Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 18:44 | SYDNEY
Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 18:44 | SYDNEY

Strategic warning or strategic surprise?


Justin Jones

27 June 2012 10:41

Defence white papers normally include a paragraph or two on strategic warning. It is a fundamental aspect of defence policy and relates to strategic risk and hedging. The 2009 White Paper included the following commentary:

Australia has an enduring strategic interest in ensuring that any attempts by nearby states to develop the capacity for sustained military operations against us would be detected with as much warning time as possible. This would preferably be at least a decade, given the amount of lead time involved in building defence capabilities. 

We can be confident of getting this amount of strategic warning time...

Hold that thought.

In 1978 a naval officer writing in the ADF Journal analysed warning time for conflicts from 1939 onwards (left, a graph from this paper). He found that the average time from the first indication of impending war to the firing of first shots was 14.3 months. Analysing conflicts from 1950 onwards, the warning time reduced to 10.6 months and there was a 50% probability that conflict could occur in less than four months. 

To be fair, I have used some select sentences from the 2009 White Paper, neglecting the wider context. And our 1978 author was analysing conflicts during the Cold War. Still, if nothing else, it is an example of the importance of knowing exactly what the Government expects the ADF to be able to do, and of possessing the 'core force' (pre-'mobilisation') to do it.