There have been very few Australian Government interventions as dramatic as the current Government’s sober public pledge to urgently upgrade Australia’s multi domain defences in recent decades. Even Australia’s 1999 rhetoric in the build up towards intervention in Timor was positively tame in comparison to the Morrison Government’s just released 2020 Defence Strategic Update and the supporting Force Structure Plan 2020.
The 2020 Defence Strategic Update is a serious document, abandoning all of the placating platitudes of the past and honestly illuminating the serious and accelerating threat facing this nation.
The Government has set three new strategic objectives for defence planning. These objectives replace the Strategic Defence Framework set out in the 2016 Defence White Paper. The new objectives are: to shape Australia’s strategic environment; to deter actions against Australia’s interests; and to respond with credible military force, when required.
The emphasized bold words were deliberately accentuated by the Government to send a loud message to not so friendly states.
Instead of the predictable ‘diplomatic’ speak of such documents, the 2020 Defence Strategic Update clearly names names, identifying both friends and enemies. In the preamble, any pretence of neutrality is abandoned. Australia will stand with the Western democracies...... Defence will continue to strengthen its engagement with Australia’s international partners in support of shared regional security interests and will continue to deepen Australia’s alliance with the United States.
The document pulls no punches, announcing the Australian Defence Force is being prepared for war....
vi This security environment is markedly different from the relatively more benign one of even four years ago, with greater potential for military miscalculation. This could conceivably include state-on-state conflict that could engage the Australian Defence Force (ADF) where Australia’s interests are threatened. Accordingly, Defence must be better prepared for the prospect of high-intensity conflict.
Australia’s efforts … provides a new strategic policy framework to ensure Australia is able – and is understood as willing – to deploy military power to shape our environment, deter actions against our interests and, when required, respond with military force.
The 2020 Defence Strategic Update sharply refocuses Australian priorities. Preoccupations in the Middle East remain, but all eyes are on our immediate region...
1.2 Strategic competition, primarily between the United States and China, will be the principal driver of strategic dynamics in our region. This competition is playing out across the Indo-Pacific and increasingly in our immediate region: the area ranging from the north-eastern Indian Ocean through maritime and mainland South East Asia to Papua New Guinea and the South West Pacific.
And, according to the 2020 Defence Strategic Update the problem is ....
1.3 Since 2016, major powers have become more assertive in advancing their strategic preferences and seeking to exert influence, including China’s active pursuit of greater influence in the Indo-Pacific. Australia is concerned by the potential for actions, such as the establishment of military bases, which could undermine stability in the Indo-Pacific and our immediate region. It is essential that countries pursue their interests in ways that are mutually respectful and supportive of stability, prosperity and security.
With the dollars to back our stance and put up a sharp fight if push comes to shove ……
xiii The Government’s plans for future ADF capability are also underpinned by its ongoing commitment to providing funding certainty for Defence. This includes a commitment to a Defence Budget of $42.2 billion in 2020-21 (including the Australian Signals Directorate). The Defence Budget will grow over the next ten years to $73.7 billion in 2029-30 with total funding over the decade of $575 billion. This total includes approximately $270 billion of investment in Defence capability, compared with approximately $195 billion for the decade to 2025-26 when the 2016 Defence White Paper was released.
The 2020 Defence Strategic Update also recognizes the new reality of hostilities less than war ……
‘Grey zone’ is one of a range of terms used to describe activities designed to coerce countries in ways that seek to avoid military conflict. Examples include using para-military forces, militarisation of disputed features, exploiting influence, interference operations and the coercive use of trade and economic levers. These tactics are not new. But they are now being used in our immediate region against shared interests in security and stability. They are facilitated by technological developments including cyber warfare.
And that it is no longer practicable for Australia to tolerate these ongoing assaults on our interests.
The document also details the exponential proliferation of advanced weapons and military technologies across Australia’s near and middle neighbourhood which has eroded the Australian Defence Force’s historic military technological advantage.
And, apparently this is no drill……
1.12 Major power competition, coercion and military modernisation are increasing the potential for and consequences of miscalculation. While still unlikely, the prospect of high-intensity military conflict in the Indo-Pacific is less remote than at the time of the 2016 Defence White Paper, including high-intensity military conflict between the United States and China.
No more hiding under the blanket……
1.13 Previous Defence planning has assumed a ten-year strategic warning time for a major conventional attack against Australia. This is no longer an appropriate basis for defence planning. Coercion, competition and grey-zone activities directly or indirectly targeting Australian interests are occurring now. Growing regional military capabilities, and the speed at which they can be deployed, mean Australia can no longer rely on a timely warning ahead of conflict occurring. Reduced warning times mean defence plans can no longer assume Australia will have time to gradually adjust military capability and preparedness in response to emerging challenges. This includes the supply of specialised munitions and logistic requirements, such as fuel, critical to military capability.
The 2020 Defence Strategic Update does not pretend that existing threats can be ignored, citing terrorism, biological and ecological threats and the growing number of near failed states threatening collapse with significant risk of collateral damage to Australia with their demise.
Defence policy will now be guided by regional, not global concerns. The 2020 Defence Strategic Update defines our new Area of Operations as Australia’s immediate region: ranging from the north-eastern Indian Ocean, through maritime and mainland South East Asia to Papua New Guinea and the South West Pacific.
Central to the new strategy is the Pacific Step Up….
2.5 The Pacific Step-up builds on Australia’s history of sustained engagement with countries in the Pacific and our shared and abiding interest in the promotion of sovereignty, stability, security and prosperity in the region. In line with the Boe Declaration adopted by Pacific leaders at the 2018 Pacific Islands Forum, Australia is enhancing its security cooperation with Pacific countries, including through expanded ADF training activities, infrastructure development, maritime capability and people-to-people links.
2.6 But habits of cooperation in the Indo-Pacific are being challenged, leading to uncertainty and complicating security partnerships. This is why Defence will continue to work to strengthen defence and diplomatic ties with the countries in Australia’s immediate region, working alongside important partners such as the United States, Japan and New Zealand. In some countries the economic and social impacts of COVID-19 may require an adjustment to planned activities, but we will work closely with partners to tailor our cooperation to meet evolving needs.
2.7 Australia’s immediate region is also the area in which we should be most capable of military cooperation with the United States. Australia is a staunch and active ally of the United States, which continues to underwrite the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific. We will continue working with the United States to build defence cooperation in the region to meet security challenges – such as the ongoing threat from terrorism – and to build common approaches to ensure stability in our region. It also includes responding to natural disasters. Should circumstances require it, this is also the region in which Australia needs to be capable of leading military operations.
Robust military and diplomatic relationships are to be encouraged with India and Japan.
According to the 2020 DSU, Australia will continue to support US led interventions in the Middle East and in North Asia, but missions will need to be in proportion to the nature of the threat to Australia or its interests.
Old certainties will be abandoned, including passivity in international affairs
2.21 The nature of current and future threats – including coercion in the region, more capable and active regional military forces, and expanding anti-access and area denial capabilities – requires Defence to develop a different set of capabilities. These must be able to hold potential adversaries’ forces and infrastructure at risk from a greater distance, and therefore influence their calculus of costs involved in threatening Australian interests.
No nukes, but we will acquire what it takes to hit hard…...
2.22 Only the nuclear and conventional capabilities of the United States can offer effective deterrence against the possibility of nuclear threats against Australia. But it is the Government’s intent that Australia take greater responsibility for our own security. It is therefore essential that the ADF grow its self-reliant ability to deliver deterrent effects….. such as longer-range strike weapons, cyber capabilities and area denial systems.
And build an military industrial base to provide sovereign independence particularly in munitions.
2.26 This means it is vital that we continue to enhance the lethality and readiness of the ADF, as well as the logistic support required for high-intensity warfighting. In the event of a high-intensity conflict that engages the ADF, we need to have depth for sustaining key capabilities and materiel, especially munitions. This will require less risk-averse engagement with industry to accelerate capability development and strengthen supply, as well as selectively increasing interdependence with the United States and other partners in more responsive and assured global supply chains.
Maybe, just maybe, we finally have a Prime Minister prepared to fight for this country and not just lie down and sell us out like Fraser, Hawk, Keating, Rudd and Turnbull did.
Maybe there is a small window for some optimism.
John Hunter Farrell