 21 Guardian-class patrol boats will be gifted to Pacific island nations. Our program is not just about the patrol boats and the technical advisers who come with it, but it’s about information-sharing, it’s about building a network that enables maritime security, surveillance and a sharing of information to support that work. And it’s about the professional development of their maritime services to build local capacity to keep these vessels at sea and to ensure they’re being logistically sustained.’

When Australia’s Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2018 flotilla arrived in Tonga, three vessels, two patrol boats and a landing craft came out to greet it and bring it into harbour. A similar welcome was delivered in Solomon Islands. ‘There are great seafaring cultures in the Pacific, not surprisingly, and the effort that we go to build relationships is very, very important. They, I think, are benefiting from it. But so are we.’