An Address by General Angus Campbell, Chief of the Defence Force
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An Address by General Angus Campbell, Chief of the Defence Force

General Angus Campbell AO DSC addressed the Lowy Institute and spoke in conversation with Executive Director Dr Michael Fullilove AM.

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Chairman Sir Frank Lowy, Executive Director Dr Michael Fullilove, your excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure to be here today and thank you sincerely for the invitation.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which meet, the Gadigal people, of the Eora nation, and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

I also acknowledge all those who serve or who have served in defence of country and nation in times of peace and war.

Michael, thank you for your very kind reflections, I hope to live up to them, and to you both for your introduction.

Sir Frank, thank you for your vision and the generosity that created the Lowy Institute.

Without it, we would not be meeting here and we wouldn’t be celebrating your 20th year as an institute and everybody who is a member of the institute my sincere congratulations to you.

For 20 years now, the Lowy Institute has occupied an important place in Australia’s public policy life.

Its role in shaping both the content, and quality, of our foreign policy and national security debates cannot be underestimated.

Throughout these 20 years, the Institute has hosted numerous political leaders, public policy advocates and experts in foreign policy and international affairs.

The Institute has provided a platform for some of the most influential and powerful thoughts and opinions on the times in which we live, and how we might envisage our future in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

I also want to acknowledge the important research conducted by the Institute.

From the publication of reports and commentaries on topics as diverse as nuclear proliferation, the utilisation of space, gender equality, and regional fishing disputes, to the creation of innovative research projects such as the annual Asia Power Index, the depth and breadth of the Institute’s work is truly extraordinary.

I have every confidence that the next 20 years of the Institute’s story will be similarly filled with great success, and I look forward to engaging with its work into the future.

Today, I wish to speak about the international security environment, and the ways that Australia, and the Australian Defence Force in particular, is responding.

However, before I do, a note about the Defence Strategic Review, which was announced by Prime Minister Albanese in August last year.

Under the leadership of the Honourable Stephen Smith and Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston, the DSR examined the ADF’s structure, force posture and preparedness, and Defence investment prioritisation, to ensure we have the right capabilities to meet our evolving strategic needs.

The DSR report was handed to the Prime Minister in February this year.

The report and its recommendations are currently under consideration by government. I hope you will understand that it would be inappropriate of me to pre-empt the government’s response.

Turning to our strategic environment, it has deteriorated. This was recognised in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update and is a bipartisan view.

Trends including large-scale military modernisation, technological disruption, and multiplying climate risks continue, and the prospect of state-on-state conflict is less remote than it was.

Military capability within the region, of both range and lethality, is challenging across all domains; sea, land, air, space and cyber.

Additionally, the use of coercive statecraft, lawfare and influence operations in the grey-zone between peace and war undermine the traditional understandings of the international rules based order and test the thresholds for conventional military response.

We live in an era and a region of great power competition. An era that may last for some time.

In response, the ADF has increased its presence in the Indo-Pacific, seeking to promote an environment conducive to our national interests.

Our efforts are directed toward constructively shaping that environment, deterring conflict and maintaining the capacity to operationally respond as directed by government.

This is done by our own efforts and by deepening engagement with allies, partners and like-minded friends, as well as by seeking to better understand those not of like-mind.

The most prominent and recent illustration of this engagement is, of course, the AUKUS program.

AUKUS is not a new defence alliance.

It is a trilateral partnership to deepen practical security technology cooperation with our longstanding and trusted partners, the United Kingdom and the United States.

AUKUS is enhancing our military capability in areas most relevant to the emerging strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific, and AUKUS partners have taken important steps towards implementing the two AUKUS Pillars – nuclear-powered submarines and advanced capabilities.

This is one of many efforts through engagement to strengthen our region and our national security.

I could similarly point to the Pacific Maritime Security Program, through which we engage in maritime capacity building with a dozen pacific island countries.

Or the FRANZ (France, Australia, New Zealand) arrangement that was instrumental in our combined response to the tropical cyclones that recently hit Vanuatu.

Or our decades long engagement with ASEAN and its member nations via training, exercising, studying and operating together, in the region for the security of the region.

As you know, Australian security and regional security are interdependent. So too security and prosperity. Each affected, to some considerable degree, by the presence or absence of the other.

With this in mind, the ADF and Defence more generally are necessarily a component of a much broader effort of Australian statecraft, in which all elements and instruments of our national power are harnessed to advancing Australia’s interests, within an interconnected and interdependent world.

A world in which, to the extent possible, rules govern power. A world now under considerable stress.

With the boundaries between competition, coercion and conflict becoming increasingly blurred, there is a need today for a greater integration of and nuance in the application of power.

The ADF’s approach to this increasing ambiguity is termed ‘integrated campaigning’, and it involves military power being brought together with other elements of national power – be they economic, diplomatic, trade, financial, industrial, scientific and informational – and, when directed by government, also combined with the military and national power of allies and partners.

An integrated Australian Defence Force is more interoperable within the force, and is a more interoperable force with partners, domestic and foreign; operating together to combined effect.

The success of integrated campaigning requires the national level mastery of these combined effects, supported by enablers like intelligence and logistics.

What is never integrated of course is sovereign decision, held by government, to apply national power, in any of its forms, to the pursuit of Australian national interest.

Nowhere is the stress in the international system and the international rules based order more apparent than in the current desperate fight for survival by Ukraine against Russian aggression.

That war, a long way away, obviously matters to Ukraine, to Russia’s other neighbours who feel threatened and to Europe more generally.

But I would offer that it matters to all small and middle sized nations, each of whom needs international rules and norms more than the limited power they wield.

And the war also matters because its impact on key supply chains, especially food and energy, reminds us that in a globalised world few conflicts are truly local.

Most fundamentally it matters because respect for sovereign territorial integrity is the cornerstone of our international system.

Ten early lessons or perhaps reminders from the war in Ukraine are apparent and universally applicable:

  • Will is paramount: the will to resist, to fight, to sacrifice, to innovate and to endure and the Ukrainian people have been magnificent.
  • Leadership is essential. ‘Give me ammunition not a ride’ galvanised a nation and a world.
  • War unleashed rarely precedes as expected. An enlarged and unified NATO wasn’t part of President Putin’s plan.
  • War tends toward escalation. A great deal of thought and effort has gone into preventing it…thus far successfully.
  • Munitions and materiel stockholdings will be insufficient. Just in time supply chains fail.
  • Military incompetence will be brutally punished on the battlefield. The Russian army has relearnt this the hard way.
  • No individual tactic or weapon is decisive. But combined ‘all domain’ - sea, land, air, space and cyber - operations will be most effective.
  • And Information is power. It’s heartening to see Ukraine and its partners deny Russia a ‘dis’-information advantage.

I’ll finish by quoting two Russian sources that speak to the tragedy and the challenge faced by Ukraine and its supporters:

  • The tragedy: Trotsky reflects that ‘you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you’, a sadly timeless reality that encourages preparedness.
  • And the challenge: Stalin reminds us that ‘quantity has a quality all its own’ and this war is not over.

One response to this deteriorating strategic environment is the AUKUS program.

Which, in case you missed it and because it would be odd of me if I didn’t, I’ll briefly review.

The Optimal Pathway for Australia to acquire conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines has now been determined. 

This is a significant moment for Australia’s Defence capability.

Through the Optimal Pathway, Australia will transform its strategic posture, bolstering security and stability in the Indo-Pacific for decades to come.

It is important to reflect upon the fact that Australia has successfully operated a potent and enduring submarine capability for many decades.

Indeed, the Collins class submarine remains one of the most operationally capable diesel-electric submarines in the world today.

It will continue to be critical to our deterrence and defence capability in coming decades as we transition to nuclear-powered submarines. But in time the Collins class submarine will lose the most critical characteristic of a submarine – stealth.

The trends affecting our region demand stealth as well as higher levels of speed, range, manoeuvrability, survivability and endurance from our submarines – all characteristics of nuclear-powered submarines.

Beginning this year, Australian military and civilian personnel will embed with the Royal Navy, the US Navy and, subject to any necessary arrangements, within the UK and US submarine industrial bases.

This will accelerate the training and development of Australian personnel.

As early as 2027, we expect to see UK and the US plan to establish a rotational presence at HMAS Stirling in Western Australia – an initiative known as ‘Submarine Rotational Force-West’.

This rotational presence will fully comply with Australia’s longstanding position of no foreign bases on its territory.

From the early 2030s, Australia will receive, subject to US Congressional approval, delivery of three US Virginia class nuclear-powered submarines.

Concurrently, Australia and the UK will deliver SSN-AUKUS.

It will be a new conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarine, based on a UK design, and incorporating cutting edge Australian, UK and US technologies.

The UK will deliver its own SSN-AUKUS in the late 2030s, with the first SSN-AUKUS built in Australia to be in the water in the early 2040s.

The Optimal Pathway will build Australia’s ability to safely operate, own, maintain and regulate a sovereign conventionally-armed nuclear-submarine capability.

And it bears constant repeating:

  • We will always be fully compliant with our international obligations. And
  • We will not seek and do not want nuclear weapons.

AUKUS will deliver more than nuclear-powered submarines.

Pillar II of AUKUS is building an enduring capability partnership through the acceleration of advanced strategic capabilities.

The six areas chosen for Pillar II will make the most significant contribution to future military capability: undersea warfare, electronic warfare, hypersonics and counter-hypersonics, advanced cyber, quantum technologies and artificial intelligence.

With these capabilities, certainly they are extraordinary, and they will fundamentally increase the lethality and the capability of the ADF.

But nuclear-powered submarines, and the advanced capabilities being pursued under Pillar II, are insufficient alone to guarantee our national security.

Ultimately, the success of the ADF in carrying out its mission, and in crewing and utilising the capabilities we are acquiring, lies in the character of our people and the culture of our teams.

They are at the heart of all that we do, and are the most important component of military capability.

I am committed to fostering and building an inclusive, respectful culture of ADF professionals committed to the defence of Australia and its national interests.

However, to create the necessary conditions for this culture to flourish, it is essential that we acknowledge and confront those occasions upon which we have failed to live up to the standards we and you expect of our nation’s defence force.

That is why our work in response to the Afghanistan Inquiry and the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide is so important.

And after two COVID years without migration, while the economy continued to grow to full employment, the ADF has to overcome a significant challenge to recruit, retain and grow our workforce.

We are determined to meet this challenge and to be an employer of choice, in order to attract the best possible talent from all backgrounds, regions and walks of life throughout Australia.

To conclude, although the challenges facing us are many, and the road ahead uncertain, I have faith and confidence in the men and women of the Australian Defence Force and Defence more broadly.

Each and every day, in Australia and around the world, they are serving our nation with professionalism, courage and resourcefulness.

As the story of the Lowy Institute demonstrates, with the right vision, commitment, and resourcing, anything is possible. 

I am confident that the significant work underway in Defence now, and with our allies and partners, is setting the conditions for the Australian Defence Force’s success, and for Australia’s security and prosperity into the future.

Thank you.

Video and Audio

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