Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 07:40 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 07:40 | SYDNEY

Defence White Paper debate: Round 3

22 September 2008 17:18

Guest blogger: Iain Henry is participating in our student blog debate on the Defence White Paper. He is completing a Masters of Strategic Affairs at ANU.

Sam raises some very interesting issues in his introductory post – particularly how Australia might respond to the rise of China. Rudd’s approach to this will be watched with interest. Humour aside, Rudd’s passion for China is not sycophantic and I doubt that his enthusiasm for the American alliance should be viewed solely as posturing for domestic purposes. Among Western leaders, Rudd is very well poised to engage both America and China on security issues.  In several of his speeches, Rudd has noted the need to ‘shape’ our region to avoid future security challenges. While his preferred mechanism for this (the Asia-Pacific Community) seems to be ‘dead in the water’, there may be further opportunities for Rudd to engage both the US and China. 

Sam has noted that Rudd’s recent comments on naval capability contained ‘no new promises on defence spending’. Given this, can we expect the White Paper to recommend an expansion of the submarine fleet? There has been much said about submarines lately, particularly the role they might play in both the defence of Australia and in a US-China conflict. There seems to be a consensus that of Australia’s defence capabilities, our submarines are the most valuable contribution we could make to a large US force. But as Hugh White points out, we can’t crew our existing submarine force (that is, the two of the six that aren’t dry-docked). Before we sink billions of dollars into this purchase, we need to be sure that they can be put to good use. 
Sam also mentions a few issues that probably fall into the ‘human security’ category, and reminds us that stability and prosperity in the Pacific are greatly influenced by non-military factors. If issues like these are being considered at senior levels of government, will this affect the White Paper? Judging by Rudd’s public comments, we can probably expect the White Paper to recommend more advanced maritime and air power capabilities. 

But given the instability of our immediate neighbours, what capabilities would give ‘most bang for buck’? How many infantry battalions could we fund for the cost of one Collins-class submarine, or half a dozen Joint Strike Fighters? And given that the US has ‘delegated to Canberra responsibility for security in Australia’s Pacific neighbourhood’, what capabilities would US planners prefer Australia to have? Can we be effective in both the inner and outer ‘arcs of instability’?