Tuesday 16 Aug 2022 | 06:02 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 16 Aug 2022 | 06:02 | SYDNEY

Managing strategic uncertainty

22 October 2012 11:50

Chloe Diggins is a Research and Analysis Officer at the Australian Army's Land Warfare Studies Centre. The views expressed are her own and do not reflect those of the Australian Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

Recently, Sam Roggeveen asked what's the best way to deal with strategic uncertainty?

Jim Molan favours a balanced force 'derived from the demands of the strategic environment'. For Jim, a balanced force is shaped by informed predictions of potential contingencies.

The linear quantitative forecasting as suggested by Christopher Joye cannot be definitive when war itself is so fickle. The best we can do to manage strategic uncertainty is to introduce levels of probability. This way, Defence outputs can be prioritised around capabilities that reflect, in order, strategic probabilities, possibilities and surprises.

What are strategic probabilities in our region that we can reasonably bet on? For example, there is a high probability that the ANZUS alliance will remain the lynchpin in Australian defence policy, with future Australian operations supported and enabled by the US, and Australia acting as a junior partner in US-led operations. Similarly, it is probable that military capabilities in Asia will continue to grow, and long-standing political and territorial rivalries will endure, creating opportunities for escalation and incendiary behaviour.

 On the other hand what are the strategic possibilities? These include war in the South China Sea or on the Korean Peninsula (either of which could potentially draw in Australia); the relative decline of Australian-US power in Asia as SE Asian states grow in population, economy, military capability, and influence; or conversely, the economic stagnation of China as the basis for unchallenged US supremacy in the Asia Pacific region for the foreseeable future.

Then there are the strategic surprises; the gamechangers. These generally have global implications, think the collapse of the USSR, or 9/11. My colleague and I have outlined the potential rise of unsanctioned non-state cyber actors (UNCAs) as a flashpoint for state-based warfare – a phenomenon that could present a strategic surprise for Defence planners.

If the strategic environment tells us what the ADF should look like, what it should be able to do and what kind of operations it is likely to engage in, how then, might we structure a force that reflects our predictions about the future strategic environment based on their level of certainty?

As Jim Molan rightly points out, what the ADF should be and do as defined by the strategic environment means little if the government chooses not to invest accordingly. By prioritising capabilities (and defence spending) based on the level of strategic risk they mitigate, we can reduce at least some of the uncertainty in Defence planning.

 Photo by SXC user pbase.