defence

With the Defence Review Done, Questions Still Remain

26 July 2023

3.3 MINS

Australia faces the most dangerous and uncertain region since the Second World War. This is the stark conclusion of the Defence Strategic Review which was released on the eve of Anzac Day. The conclusion is not new: co-author Sir Angus Houston, 75, the former Chief of the Australian Defence Force, said previously that it is the most dangerous era in his lifetime.

“China’s military build-up is now the largest and most ambitious of any country since the end of the Second World War,” wrote the authors.

“This has occurred alongside significant economic development, benefitting many countries in the Indo-Pacific, including Australia. This build-up is occurring without transparency or reassurance to the Indo-Pacific region of China’s strategic intent.

China’s assertion of sovereignty over the South China Sea threatens the global rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific in a way that adversely impacts Australia’s national interests. China is also engaged in strategic competition in Australia’s near neighbourhood.”

The source of the identified danger is clearly China, although the Review still downplays the CCP’s own claims. Xi Jinping has not hidden his ambitions. To the contrary, he repeats his desires for Chinese hegemony regularly. At least the CCP understood the context of the document, immediately reacting to it. “We hope that some countries will not use China as an excuse to expand their military power and do not hype groundless China threat arguments,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning.

The findings should silence the few remaining voices which continue to insist that the CCP is a benign power: the business owners and operators in search of profits and the apologists for the regime.

Regional Focus

The Review is clear that Australia’s immediate region encompassing the northeastern Indian Ocean through maritime Southeast Asia into the Pacific, including our northern approaches, should be the primary area of military interest for Australia’s National Defence.

“In the contemporary strategic era, we cannot rely on geography or warning time. Regional military modernisation, underpinned by economic development, has meant that more countries are able to project power across greater ranges in all five dominions: maritime, land, air, space and cyber. Emerging and disruptive technologies are being rapidly translated into military capability.

“While there is at present only a remote possibility of any power contemplating an invasion of our continent, the threat of the use of military force or coercion against Australia does not require invasion.”

Accordingly,

“A strategy of denial is a defensive approach designed to stop an adversary from succeeding in its goal to coerce states through force, or the threatened use of force, to achieve dominance.

“Denial is associated with the ability and intent to defend against, and defeat, an act of aggression.”

According to the review, the ADF must have the capacity to: defend Australia and our immediate region; deter through denial any adversary’s attempt to project power against Australia through our northern approaches; protect Australia’s economic connection to our region and the world; contribute with our partners to the collective security of the Indo-Pacific; and contribute with our partners to the maintenance of the global rules-based order.

Action Needed

While the Review’s conclusion is welcome, the response to it is critical.

Defence has been wreaked by institutional inertia for decades. While being steeped in tradition is admirable, its bureaucratic layers have undermined the agility required to respond to new dangerous circumstances. Coupled with a preference for bespoke military equipment, Defence has been tardy in the timely acquisition of the items necessary to meet future threats.

The Government’s response to date does not engender a great deal of confidence in this situation changing. The release of the Review on the eve of Anzac Day raises suspicions about the government’s commitment.

First, many decisions about equipment are still to be made. The most egregious example is the recommendation to have yet another review into Australia’s naval surface ships. Wasn’t that the purpose of this Review?

Secondly, the identified need to significantly and urgently increase missile stocks is not accompanied by proposals of how this will occur.

Nor is the missile announcement as impressive as it might seem. A missile with a range of 500 kilometres, fired from Darwin, would not reach Timor-Leste, let alone most of the Indo-Pacific!

Thirdly, the subsequent announcement of a $3.4 billion investment in a defence technology and innovation hub over the next decade is inadequate. It also looks like another Defence-run operation.

The Defence Capability Assurance and Oversight Bill that Senator David Fawcett has introduced into the Parliament should be adopted to provide much-needed supervision of Defence acquisitions.

Finally, and most significantly, the government has not provided the funding necessary to ensure the defence the Review identifies as necessary for future security.

Defence expenditure of two per cent of GDP was set as a floor by the Abbott government, not a ceiling. The reality is that an expenditure of three per cent of GDP is required if Australia is to be adequately defended.

The government should set out a concrete plan to reach that level of expenditure in the coming years. Business as usual will no longer secure Australia.

___

Originally published in the Epoch Times Australia. Photo by Pixabay.

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