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Defence White Paper: French Pacific power ignored

Published 21 May 2013 16:16   0 Comments

The Australian Defence White Paper 2013 was not the only such document to be released recently: France's 2013 White Paper on Defence and National Security appeared the same week. But, as far as strategic perceptions of France in our region are concerned, there the symmetry ends.

I looked at the last French and Australian DWPs in 2008 and 2009 respectively, observing that each was remarkable for the lack of reference to France's South Pacific presence, notwithstanding the fact that France rules three Pacific territories, with its largest and wealthiest, New Caledonia, just two hours flying time from Brisbane.

This time, France has redressed the omission, perhaps overly so, attributing specific strategic value to its South Pacific territories.

The French DWP notes the importance of its regional partnership with Australia and claims that the countries of the region have renewed interest in a French presence as a stability factor and provider of emergency assistance. It states that New Caledonia and the collectivities of French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna make France a political and maritime Pacific power with important fisheries and mineral resources, and with access to regional organisations: [fold]

The stakes of our sovereignty have to be defended there, just as the security of our citizens exposed to climate hazards needs to be guaranteed, notably through the FRANZ arrangements (France-Australia-New Zealand). France contributes to the general protection of the peoples and resources of the Pacific Ocean. In this capacity, France develops cooperative relationships with a number of neighbouring states, in particular Australia, with whom France has agreed a strategic partnership.

I have argued elsewhere that, for confidence building and transparency, it is important for France to openly and directly articulate the value of its strategic presence in the Pacific. But it is also important in the specific context of instability in France's South Pacific entities. France is about to oversee a long-postponed and sensitive independence referendum in New Caledonia, and is managing calls from French Polynesia for more autonomy and even independence.

By acknowledging its strategic interests in the Pacific and its intention to play a constructive role, France will more easily convince regional island countries, and perhaps its own indigenous residents, of the value of its continued presence. To this extent, the 2013 French DWP is an advance on it predecessor.

But once again, in the Australian DWP, France remains a phantom. There is not one mention of France in the entire document.

Even when it talks about the importance of the US and its allies, and NATO more broadly, DWP 2013 does not mention France, which the 2009 DWP at least did. And yet Spain warrants a special section of its own. As you would expect, the UK rates. But France doesn't, even though France and the UK both figure among the world's top five military spenders.

More significantly, the omission is puzzling since France is undoubtedly a Pacific power by virtue of its resident sovereignty backed by military power.

In its specific sections on the South Pacific, the Australian DWP makes no acknowledgment of the partnership with France, this despite tripartite cooperation in the FRANZ arrangements and joint defence cooperation and exercises. It is more of an oddity considering that the South East Asian section mentions the anachronistic Five Power Defence Arrangements. And when discussing the importance of helping Pacific Island states manage their exclusive economic zones, no mention is made of a possible cooperative role with France, whose Pacific territories give it the world's second-largest EEZ. 

One is left with the uncomfortable feeling that France might be assumed, in the Australian DWP, to be lumped into the general references to 'our neighbours' and 'these countries' in the South Pacific region. If this is what was intended, then it is a misrepresentation, as France's long-term status is not yet clear, and won't be until the New Caledonia referendum and France responds to calls for autonomy from French Polynesia.

The omission of France is a lost opportunity for Australia to recognise the strategic value of France's presence in the South Pacific, which will hopefully continue well after its status in its territories is re-defined.

But its also a lost opportunity in the context of the DWP's focus on the new Indo-Pacific strategic arc. France is as active in the Indian Ocean as it is in the Pacific, by virtue of its island sovereignty in Réunion and Mayotte, and the military presence this entails. The French DWP more than once asserts that France is a 'sovereign power and actor in the Indian Ocean and in the Pacific' and even makes a fleeting reference to its cooperation with Australia in the Indian Ocean — in marked contrast to our own DWP.

Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

Defence White Paper round-up

Published 10 May 2013 16:07   0 Comments

Dougal Robinson is a Lowy Institute Defence Intern.

The Australian Government's Defence White Paper is a week old. Islamabad noticed, as did New York. Here's a round-up of the major judgments:

  • The Lowy Institute's Rory Medcalf: 'Canberra's revised strategic policy is not as meek as it seems about the risk of trouble with China'.
  • The Chinese Foreign Ministry's Hua Chunying: 'The white paper's welcoming attitude toward China's peaceful rise demonstrates Australia's emphasis on its ties with China'.
  • Fairfax's Peter Hartcher: 'The Australian government has engaged in a delusion that China's rise will bring only happy things'. 
  • ASPI's Peter Jennings: 'It's pleasing to see the statement finally tackling, and dismissing, the tired shibboleth of having to choose between China and the US'.
  • The Lowy Institute's James Brown: 'This white paper doesn't provide a lot of certainty on just how the ADF would perform if it ever had to go to war in the Asian Century'.
  • US security expert and Lowy Institute Non-Resident Fellow Michael Green: 'I liked the White Paper's emphasis on the Indo-Pacific concept'
  • The Australian's Greg Sheridan: 'I think it's a disgrace...This White Paper is a kind of fantasy-fiction document'.
  • The Lowy Institute's Rory Medcalf & James Brown: Lack of funding 'could have a significant impact on Australia's ability to stand alongside the U.S. and others as a confident ally at a time when other defense budgets in a turbulent region are rising rapidly'.
  • ASPI's Andrew Davies on the submarine decision: 'This decision has removed the two least expensive, least risky, (probably) fastest and least capable options (off-the-shelf) from the potential solution'.
  • Fairfax China correspondent John Garnaut: 'In the world of words, symbols and psychology that is occupied by Chinese military strategists, the white paper is an exemplar of their success. Sun Tzu has been validated and a victory has been won.'

Defence White Paper: Politics over strategy

Published 9 May 2013 08:56   0 Comments

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq.

The Defence White Paper (DWP2013) has pretty well negated defence as a political issue. From the point of view of the Government, that means it's a roaring success. Beginning with an American style launch and ending with a shambolic interview by the Minister on Australian Agenda on Sunday morning, the DWP2013 did not even make it, as an issue, far past the Sunday morning talk shows.

Most commentators made general statements on the adequacy or otherwise of submarines and Growlers, but those comments can only be based on a range of personal prejudices. How can anyone say that either 12 submarines from 2030 onwards or 12 Growlers in (I think) 2017 is a good decision when neither commentators nor voters know the overall operational concept for their use or the defence outcome being sought?

So the commentariat puts the proposed weapons into their own implied operational concept for how the weapons will be used (if they've thought 'defence' through to this extent), and then say whether this might be a good or bad decision. So all we are doing, by commenting on numbers and weapons, is displaying our prejudices.

I will not comment on numbers and weapons because there is no context in which to make such comment. If the Government does not state it wants the ADF to do, in workable detail, then it does not really matter what you cut or buy.

I will however make some comments on structural issues. [fold]

From my reading of the document, the DWP2013 is as internally inconsistent as previous defence white papers, is spoilt by further inconsistencies, makes no measurable link between its strategic assessments/interests/tasks and the materiel to be purchased, and has no believable financial plan (acknowledging that this is not a white paper's main purpose). All of this comes from a government that has no credibility on defence, given the nobbling of defence spending last year. It is inherently a political document and because of the political situation, its relevance could be limited.

The strategic outlook in chapter two is competent, but the link between that strategic environment and the four strategic interests in chapter three, which then roll neatly into the four priority tasks for the ADF, is the central weakness of the DWP2013. The interests and the tasks are so neat that it reeks of reverse word-smithing.

Where the whole process breaks down is that there is none of the real guidance that force structurers need for real-world, long term procurement. If the DWP2013 does not give guidance to those that procure and structure, then what kind of policy document is it? The answer of course is that it is a political document. These vaguely stated tasks will create decades of confusion and inter-Service argument, if the DWP2013 lives that long. And of course the Government cannot give the guidance that logic demands, and force structurers need, because then we would all see the gross deficiencies in the current ADF force structure and the worsening of ADF capabilities over time.

Government has successfully hidden these deficiencies, as previous governments have also done, in the hope that the ADF will not have to fight. This reflects the continuing reliance on hope and luck that characterises Australian defence policy. Australia has indeed been lucky for decades, but we now face changed power relativities and the potential for significant conflict in our close region, in particular, the Malacca Straits (on this see Ben Schreer over at ASPI).

But something good has come out of this nugatory process, perhaps unwittingly. In order to negate defence as a political issue for September, the Government has claimed an outbreak of partisanship on the issue of the aspirational 2% spend. The Government and the Opposition both recognise that something in the order of 2% of GDP should be spent on defence.

This 2% spend, increasing yearly by 2.2% in real terms to maintain purchasing power, if maintained for the decades it takes to procure complex military equipment, would give Australia the basic defence force demanded by the very strategic outlook that is in the DWP2013.

But this Government is only spending 1.56% of GDP on defence, and will increase it only when they think they can afford it. In the Coalition's case, if it won government in September defence spending will increase by 3% per year in real terms, but again, only when they can afford it. In not-so simplistic terms, the Government is underfunding, and the Coalition looks set to underfund, defence by something in the order of $8 billion per year or 25%. 

The main conclusion from the DWP2013 is that this Government has exchanged a large amount of its own self-created political risk in the upcoming election for a significant, perhaps 25%, increase in our strategic risk. On that basis, it would be foolish to praise the DWP2013.

Some might say that what I ask for — that is, an open and public linking of policy, strategy and the 'tactics' of defence policy (materiel procurement) — is not possible in an unclassified document. I would say that the only being hidden by not having an open analysis and explanation is the incompetence of successive governments to meet the defence need, and the inability of the ADF to achieve the most important of the priority tasks given to it by government.

Photo by the Department of Defence.

Defence White Paper pulls its punches on China

Published 6 May 2013 17:16   0 Comments

Andrew O'Neil is Professor in the School of Government and International Relations at Griffith University.

The most striking feature of the 2013 Defence White Paper is the growing gap between Australia's strategic policy aspirations and the crunch in defence spending.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the ambitious rhetoric over the strategic construct of the 'Indo-Pacific', where Australia's grand plans to play an active role in promoting a stable environment coexist uncomfortably with the fact that defence expenditure as a proportion of GDP is at its lowest point since 1938. Like the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, DWP 2013 paints a grandiose picture of Australia's regional ambitions, but fails to deliver on the means to achieve it.

Of equal concern is the tone of the White Paper and surrounding commentary concerning China. A lot has been made of the more 'balanced' rhetoric in the latest DWP compared with what many characterised as the confrontational rhetoric of the 2009 version.

But what did the earlier document actually say about China? It said, in very measured terms, that 'the scope and structure of China's military modernisation have the potential to give its neighbours cause for concern if not carefully explained, and if China does not reach out to others to build confidence regarding its military plans'. DWP 2009 further observed that if China was not more transparent, 'there is likely to be a question in the minds of regional states about the long term strategic purpose of its forces'. [fold]

These statements were analytically correct and reflected concerns already expressed by other Asian countries. Australia was not the first to point out the opaque nature of China's strategic modernisation program and the potentially destabilising impact of this opacity on Asia's regional security landscape.

China's furious response, which included high profile public condemnation and the private haranguing of senior Australian officials, said more about Beijing's acute sensitivity to criticism than it did about the merits or otherwise of what was said in DWP 2009. It also occurred at a time when then-Prime Minister Rudd had made some fairly direct observations about China's human rights performance. The response from some high level Chinese officials included references to Australia 'suffering consequences' as a result of its actions, the sort of rhetoric one expects to hear from a parent admonishing a small child for its behaviour rather than one state treating another with respect.

It's clear that China is more pleased with the current government's deferential approach as distinct from the more refractory Rudd Government. The omission of any reference in DWP 2013 to continuing regional concerns over China's strategic transparency deficit received a quick tick of approval from the Chinese Foreign Ministry. This came hot on the heels of Beijing's blessing of Australia as a 'strategic partner' during Prime Minister Gillard's recent state visit, a status that had been highly coveted by Australian officials. This sequence of events can hardly be said to be coincidental.

There are at least two points to make. The first is that there is no reason why Australia can't have a balanced relationship with China while at the same engaging in measured observations about how China conducts itself as Asia's most significant great power. Despite heated threats of 'consequences', Beijing and Australia need each other economically and the Rudd period did not witness any diminution of the strong trade and investment relations between the two countries (one of Rudd's final acts as PM was to sign a record $10 billion worth of resource-related contracts between Chinese and Australian firms).

The second point is that Australia must exercise caution that it does not fall into the trap of feeling it needs to pander to China's exaggerated sensitivity to criticism in order to safeguard the bilateral relationship. Chinese elites understandably feel they are entitled to a degree of deference from secondary powers like Australia and tend to be affronted when this doesn't materialise. This is central to understanding Beijing's incandescent response to DWP 2009. Australian officials would do well avoid a situation where they feel obliged to reassure rising great powers that a continuing lack of transparency on core strategic issues in our region is acceptable.

Photo courtesy of the Defence Department.

Defence White Paper: One American's view

Published 6 May 2013 09:44   0 Comments

Michael Green served on the US National Security Council staff from 2001-2005 and is now Senior Vice President for Asia at CSIS and a non-resident fellow at the Lowy Institute.

Australia's new Defence White Paper has its flaws, but the first thing that struck me about it was the hope that the Pentagon could produce as coherent a strategic document with the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). 

As David Berteau and I noted in our Congressionally-mandated independent assessment of US forward presence strategy for the Asia Pacific Region, the Obama Administration has not been able to articulate to Congress or the region what strategic assumptions and principles underline the so-called 'rebalance' to the Asia Pacific. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter's recent speech at CSIS was a major step forward in that regard, but I hope the Pentagon strategic planners read the Australian Defence White Paper for some further clues on how to do these things.

I liked the White Paper's emphasis on the Indo-Pacific concept and the focus on protecting the maritime approaches to Australia. This broader Mahanian framework is probably more appropriate to Australia's maritime setting than past ALP strategic concepts that seemed to rely too heavily on stopping the enemy at the beaches or in the Coral Sea. [fold]

The emphasis on preventing hostile powers from using coercion or intimidation in this Indo-Pacific zone is particularly relevant, given that Beijing arguably attempted just that in the East and South China Seas in recent years. This theme in the White Paper will resonate with evolving US thinking and declaratory policy.

Other aspects of the White Paper may not be as compelling. I suspect the document will be seen elsewhere in the region as a partial repudiation of the 2009 White Paper, and therefore a retreat from attempting to maintain a favorable strategic equilibrium as Chinese power rises. The fact that Australian defence spending is at 1.56% of GDP, the lowest level since 1938, will only reinforce this view, despite aspirational assertions in the document that the Government will eventually target defense spending at 2% of GDP. 

The defence engagement section also struck me as a lost opportunity. Yes, the ADF is doing a lot with a lot of countries (the list is actually quite impressive), but if the Indo-Pacific strategic space is so important and the objective of Australian strategy is to impair hostile coercion strategies in that space, why not explain how Australia will work with other like-minded maritime states facing the exact same challenge? It seems to me that countries like Japan and India merit a more ambitious vision for strategic levels of cooperation, but perhaps this is a case where good manners (not upsetting Beijing) prevented explicit discussion of what should be an obvious dimension of an effective Indo-Pacific strategy.

Overall, though, the White Paper holds together well. And if current political trends continue, the Pentagon might get yet another Defence White Paper to study...

All good homework as we prepare for the 2014 QDR.

Photo courtesy of the Prime Minister's Office.

White Paper: Defence gets serious

Published 3 May 2013 16:21   0 Comments

There's lots to like in the 2013 Defence White Paper. And there's lots of detail missing too. Let's examine the White Paper on its own terms.

The first thing this White Paper needed to do was to resolve the defence funding dilemma caused, so the Government suggested, by the lingering and unexpectedly corrosive impact of the 2009 global financial crisis. Secondly, the White Paper aimed to make sense of the strategic change in Australia's region since 2009.

On the first, the funding model announced in today's White Paper is scant. A mere 700 words in a 132-page policy document that concludes 'the government is committed to increasing Defence funding towards a target of 2 per cent of GDP. This is a long term objective that will be implemented in an economically responsible manner as and when circumstances allow'. Not much of a promise, but it is an acknowledgment that the Government has decided to underfund defence by approximately $7.6 billion. Not that the Opposition seems to mind, because its aspiration to return the defence budget to 2% is just as vague. The problem of how to retain ADF capability while managing a decline in funding has not yet been solved.

The consequences of underfunding health or education by that amount would be difficult to hide. But defence policy is murkier and consequences can remain dormant for decades. This White Paper does little to explain what it is that the Australian Defence Force can't do and what risk we are carrying while Defence remains underfunded.

The strategic assessment of the White Paper is much more sophisticated than that of the 2009 version. The rise of China is no longer a threat to wax histrionic about, but instead a nuanced issue on which there are many aspects and many possible outcomes. The Defence White Paper has echoes of both the Asian Century White Paper's cheerleading for the opportunities of Asia and the National Security Strategy's more hard-headed wariness about the real but latent risks of Australia being coerced by another power. [fold]

The issue of 'coercion' is interesting and represents a welcome change in Australian national security thinking. It's discussed at two points in the document, firstly on p.26:

Australia supports a rules-based regional security order that fosters cooperation, eases tensions between states and provides incentives to major powers like China and India to rise peacefully. In particular, it is in our interests that no hostile power in the Indo-Pacific is able to coerce or intimidate others through force or the threat of force.

The second reference is on p.30, in the most critical paragraph in the entire White Paper:

Australia's military strategy seeks to deter attacks or coercion against Australia by demonstrating our capability to impose prohibitive costs on potential aggressors and deny them the ability to control our maritime approaches. This requires a credible force with effective capabilities for sea and air control and denial, strike and power projection. It also requires an active and visible domestic and regional force posture based on adequate levels of ADF preparedness. A key theme across this White Paper is the need to ensure that these two key components are in place to ensure Australia can best influence the region's strategic transformation within a constrained Australian fiscal environment.

So the major difference between 2009 and 2013 is that we are no longer preparing for an invasion of the Australian mainland that no serious defence analyst or bureaucrat thinks will come, but for the threat of coercion which might limit Australia's sovereignty.

So why then does our military strategy look pretty much the same as in 2009? The principle tasks for the ADF look largely the same too. I would like to think that the Government ran through a bouquet of possible options for a military strategy, discarding all others and deciding to stick with its vaguely articulated 'maritime strategy'. But I just don't think we are there yet in our collective strategic thinking. The kinds of varied military strategies being discussed in the US, for example (paywalled), haven't been generated here yet.

But reading between the lines of this Defence White Paper, our appreciation of the strategic challenge ahead is much more sophisticated than it was four years ago. And much more humble. In 2009 defence planners boldly and decisively declared:

Our military strategy is crucially dependent on our ability to conduct joint operations in the approaches to Australia – especially those necessary to achieve and maintain air superiority and sea control in places of our choosing.

This time, more demurely, planners write that 'Australia's geography requires a maritime strategy for deterring and defeating attacks against Australia and contributing to the security of our immediate neighbourhood and the wider region'. There's even an acknowledgment that 'Australia's relative strategic weight will be challenged as the major Asian states continue to grow their economies and modernise their military forces.'

Yesterday I paraphrased another, slightly more evil defence analyst and predicted this would be the diet coke of Defence white papers. That's a little harsh. Peel away the political layer of this Defence White Paper and beneath is a much more detailed strategic planning and thinking process than we saw in 2009. Defence is getting serious about strategic capability and future possibilities: if not war, then the threat of war.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Defence White Paper 2013: Treading water in the Indo-Pacific

Published 3 May 2013 15:19   0 Comments

The Australian Government was right not to set up grand expectations for its 2013 Defence White Paper released today. This is a less ambitious and in some ways more sophisticated document than the 2009 plan released by Kevin Rudd. Here are a few initial impressions.

The Government is to be commended for its unequivocal redefinition of Australia's region of security concern as the Indo-Pacific rather than the Asia Pacific. This recognises the arc of trade routes, energy flows and strategic connections between the Indian and Pacific oceans, arising especially from the rise of China and India as outward-looking economic and military powers with growing maritime interests and ambitions.

It's a welcome shift. It's wrong to claim the Indo-Pacific is too big to be a meaningful construct: this does not mean that Canberra can or should act on every security contingency from Mozambique to the Marshall Islands. Rather, this is a region with Asia at its core: the White Paper rightly defines Southeast Asia as the key part of the Indo-Pacific for Australia to be engaged in.

Even so, the logical Indo-Pacific expansion of Australia's region of interest does not sit well with the continued low levels of defence spending that will accompany this White Paper. The Prime Minister and Defence Minister implied today that they know they are underfunding defence: they indicated that Australia's interests require, in the longer run, a defence budget closer to 2% of GDP and that they want to move towards that mark.

But they offered little joy or clarity about how they, or a future government, would get there from the historically low 1.5% to which their Government abruptly brought the defence budget last year. For instance, the promised 12 new Growler electronic warfare aircraft will cost around $1.5 billion spread somewhere over the next four years of budget forward estimates. But that's not to say we will necessarily see an increase in the forthcoming defence budget for that purchase. [fold]

And while the White Paper contains some sensible articulation about the risks and opportunities facing Australia in the Indo-Pacific Asian century, it is not blunt about the security risks the nation will accrue if year-on-year political calculations mean that aspirations towards serious levels of defence spending do not materialise.

The biggest headline about capabilities should be about the promised new submarine fleet. The Government has narrowed the range of options for those boats, pushed out the time horizon, and bequeathed massive expenses on future governments. The idea of buying an off-the-shelf boat – an existing, cheaper, albeit more limited capability – has been taken off the agenda. The nuclear-powered notion has been categorically killed. We don't know exactly what the new boats will do or cost, but we do know they will be built in Adelaide.

Kevin Rudd's 2009 White Paper envisioned 12 next-generation submarines, armed with cruise missiles, in service by perhaps 2030. Stephen Smith starkly declared today that, with upgrades, the existing Collins fleet could still be in service until 2038. That's another 25 years. To put that in perspective, it's the same time-span between 1914 and 1939. World events, strategic threats and military technology can change rather a lot over such a time.

And it's a little baffling why Australia's security can tolerate a naval capability gap for so much longer than it can tolerate the much-warned-of air capability gap caused by delays to the Joint Strike Fighter program.

Speaking of gaps, this White Paper is silent on the 2009 ambition to equip fairly much the entire Australian combat fleet – surface and sub-surface – with land-attack cruise missiles. The 2009 idea of a new hybrid naval vessel, an offshore combatant vessel adaptable to patrol, mine-hunting and hydrographic roles, seems also fairly much dead in the water. And, true to Australian Labor sensitivities, ballistic missile defences still get cautious treatment, even though North Korea's latest provocations should be changing a few minds.

One thing the Government gets right in this White Paper is its decision to improve the Cocos Islands' air facility to take the RAAF's P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft, when they arrive, as well as US aircraft if a future access arrangement can be negotiated. It would be absurd for Australia not to make full use of such a strategic piece of Indo-Pacific real estate.

At the same time, there is a peculiar pattern to the document's emphasis on the US alliance, combined with optimism about other kinds of defence diplomacy (especially Asian multilateralism and ties with China). More than ever in recent years, and whatever the usual rhetoric about self-reliance, Australia is looking to others for its security. Yet further neglect of Australia's own strategic weight will diminish the quality of alliance contributions and security partnership we can offer others in return. Don't think they won't notice.

Dedicated work by officials has helped ensure that this White Paper is neither a disgrace, as some would claim, nor solely a political pamphlet. But it is much more about treading water in the Indo-Pacific than charting a new course for the Asian century.

Photo courtesy of the Defence Department.

First impressions: Defence White Paper

Published 3 May 2013 12:21   0 Comments

Herewith my initial thoughts on the Defence White Paper 2013, with the usual caveat that this is the result of a first quick read and thus subject to revision.

All the talk about this White Paper is that it takes a softer line on China, and although Minister Stephen Smith says the Government has been consistent, David Wroe's language comparison of the 2009 and 2013 White Papers in the SMH tells its own story. More broadly, there's a strong emphasis in this White Paper on defence diplomacy, reinforcing the idea that we must seek our security in the region, rather than defending ourselves from it.

The other big theme is money: major projects are being cut or delayed because of the Government simply cannot afford them.

What's missing from this White Paper, as far as I can see, is any acknowledgment that the second big theme is actually driving the first. Because we cannot afford all the insurance we would like in the form of weapons systems, we have to take on slightly more risk and, to some extent, we compensate by substituting diplomacy. [fold]

Like Andrew Davies at ASPI, I don't think the additional risk is huge. For example, the Government has stumbled into the right policy by delaying (and almost certainly reducing) our Joint Strike Fighter purchase. The mixed Hornet/Super Hornet fleet is quite sufficient to preserve our regional advantage.

But what's worrying is the Government's inability to acknowledge that it has made a conscious choice to do less and take on more risk. The document insists that the Government 'remains committed to delivering the core capabilities identified in the 2009 Defence White Paper', even though not a single credible strategic analyst thinks this is doable under present financial constraints.

This is worrying because it suggests we're not being fair dinkum with ourselves. To again cite Davies, New Zealand is a country that 'took a hard look at its strategic situation' and prudently reduced its capabilities. We don't seem ready to make a conscious choice to have less strategic weight, so we fudge and drift into into our strategic future.

Some further stray thoughts and notable quotes:

  • 'China's defence capabilities are growing and its military is modernising, as a natural and legitimate outcome of its economic growth. This will inevitably affect the strategic calculations and posture of regional countries and is changing the balance of military power in the western Pacific.' That's as clear a statement as you could hope for in this kind of document about what is going on in the region.
  • 'Over the next three decades, Australia’s relative strategic weight will be challenged as the major Asian states continue to grow their economies and modernise their military forces.' Again, an admirably clear statement.
  • Australia is to become 'the only operator of the Growler capability outside the United States'. That could make it a useful niche capability for Coalition operations.
  • The section on ballistic missile defence (BMD) refers to the missile threat from states 'such as' the DPRK and Iran. Who else?
  • The BMD section also reveals that Australia has an interest in defending its strategic interests, including Australian cities. BMD will have to get a lot cheaper for that to be viable.
  • On the new amphibious ships: 'The initial focus will be on developing the capability to contribute to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts and support regional security and stabilisation operations.' Like I said, national logistical assets.
  • Just 'concerned'? An almost British piece of understatement: 'We would be concerned if potentially hostile powers established a presence in Southeast Asia that could be used to project military power against Australia.'
  • There's a full-page close-up of Stephen Smith just ahead of his Minister's Foreword. He clearly doesn't mind owning this document.

Photo courtesy of the Defence Department.

Reader riposte: The forgotten white paper

Published 3 May 2013 08:59   0 Comments

The Defence White Paper is due to be released within the hour. Luke Maynard, a graduate of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, writes:

Hugh White was right – this white paper probably should have been shelved. Today's release of Defence White Paper 2013 will enter a hostile political setting of fiscal limitations, competing policy priorities and severe criticism from the Opposition, former bureaucrats, and commentators alike.

Positioned between the operational necessity of the military and the policy direction and priorities of the political realm, the creation of a white paper is always an exercise in management; of budgets, forces, and expectations. This will be no exception.


The challenges of the domestic political sphere in particular undermine the viability of this paper, with a genuine risk it could be rendered obsolete with a potential change in government in September.

An opinion piece by Peter Reith signals the tone of rhetoric to come, while an address from Shadow Defence Minister David Johnston to the Lowy Institute this week was similarly critical of Labor, with the caveat that the Coalition will not increase defence spending immediately but rather protect existing funding.

However, reserving judgment is a matter of infinite hope. Through consecutive public addresses, Minister Stephen Smith has dutifully repeated the now familiar list of circumstances that will influence the paper: the rise of the Indo-Pacific, our alliance commitments to the US, and abiding economic pressures. For the Government, the costs of achieving a smooth drawdown in operational tempo and coming to terms with a region in transition are largely without political benefits.

As Andrew Davies has demonstrated, much of Australia’s force structure can be traced back over 40 years in response to external influences. For the present moment however, the more pressing influences appear to be internal. Media focus remains on the spectre of a decade of budget deficits, and the likelihood of a tough federal budget this month.

While defence is a significant issue, the coming federal election will be fought over the dual pressures of strained revenue and major domestic budget measures such as the implementation of Gonski education reforms and the establishment of a National Disability Insurance Scheme. I fear the strategic advice of this paper is likely to be largely drowned out by these priorities.

Defence White Paper out tomorrow

Published 2 May 2013 10:05   0 Comments

The media is reporting that the Defence White Paper will be released tomorrow. The document itself will presumably appear here first, and in the hours and days after the launch, we will have commentary from a range of experts both here and on Twitter (look for the #ausdef13 hashtag).

In the meantime, here's some suggested Lowy Institute reading, starting with the long debate we ran last year on Australia's Defence Challenges. You'll find contributions there from James Brown, Hugh White, James Goldrick, Christopher Joye, Tom Hyland, Jim Molan, Rory Medcalf, David Morrison, Mike Green, Paul Dibb and more. And here's a small selection of longer papers:

John Angevine, Dangerous Luxuries:

 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.

Hugh White, A Focused Force: Australia's Defence Priorities in the Asian Century:

The biggest risk is not that China becomes a direct threat to Australia but that the erosion of American power unleashes strategic competition among Asia's strongest states, which in turn increases the risk that Australia could face a number of military threats to its interests, even its territorial security.

Alan Dupont, Inflection Point: The Australian Defence Force After Afghanistan:

With Afghanistan’s end game in sight, and a new Defence White Paper on the horizon, it is time for a vigorous public debate about the priorities of the ADF so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the post-Vietnam period and prepare for the wrong conflicts, made worse by ill-conceived strategy and chronic underfunding.