Saturday 18 Aug 2018 | 08:25 | SYDNEY
Saturday 18 Aug 2018 | 08:25 | SYDNEY

Defence White Paper: A blog debate


Sam Roggeveen


22 September 2008 10:31

We're launching a little experiment on The Interpreter today. We've invited four postgraduate students from ANU's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre to talk about what they would like to see in the Government's Defence White Paper (due to be launched early next year), and to debate each other's ideas. You'll see their initial thoughts today and tomorrow, and then some debate over the course of this week.

I'll open things up with a few thoughts below, which are nothing like comprehensive, but might draw some reaction. First, some points on the broader strategic environment in which the White Paper must be situated:

  • By world standards, Australia lives in a pretty benign and unthreatening environment — we're not Canada, but we're not Israel either.
  • We face no serious military competition in our immediate region; Sout East Asian states are buying advanced weapons, but only in small numbers, and their capabilities are improving only marginally. 
  • The most serious threats to living standards and way of life in the next decade are likely to be ones against which military force offers only marginal help or protection: pandemics, terrorism (in an evolved form), climate change, economic turmoil.
  • The most serious challenge to our ge0-strategic furture is the rise of China, and how we balance our relations with Washington and Beijing will be a key determinant for our future.
  • Economically, and perhaps in tems of strategic weight, Australia (and our major strategic ally, the US) is likely to go into decline relative to our regional neighbours.
  • These last three points all require substantial diplomatic activity to manage.

And some specifics on the White Paper itself:

  • Our force structure should mirror our diplomacy, meaning it should encourage regional cooperation and minimise suspicion. Australia can afford to have a less provocative force structure without compromising its security.
  • As such, we should cancel orders for long-range cruise missiles and delay or cut back the projected 100-strong Joint Strike Fighter purchase.
  • Australia's force structure should be weighted toward air and maritime power. The current bias toward using small highly trained land forces for niche combat operations and using the main land force for peacekeeping and constabulary tasks is the right one.
  • Australia does not have to increase its military capabilities to 'keep up' with the region.
  • We should maintain niche capabilities to assist the US in the event of major-power war, such as with China. Our submarines would provide the most potent capability in such circumstances, and we should consider expanding that fleet slightly (though without land-attack cruise missile capability).
  • The savings made in the modest cuts to defence spending should be used to to meet the non-traditional security threats listed above — specifically, we should increase the size of DFAT and invest in homeland resilience.