Saturday 02 Jul 2022 | 22:57 | SYDNEY
Saturday 02 Jul 2022 | 22:57 | SYDNEY

An achievable defence strategy

18 May 2012 10:33

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

One of the characteristics of discussions conducted through blogs is a tendency to divert from what was actually said while creating straw men to be heroically demolished, so that very quickly there are two quite distinct and diverging arguments taking place.

Hugh White expressed opinions on the Army’s 'amphibious-power ambitions' to justify its primacy in the ADF, I replied, and Hugh has countered me. Being aware of the 'two diverging arguments' trap of blogs, I listed Hugh's argument using Hugh's own words and then offered my own. Hugh has come back to me now and absolutely destroyed arguments I did not make.

Let me try again. What I and Army did in the '90s in the form of 'Military Operations in the Littoral Environment' (MOLE) was to take an illogical and unfunded strategy (Defence of Australia) and give it the best operational logic possible with what we had on hand. I did not invent MOLE but I promoted it, not as a cunning plot to justify the existence of the Army but simply as an operational technique.

The reason we practitioners had to do this was because those whose job it was to express strategy were incapable of expressing one that the ADF had any chance of achieving. This made life very difficult in the real world.

Hugh and I agree that the nature of our defence force is shaped first by our strategic objectives. He is fairly happy with those in Chapter 4 of the 2000 White Paper. Refreshing myself on those, they remind me of a massive problem Defence has: there is no step in defence planning between those that make strategy and those that create or use the ADF's capabilities.

What Hugh, as a strategist, is comfortable with in Chapter 4 is of almost no use to practitioners because it lacks the disciplining step of one or many operational concepts to make it real. In fact, it is not just of no use to practitioners, such sloppy strategising is downright dangerous because it leads directly to inter-capability rivalry.

For example, the first strategic objective ('Ensure the Defence of Australia and its Direct Approaches') can mean anything to anyone. Unless you explain such meaningless generalities in operational terms which link strategy to capabilities in the real world, you do not give guidance, you create anarchy.

Hugh says that I 'clearly' do not believe that we should be designing the ADF for operations against a major Asian power such as China. That is wrong. I said that 'I was not aware that the major force structure determinant of the ADF at the moment was to fight and win a war against China, or any other large and modern Asian military'. I say this because, first, I have never seen it stated in any strategic guidance document, and second, if there was some secret strategic objective, it has failed dramatically because the ADF I know and love has no capability to achieve it. Whatever the strategy might be, let's link it to operational capability.

Hugh sets up another massive straw man to be heroically demolished when he says that 'I think Jim agrees that the amphibious army would not be cost effective or even viable against a major Asian power'. We must speak in specific term if we are to have a debate, especially in relation to military operations, which occur in the real world. What does Hugh mean by 'the amphibious army', 'a major Asian power' and 'maritime denial operations', and how does he imagine they will all fit together? To challenge me in generalities is to repeat the historical error of not linking high-level strategy with practical military capabilities.

In a follow-up post, I will state what I do believe, especially on the linking mechanism, and invite criticism, which might be more productive than criticising me for views I did not express.

Photo courtesy of the Defence Department.