- The white paper will play up something called defence diplomacy: an emerging web of talks, security agreements and joint exercises.
- Clear guidance is needed on how willing Australia really is to keep integrating its military with that of the US.
- A clear defence strategy must match the politics of defence funding with the military's ability to provide real options for future leaders.
Fast, good, and cheap - the government unveils a defence policy on Friday aiming for all three.
The 2013 defence white paper has certainly been fast. It comes a year to the day since the government hurried it along, supposedly to address the consequences of a global financial crisis.
The white paper will play up something called defence diplomacy.
For that reason, and given revenue shortcomings, this white paper will also be cheap.
But will it be good? To meet this test, it will need to be forthright about Australia's worsening strategic environment, which the government's Asian Century white paper was not.
And more importantly, it will need to show how a shrinking defence budget can provide force options to protect the nation's large and growing interests.
To deflect claims that this is a cynical election pamphlet, the white paper will need to include a roadmap to get the defence budget and capability modernisation back on track.
At the very least, it needs to contribute enduring ideas to the nation's security thinking and planning, for any future government to build on. At this point, the opposition hasn't shown much strategic vision on defence either.
The white paper could explain the new reality of Australia's ''Indo-Pacific'' region: a strategic system connecting the Indian and Pacific oceans, with maritime trade and energy highways of vital importance. This new map puts Australia near the centre of Asian power-plays, like it or not.
To manage these tensions, the white paper will play up something called defence diplomacy: an emerging web of talks, security agreements and joint exercises.
The more militaries get to know each other, so the thinking goes, the less likely they are fight. But serious defence diplomacy will need a bigger investment than reassigning defence attaches from Europe to Asia. And it will hardly save the day if big countries like China and Japan decide that their differences can be settled only by force.
This white paper will need to offer more than hope as a way for Australia to manage Asia's military tensions. It should give a sense of what the government thinks about crises in the region's flashpoints - the contested waterways of East Asia, the straits of Hormuz, or the Korean peninsula.
A multitude of other decisions loom. Defence owns 25,000 buildings in places that made sense during world wars past but are less useful now. Some must be sold. Decisions are overdue on making critical airfields like Learmonth and Cocos Islands operational. And clear guidance is needed on how willing Australia really is to keep integrating its military with that of the US.
The last white paper in 2009 committed the government to more than $100 billion of spending to keep Australia's capability edge in Asia. Three years later, the government still claims it wants to do this, yet has cut defence funding to the lowest levels in 75 years.
A clear defence strategy must match the politics of defence funding with the military's ability to provide real options for future leaders. Don't hold your breath.
James Brown is military fellow and Rory Medcalf is international security program director at the Lowy Institute.