Tuesday 24 Jul 2018 | 00:06 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 24 Jul 2018 | 00:06 | SYDNEY

Defence planning: Flexibility is key


Hugh White

9 July 2008 10:56

I’d like to support Andrew Shearer’s response to Sam about the use of defence policy to constrain the options of future governments. Like Andrew, I think the job of current policy is to shape forces which give future governments the widest possible range of military options in the widest range of circumstances for every dollar we spend, and leave it to them to decide how to use those options. 

Andrew mentions the example of 1942 to illustrate the responsibility that policymakers have to provide forces for future contingencies which at the time seem improbable. I certainly do not agree with Sam that we can make a distinction between wars we want to equip our successors to fight and those we do not on the basis of the concept of ‘wars of choice’. Every war is a war of choice; though the options and consequences differ, but we always have a choice to fight or not. 

But let me then on the same basis disagree with the view Andrew gives in a separate post on the Defence White Paper.  He says he expects it to be a status quo document that follows current force plans and budget parameters, and suggests that this is fine. But does that pass the test of defence-planning responsibility he sets for Sam in his other post? If we assume the future is going to be just like the past, then the defence policy we have had for the past thirty years will work fine for the next thirty. But as the 1942 metaphor suggests, today’s defence planners have to ask some deeper questions: how might the world change, and what might we want armed forces to be able to do for us if it does? 

My view is that there is a significant chance that Asia will look much less peaceful in coming years than it has for the past few decades. If I’m right, the status quo White Paper that Andrew expects and accepts will fail future governments just as badly as the policymakers of the 1930s failed their successors in the 1940s.