Sunday 22 Jul 2018 | 01:39 | SYDNEY
Sunday 22 Jul 2018 | 01:39 | SYDNEY

Defence White Paper: Don't mention the war


Mark O'Neill

9 October 2008 07:37

Reflecting on the eleven rounds of student debate recently hosted on this blog about what should be in the forthcoming Defence White paper (to see all 11 posts, enter 'white paper debate round' into the search box above), I was astounded that only one of them (this post by my Colleague Rodger Shanahan) mentioned the ongoing wars that Australians are involved in.

Australian Service personnel are engaged in combat in Afghanistan. Despite the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, a number remain in various roles in that country, and our naval forces continue to play a significant role in security operations within the upper Persian Gulf.  

What could be more important to our strategic environment or defence policy than the fact that we are at war?

Comments about Submarines, Carbineri, AWD, LHD, funding of DFAT and comprehensive engagement do not address fundamental questions such as how we might in future go about our engagement with the fights we are in now, and will still be in when the White Paper comes out.  In all likelihood, we'll still be in these fights after the White Paper is ‘old news’.

I am not dismissive of the issues raised – a White Paper is necessarily a wide ranging document. There is merit in critically examining most if not all of the issues raised by our correspondents (and the many more that they did not). But to paraphrase Hew Strachan, classical strategy is a discipline based upon reality, not abstraction. I believe that a bit more focus on our present reality, as opposed to abstractions about imagined or anticipated fights, could be useful.