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Defence expansion would break the budget if Australia ditches US alliance: Angus Houston

Scrapping the US alliance would force Australia to meet its own defence costs, hammering the federal budget, former chief of defence Angus Houston has warned, while also counselling the Turnbull government against over-reacting to China’s territorial expansion in the South China Sea. He said Australia should not contemplate naval exercises close to the recently constructed islands, and should instead focus on diplomatic representations designed to halt further militarisation.

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Tillerson talks tough about Russia, China

At his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson says Russia “poses a danger” and that China should be denied access to islands it has built in the South China Sea. Sir Angus, arguably Australia’s pre-eminent defence elder, said the US-Australia and New Zealand defence pact known as ANZUS, had been the institutional key to Australia’s national security since the blackest days of World War II.

“It has been the cornerstone of our defence policy ever since,” he said during an address to the National Press Club on the topic of Australia’s US alliance.

Picking up the tab for defences provided as an alliance obligation by Washington, would see pressure put on already stretched health and education commitments. He estimated the replacement cost of the US alliance would cause a virtual doubling of the current spending on defence to as high as 4 per cent of Australia’s gross domestic product.

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In 2016-17, Australia will spend $33.931 billion on defence, which constitutes 1.94 per cent of GDP. If Australia were to increase to 4 per cent, its projected defence spend in 2017-18 would go from just over $35 billion to more than $72 billion – a jump of $37.3 billion. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is currently in Washington to strengthen the relationship with Trump administration officials, and is expected to discuss a possible request for an increased Australian contribution in Iraq in the fight against IS, and the refugee resettlement agreement.

Defence Expansion Would Break The Budget If Australia Ditches US Alliance: Angus Houston Sir Angus Houston addresses the National Press Club in Canberra. Photo: Andrew Meares

Australian concerns over the reliability of the alliance have increased in recent months, fuelled by the volatility of policy emanating from President Donald Trump, who has railed against alliance partner countries that duck the full costs of their own protection. Speaking in Munich on Monday, US Vice-President Mike Pence, pointedly stopped short of withdrawing his boss’s warning that the failure of NATO member states to meet their obligations could see the US refuse to to come to their aid under the terms on that agreement.

Defence Expansion Would Break The Budget If Australia Ditches US Alliance: Angus Houston Illustration: Ron Tandberg.

“We vowed in that treaty to contribute our fair share to our common defence,” Mr Pence said.

“The promise to share the burden of our defence has gone unfulfilled for too many for too long and it erodes the very foundation of our alliance. When even one ally fails to do their part, it undermines all of our ability to come to each other’s aid.”

Asked about China’s creation of artificial islands, Mr Houston said a diplomatic course was required, warning that engaging in direct freedom of navigation voyages within the 12-mile zone would be counter-productive.

“Frankly, I don’t see a need to put a ship in close proximity to an artificial island claimed by China, I thinks that’s something that may result in consequences that we’d rather avoid,” he said. Former Labor prime minister Paul Keating has proposed a more independent stance for Australia, arguing our security should be more rooted within the region than it has been in the past.

“Our future is basically in the region around us in South-East Asia,” he told the ABC’s 7.30.

“It’s time to cut the tag. It’s time to get out of it.”

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Outspoken general named Trump’s top security adviser

By Jeff Mason and Patricia Zengerle[1][2] | WEST PALM BEACH, Fla./WASHINGTON

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla./WASHINGTON U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday named Lieutenant General Herbert Raymond McMaster as his new national security adviser, choosing a military officer known for speaking his mind and challenging his superiors.

McMaster is a highly regarded military tactician and strategic thinker, but his selection surprised some observers who wondered how the officer, whose Army career stalled at times for his questioning of authority, would deal with a White House that has not welcomed criticism.

“He is highly respected by everybody in the military and we’re very honored to have him,” Trump told reporters in West Palm Beach where he spent the weekend. “He’s a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience.”

One subject on which Trump and McMaster could soon differ is Russia. McMaster shares the consensus view among the U.S. national security establishment that Russia is a threat and an antagonist to the United States, while the man whom McMaster is replacing, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, appeared to view it more as a potential geopolitical partner.

Trump in the past has expressed a willingness to engage with Russia more than his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Flynn was fired as national security adviser on Feb. 13 after reports emerged he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about speaking to Russia’s ambassador to the United States about U.S. sanctions before Trump’s inauguration.

The ouster, coming so early in Trump’s administration, was another upset for a White House that has been hit by miscues, including the controversial rollout of a travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries, since the Republican president took office on Jan. 20.

The national security adviser is an independent aide to the president and does not require confirmation by the U.S. Senate. The role has varied from administration to administration, but the adviser attends National Security Council meetings along with the heads of the State Department, the Department of Defense and key security agencies.

‘NOT AFRAID TO QUESTION BOSS’

Republican Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a frequent Trump critic, praised McMaster as an “outstanding” choice.

“I give President Trump great credit for this decision,” McCain said in a statement.

A former U.S. ambassador to Russia under Obama, Michael McFaul, a Democrat, praised McMaster on Twitter as “terrific” and said McMaster “will not be afraid to question his boss.”

Trump also named Keith Kellogg, a retired U.S. Army general who has been serving as the acting national security adviser, as chief of staff to the National Security Council. John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, will serve the administration in another capacity, Trump said.

Kellogg and Bolton were among those in contention as Trump spent the long Presidents Day weekend considering his options for replacing Flynn. His first choice, retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward, turned down the job last week.

McMaster, 54, is a West Point graduate known as “H.R.,” with a Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was listed as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2014, partly because of his willingness to buck the system.

A combat veteran, he gained renown in the first Gulf War – and was awarded a Silver Star – after he commanded a small troop of the U.S. 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment that destroyed a much larger Iraqi Republican Guard force in 1991 in a place called 73 Easting, for its map coordinates, in what many consider the biggest tank battle since World War Two.

As one fellow officer put it, referring to Trump’s inner circle of aides and speaking on condition of anonymity, the Trump White House “has its own Republican Guard, which may be harder for him to deal with than the Iraqis were.” The Iraqi Republican Guard was the elite military force of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

Trump relies on a tight, insular group of advisers, many of whom zealously guard access to the president, and at times appear to have competing political agendas. Senior adviser Steve Bannon has asserted his influence by taking a seat on the National Security Council.

McMaster’s fame grew after his 1997 book “Dereliction of Duty” criticized the country’s military and political leadership for poor leadership during the Vietnam War.

Trump’s pick was praised by one of the president’s strongest backers in the U.S. Congress, Republican Senator Tom Cotton, who called McMaster “one of the finest combat leaders of our generation and also a great strategic mind. He is a true warrior scholar, and I’m confident he will serve both the president and the country well.”

‘CRITICISM AND FEEDBACK’

In a July 14, 2014, interview with the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus, Georgia, where Fort Benning is located, McMaster, then the base commander, said: “Some people have a misunderstanding about the Army.

“Some people think, hey, you re in the military and everything is super-hierarchical and you re in an environment that is intolerable of criticism and people don t want frank assessments.

“I think the opposite is the case. … And the commanders that I ve worked for, they want frank assessments, they want criticism and feedback.”

That attitude was not always shared by his superiors, and it led to his being passed over for promotion to brigadier general twice, in 2006 and 2007.

On McMaster’s third and last try, General David Petraeus who took himself off the list last week for Trump’s national security adviser returned from Iraq to head the promotion board that finally gave McMaster his first general’s star.

Then a colonel, McMaster was commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment that in the spring of 2005 captured, held and began to stabilize Tal Afar on the Iraqi-Syrian border.

The city was held by Sunni extremists, a crossing point between Syria and Iraq for jihadists who started as al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and morphed into Islamic State after he was killed.

McMaster’s preparation of the regiment is legendary: He trained his soldiers in Iraqi culture, the differences among Sunnis, Shiites and Turkomen, and had them read books on the history of the region and counterinsurgency strategy.

It was a sharp change from the “kill and capture” tactics the United States had used in Iraq since the invasion in March 2003, and to which the Obama administration returned in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

The strategy was largely a success, although McMaster’s use of it and especially his willingness to acknowledge that Iraqis had some legitimate grievances against one another and the occupying coalition forces, did not endear him to his superiors and helped delay his promotion to brigadier general.

The strategy did not survive the departure of McMaster’s troops, with Tal Afar falling into the hands of Sunni militants. Along with the west part of Mosul, it is now a key objective in the battle to rid Iraq of Islamic State.

(Additional reporting by John Walcott and Sarah Lynch in Washington; Writing by Patricia Zengerle, Frances Kerry, and James Oliphant; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

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References

  1. ^ Jeff Mason (www.reuters.com)
  2. ^ Patricia Zengerle (www.reuters.com)

R.I. judiciary reviews policy barring deputy sheriffs from carrying …

Most court security staff nationwide are armed with guns, but in Rhode Island, deputy sheriffs are barred from carrying guns inside state courthouses.

Katie Mulvaney Journal Staff Writer kmulvane

PROVIDENCE, R.I. After two Superior Court appearances were quickly followed by shootings, discussions are afoot in the state judiciary about changing the policy that bars deputy sheriffs from carrying guns. One of the episodes ended in a 22-year-old man’s murder at the Chad Brown housing complex minutes after he attended an arraignment. The other resulted in a brazen midday shooting in downtown Providence, just a block from the courthouse, leaving a Pawtucket man seriously injured and courthouse staff shaken. The incidents have sparked renewed discussion about the courts’ gun policy.

“It’s something we talk about with the judiciary. … We want to be proactive,” said state police Lt. Col. Kevin M. Barry, commanding officer of the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Division of Sheriffs and the Capitol Police.

The issue is under review by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell and the other state court chiefs following a recent meeting with state police Col. Ann Assumpico, Barry, and the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association board, Supreme Court administrator J. Joseph Baxter Jr. said last week. Baxter emphasized that the violence did not occur inside a courthouse.

“At no instance has it been a breach of courthouse security,” he said. “Our main objective is to be able to maintain a safe venue for people to have their disputes heard. Obviously, the sheriffs and the Capitol Police are an integral part.”

“We’re of a similar mindset. It’s worthy of discussion,” Barry said of the police chiefs’ association, whose leadership declined comment. Sheriffs provide courtroom security, transport defendants to and from prison, and stand watch over juries. As things stand, deputies’ guns are secured in strategic locations in courthouses for retrieval if needed.

Barry noted concerns about suspects potentially seizing weapons from sheriffs, but said holster improvements now make it difficult for a weapon to be removed. Even so, Baxter wondered: “By allowing weapons in, would they get in the hands of the wrong person?”

The no-weapons policy has been in place since 2003, when then Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank J. William issued an executive order barring anyone, other than the Capitol Police, from carrying any weapons in courthouses. The order came after a security review of state courts by the U.S. Marshals Service. Before that, police could carry guns in the courts, and each high sheriff set a different weapons policy for that county s courthouse, according to Craig Berke, courts spokesman.

Capitol Police, who carry guns, screen all visitors before they enter courthouses. Staff and lawyers swipe in via a card key, but are not screened. Law enforcement officers sign in and check their guns. Since 2015, some deputy sheriffs have carried Tasers in addition to batons, pepper spray and handcuffs. The Tasers deliver a jolt of electricity that incapacitates by disrupting muscle control. Sixty-four sheriffs now carry Tasers, adding a layer of protection, Baxter said. Perimeter security remains a concern, Baxter said, as cuts in the ranks of sheriffs over the past few years have “decimated” the division’s ability to extend coverage beyond the courthouses. Currently, there are 179 deputy sheriffs, with 17 added last fall from the latest graduating training-academy class.

“It all goes back to manpower,” Baxter said. “They do a fine job. There aren’t enough of them.”

Due to the shortage, the judiciary has suspended school tours and occasionally has to close courtrooms, he said. In the meantime, state police plan to work with the Providence Police Department to boost security outside the courthouses, particularly during known gang trials or court appearances by gang associates, Barry said. “We’re going to put some more presence outside.”

An analyst with the National Center for State Courts said Rhode Island is unique among the states in that the judiciary has broad power to determine what weapons law enforcement personnel can carry in the courts. Most court security staff nationwide are armed with guns, as dictated by state laws. By the numbers

Sheriffs Division Budget 2017: $18.2 million

Sheriffs: 179

Sheriffs carrying Tasers: 64

Sources: Rhode Island state budget; Supreme Court administrator J. Joseph Baxter Jr.

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