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Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 08:06 | SYDNEY
Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 08:06 | SYDNEY

Prodded by Larvatus

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9 February 2011 15:50

Yesterday's Graeme Dobell column, summarising the thinking of Ross Babbage on Australia's future defence needs, was very good. But I'm sure even Graeme would hesitate to endorse the idea that, on the basis of that column alone, one could make sweeping judgments about Australia's strategic policy community. Yet that is just what Robert Merkel does today at Larvatus Prodeo:

While Babbage has thrown in a mention of ‘cyberwar’, it seems to me that like many defence thinkers he’s still still planning around some variation of the great navies meeting out on the high seas; almost, in effect, the modern version of the two medival armies meeting on the battlefield, to the sound of trumpets and clashing swords.

This hasn’t happened since WWII. Full-scale invasions have been exceptionally hard to pull off, and very few have even been tried. Not to put too fine a point on it, but relatively small countries have been able to deter much larger ones, including the United States.

If strategic studies types really want to debate deterring China, it might do them credit to be fully intellectually honest and spell out their reasoning as to why deterrence involves a vast, relatively conventional naval force, when, over the past 50 years, other small nations facing the possibility of threats from larger ones have taken several rather different approaches.

Notice that, in the space of three paragraphs, Merkel moves from a specific claim about Babbage to a broader claim about 'many defence thinkers' and then to a universal claim about 'strategic studies types'. It's quite breathtaking.

I would like to ask Robert Merkel what makes him so sure that all 'strategic studies types' feel the same way about naval forces. I'd be interested to know if he has made any effort to verify his claim that these 'strategic studies types' do not spell out their reasoning in favour of large conventional naval forces. And I would suggest to him that, if he wants to debate these 'strategic studies types', he ditches his prejudices and starts with an attitude of intellectual openness and curiosity, rather than hostility.