Thursday 02 Jul 2020 | 23:44 | SYDNEY
Thursday 02 Jul 2020 | 23:44 | SYDNEY

Non-provocative defence: Response to Raoul and Hugh


Sam Roggeveen


22 December 2008 11:34

It's taken me far too long to respond to Raoul Heinrich's critique of my non-provocative defence proposal, but here goes. Raoul's right that there has been no regional 'balancing' against Australia's military capabilities. As I note in the paper, Australia ordered its F-111s in 1963, but you'd be hard pressed to find evidence that regional states have sought to develop long range strike capability in response.

My fear, however, is that this might change. Hugh White recently observed to me that Australia's relative strategic stability is built on a fortunate piece of assymetry: that is, Australia is a weak land power but a strong air and maritime power, while the opposite is true of Indonesia and perhaps other South East Asian states too.

As Hugh says, it is not in Australia's power to change that assymetry in our favour; we simply don't have the population to become a major land power. But if regional countries can come through the financial crisis and maintain steady growth, they do have the potential to build their air and maritime power.

That would be an unfavourable change for Australia, but as this recent article reflects, development of air and maritime capability seems a perfectly justifiable ambition for an archipelagic country like Indonesia. We don't really have a right or the means to stop it, so my suggestion is that we should at least try to channel it into the least destabilising and threatening direction by encouraging non-provocative postures and procurements.

In that context, one of my suggestions was that Australia should forgo its long-range strike capability. Perhaps I should have been a little clearer in the essay, to say that I specifically meant land-attack capability. Raoul might be right that South East Asian states are reassured by Australia's capability to deny the intrusion of powerful North East Asian states into Australia's air and sea approaches via South East Asia, but I would have thought this largely a job for our anti-ship capabilities. What role would JASSM play in such such a scenario?

I also recommened some changes to Australia's amphibious capability, and here Raoul's critique takes an unexpected turn, in that he recommends abandoning amphibious capability entirely. I am much more with Hugh White: amphibious capability has proven to be very useful for Australia in a variety of low level operations, and it makes sense to stick with it.

I need to think more about Hugh's argument that the LHDs will lack strategic weight. I do agree, though, that the ships would be vulnerable to submarines, aircraft and anti-ship missiles in wartime. To reinforce that point, I note that although Australia is spending a lot of money on new destroyers to protect the LHDs, we don't have any submarines that can (safely) keep up with them.

All of which does undermine my argument that the LHD capability could be considered provocative in the region, but reinforces my argument for a 'demilitarised' amphibious capability. After all, if we're not serious about protecting these LHDs for use in wartime, why not abandon the pretense that they are meant for wartime use and use them instead as national logistical assets for various soft power missions? Come to that, why did we not buy more austere, commercial-standard ships in the first place, like HMS Ocean