Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Australia needs to start thinking globally about national security

 Australia needs to start thinking globally about national security

ISIS and submarines are the two big fashionable defence and national security concerns at the moment. When combined, they make it evident that there is need for a considerable rethink about how Australia approaches defence and security.

Today we seem stuck around notions of fighting an sea-air battle somewhere north of Australia, perhaps with a dash of land action informed by our recent counter insurgency campaign in Afghanistan. It's time to move on. 

Firstly, the latest National Security Statement, focusing on the threat from ISIS (and future groups that may learn from it), sharply highlights that our defence and national security is now simultaneously both domestic and global. To counter the domestic threat of future Lindt Cafe scenarios or worse, new internal security laws have been proposed and domestic security steadily tightened. Globally, multilateral support has been sought from allies and at the UN to impede ISIS's access to foreign fighters and finance, and an expeditionary force dispatched to fight the group in Iraq.

To successfully counter such groups we need to wage defence in depth, fighting 'joined up' wars at home and abroad, just as ISIS does now. [fold]

Moreover, this is not just a military conflict. Success requires the astutely coordinated use of all of our instruments of national power: public diplomacy, cyberwar, policing, strategic communications, financial sanctions and more. A non-state actor such as ISIS may not pose as large-scale threat as a hostile state actor, but the threat it does pose is complex.

Secondly, the ongoing submarine chaos suggests that the post-Cold War, narrowly technocratic, approach to major defence purchases has reached an end of its usefulness.

On one level, the new submarines are seen as necessary to hedge against China, our major trading partner whose continued success is crucial to Australia being able to fund the new submarines ourselves. On another level, the acquisition process means that the long-term economic and financial importance to the nation of the $50 billion-plus whole-of-life cost for the submarines is consciously disregarded. Both aspects are at play as Japan, France and Germany struggle to be our build?partners for their own, very specific, reasons.

Completely missing from the submarine debate so far has been a good understanding of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's formulation: 'economics is power and power is economics'. To be safe and secure the nation needs more than just military hardware. The debate at times is troublingly one-dimensional.

What is to be done? Firstly, our thinking needs to become much broader and take a whole-of-nation perspective, not simply that of a single Federal Government department or agency. A good start would be to abandon the present Defence White Paper and instead craft a 'Strategic Defence and Security White Paper' that looks across all of government, not just a single entity. Such a white paper could for the first time take a national perspective that factors in all our instruments of national power, and also include important economic and financial aspects.

Secondly, take on board that the world and Australia are now globalised. Australia is no longer insulated from the outside world by our remoteness; our enemies can now inspire 'lone wolf' attacks through global communications, not to mention our increasing vulnerability from cyber attacks. Moreover, our defence forces are also now highly dependent on global supply chains in order to operate – think petroleum for a starter.

Today, to successfully defend Australia and it's interests we need to start taking a global view, not a rigidly local or even regional one. A stable global order is now a prerequisite for our defence forces to keep functioning. We need to think much more deeply about how to contribute to global order when our defence and security on many levels relies so profoundly on it. A favourable global order is no longer a nice-to-have matter of interest as previous Defence White Paper's have argued. It is arguably today's first order defence and security task.

Thirdly, we need to overcome our cultural cringe that tells us we are too small to influence international order. We are a top 20 nation with the world's 12th largest economy and a sizeable defence budget to match. And in any event, we have no choice in the matter. Global thinking is needed in today's world to keep us safe and secure and we need to embrace it. We must consider national defence and security from a wider viewpoint anchored in the world as it now is, not as it once was.

Photo courtesy of the Australian Defence Image Library.

Related Content

You may also be interested in