Analyses | 30 May 2011

Dangerous luxuries

The ANZUS alliance is emerging as an important alliance for stability in the Asia-Pacific region but the US must understand the implications Australian defence planning will have on the future alliance. In this Lowy Institute Analysis, US Army Colonel John Angevine writes that Australia’s current defence strategy does not correspond with the realities of Australia’s security situation. 

  • John Angevine

The ANZUS alliance is emerging as an important alliance for stability in the Asia-Pacific region but the US must understand the implications Australian defence planning will have on the future alliance. In this Lowy Institute Analysis, US Army Colonel John Angevine writes that Australia’s current defence strategy does not correspond with the realities of Australia’s security situation. 

  • John Angevine
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Key Findings

  • Australia is investing in high-end military capabilities, such as Air Warfare Destroyers, which are of very limited value to the ANZUS alliance.
  • Australia’s ability to sustain a regional ground force based intervention is in some doubt.
  • The Australian Defence Force envisioned in the Defence White Paper 2009 may not meet Australia’s security needs

Executive Summary

Australia’s current defence strategy does not correspond with the realities of Australia’s security situation. The plan for the modernisation of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is focused on expensive maritime and air capabilities for conflicts the ADF could not fight alone. Consequently, the ADF is exposed with an atrophying ground force and expeditionary capability for the low-level regional operations in which it will be most likely to engage. The high-end military capabilities called for in the Defence White Paper 2009 are suitable to combat a state-based adversary, whereas Australia’s region will be dominated by sub-state adversaries. The policies and strategies set forth prepare the ADF for contingencies that are least likely to happen, and dedicate large portions of the nation’s limited resources to missions that exceed the ADF’s capability. If Australia continues down its path to over-hedge with capabilities best suited for the upper end of the operational spectrum, at the expense of the capabilities best suited to deal with persistent irregular threats and other sources of insecurity, it will need to resort to ad hoc responses like those of the past, and will risk rising instability and insecurity.

The ANZUS alliance is emerging as the cornerstone alliance for stability in the Asia-Pacific region but the United States must understand the implications Australian defence planning will have on the future alliance. To collectively manage regional security challenges, Australia must rebalance its defence capabilities whilst the United States should consider discarding the Guam doctrine.