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Friday 18 Aug 2017 | 19:18 | SYDNEY
Friday 18 Aug 2017 | 19:18 | SYDNEY

Reader ripostes: Strategic uncertainty

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13 September 2012 14:29

Below, Nic Stuart responds to Sam Roggeveen's post asking how defence planning can occur when our ability to forecast the future is so poor. But first, Lindsay Bignell:

Without knowing the probabilities of which scenarios are more or less likely, it would seem sensible to plan on that which mitigates the risk of scenarios we like least.

If we have equal probability to either 1. assisting an ally in a peacekeeping operation in a remote non-strategic area or 2. repelling a homeland invasion, then obviously we plan to avoid scenario 1.

The other planning instrument that needs consideration is that while it takes decades to spin up military capacity, this capacity is not an end to itself. Peacetime should be a time to draw down the military to ensure that the economy is there for when we need it to fight a war.

Nic Stuart:

I can recognise a trick question when I see one — 'So what's the best way to deal with strategic uncertainty?' — but I still can't help but take the bait.

There's an obvious analytical answer. Work out the potential threats and how serious an existential threat they pose; analyse the required responses; and then allocate money and resources appropriately.

In the past these issues have effectively been resolved by the major institutions that deal with guaranteeing our security. Organisations like the ADF, police, aid agencies and DFAT have all been involved in attempting to justify their share of what might be described as the 'security budget allocation'. Similar internal bureaucratic political imperatives operate even within the larger government departments: thus the army fights for it's share of limited resources from the other services, and within the army, artillery fight for a mechanised howitzer while the infantry fight for 120mm mortars. Thus far the system's worked relatively well.

Over the past decade, however, two significant challenges have emerged to business as usual. This is the critical factor that your question brings into focus.

The first issue is the nature of the threat. This is morphing from conventional military operations and taking on radically new forms. The second is financial. Previously the Australian economy was (comparatively) so much greater. This meant that the 'hard decisions' never needed to be made because there was always enough money to go around. Now that's not the case.

Our current organisational methods of resolving strategic uncertainty would be capable of dealing with either of these shifts, individually. Taken together they require a sophisticated policy response. The formation of the National Security Committee of Cabinet was an attempt to deal with the evolving nature of the strategic threat. Unfortunately, the NSC advisors position will always remain emasculated until they receive some form of budgetary oversight, together with the ability to influence the allocation of resources.

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