We're going to have substantive commentary on the newly released National Security Strategy over coming days, but as a first offering, I wanted to alert readers to Michael L'Estrange's op-ed in today's Australian (to get around the Oz's paywall, just Google the article's headline and click on the relevant link).

The simple point I want to get across here is about the importance of ideas.

L'Estrange's op-ed is all about the slow and subtle shifts in the way people conceptualise 'national security', and how that's reflected in the Strategy paper. I remember the 'human security' debate really getting up to speed around the time I was an undergraduate, and now here we are in 2013, and the tug of war between the 'expansivists' (L'Estrange's term for those who want a broader definition of national security that includes non-state threats and environmental issues) and 'traditionalists' (those who argue that national security has not changed fundamentally and is still centered on the behaviour of states) is determining the course of Australia's national security policy.

L'Estrange doesn't mention it, but we might make the same point about the National Security Strategy's tentative grasp of the 'Indo-Pacific' concept, a term to describe our region which the paper says has 'emerged more recently'. What that leaves unsaid is just how the term emerged, and the short answer is that clever and motivated people needed to come up with the idea, promote it and defend it. See Rory Medcalf's Interpreter post for the definitive account of just how this happened in the case of 'Indo-Pacific'.

The moral here is that students and scholars reading this blog ought to be encouraged. The lonely and difficult task of coming to grips with theoretical ideas in international policy is REALLY IMPORTANT. Yes, it feels distant from the daily headlines, and it's not particularly exciting. But these ideas ultimately shape the world.

Photo by Flickr user Sidereal.