Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 18:13 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 18:13 | SYDNEY

Defence White Paper debate: Round 7

25 September 2008 14:38

Guest blogger: Iain Henry is participating in our student blog debate on the Defence White Paper. Below he responds to posts by his fellow students.

If our goal is to ensure Australia’s security in a relatively peaceful Asia Pacific, we face two main risks in the coming years. The first is that China’s ascendancy results in war. The second is that instability in our region results in changes that dramatically affect Australia’s strategic outlook. The risks posed by these threats must be considered before final purchasing decisions are made. 

In a US-China conflict we could contribute maritime and air power assets to a US force, but our contribution wouldn’t be irreplaceable. I also suspect that the likelihood of such an event is less than it appears at first glance. Although it is near-impossible to predict these things with any degree of certainty, I think the likelihood of instability in the Pacific is greater. Campbell has argued that Australia should ‘employ preventative medicine’ instead of ‘focussing on how we can best respond to failed states’. He is correct: no global player does ‘stabilisation’ well, least of all Australia. But while it is easy for us to advocate preventative medicine, I don’t think it is all that simple to achieve. 

While I think we should reconsider the air warfare destroyer for many reasons, foreign perception isn’t one of them. Given the last ten years, what we have done (East Timor), said (‘pre-emptive strikes’) and had said about us (‘deputy sheriff’) have been greater causes for concern amongst our neighbours. 

As Campbell has noted, when it comes to state-on-state aggression nothing says ‘think twice’ like the ability to sink enemy forces en route to battle, or a capacity to project air power. Given the uncertainty of our region, there seems to be fairly robust agreement that the Joint Strike Fighter and new submarines are sensible purchases: they will ensure that we continue to have ‘the most potent air and naval forces south of China and east of India’.  This is probably the best way to hedge against traditional threats in the years to come.

Submarines and JSFs will be excellent capabilities for Australia. But some situations, perhaps the ones Australia is more likely to face, require boots on the ground.  Fortunately, we are not the Athenians consulting the Delphic oracle: we don’t need to place all our eggs in the naval basket.