Preparing for a 3°C warmer future: the ideological shift and institutions Australia will need

Collective emission reduction efforts of nations will not avoid 3 degrees centigrade global warming by the end of the century. Therefore, national adaptation actions will need to prepare for the worse than expected scale and impact of climate change. Earlier ideological assumptions about governments will have to give way to policies that are interventionist and systemic.

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China-Australia decoupling? ASPI float a hydrogen balloon

It will become increasingly the case that if Australia doesn’t address the demands of the next economy, its prosperity, and therefore its security, will decline. In this context the development of an Australian clean steel industry using green hydrogen, proposed by ASPI’s Michael Shoebridge, looks enticing. But is it feasible of itself, let alone as part of decoupling from China’s economy? Or is it a distraction from the real economic and security issues facing Australia?

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The deceit of deterrence: a bankrupt strategic justification for defence expenditure

One of Australia’s three key strategic objectives is to “deter actions against our interests”, although what this means in practice is largely unexamined. Yet the concept of deterrence is frequently used to justify acquiring expensive, high-tech weapons platforms and systems. But what does the government envisage the submarines, new naval vessels, F-35s, and variety of long-range missiles will deter? In Australia’s strategic circumstances, what part can deterrence play in its strategic policy?

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China-Australia relations: it’s not as simple as ABC

There are many commentators with strong and legitimate concerns about China. The relationship between Australia and China is a very important one and it warrants being debated openly and vigorously. But when those with privileged access to the public square confuse name calling and assertion with rational argument, it is important to point this out. The recent ABC article As Australia’s relationship with China deteriorates beyond repair, we need to find new trade partners is a case in point.

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The metrics of strategic competition with China don’t add up

The recent Belfer Center report by RAAF Group Captain Jason Begley, Winning Strategic Competition in the Indo-Pacific, offers important insights into the strategic thinking of the Australian military. The author’s analysis of the strategic competition with China in which the US and Australia have engaged far surpasses the level of the policy arguments offered in the Australian government’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update.

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The open secret of US war plans: what does Australia know?

The influence of the US in Eurasia will continue to falter, and as its economic, diplomatic, and moral potency dwindles, America’s military will become its primary asset. In America’s strategic logic, loss of leadership demands a military response – and the nature of the military preparations for war on a recognised emerging Asia hegemon are now well known. While the trajectory to war is not irreversible, and the step to launching a war is huge, the consequences would be calamitous. Is Australia complicit in the preparations?

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ASPI’s guide to submarines leaves the biggest strategic questions unanswered

ASPI’s Special Report; submarines, your questions answered aims to “become the go-to guide for authoritative comment on all things to do with the present and future of Australian submarines”. However, rather than clarify the issues around submarine warfare and the Attack class, it raises more questions than it answers. That’s not to deny that there are important contributions in the report from Andrew Davies, Marcus Hellyer, Malcolm Davis, and others.

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Exaggerated threats and contrived military strategies shouldn’t drive Defence spending: a response to Jon Stanford

In a series of three articles, Jon Stanford has argued that Australia needs “a sound military strategy to deter an attack by a great power and careful analysis of how to design the right force structure to deliver it”. An external, more ‘neutral’ review of Australia’s military strategy is proposed. But it is not clear that Australia needs a new military strategy – let alone one that would require a 50 % increase in the Defence budget.

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Strategic mirror: Pentagon’s China report reveals converging power and strategy

The Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on military and security developments in China describes an already formidable military capability, and China’s intention that its military strength will achieve parity with the US by 2049. Ironically, the report unintentionally reveals that China’s major strategic objectives mirror those of the US, past and present. Additionally, the report provides evidence that Australia’s increasing investment in Defence is no substitute for diplomacy.

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A bigger canvas: Russia, China and Australia’s strategic policy

The proximity and size of China, and the belligerence of the US toward China, has occluded the view of Russia among Australia strategic planners. While Russia poses no credible direct threat to Australia, it could be a key player in a conflict between the US and China. Once Russia is factored into the analysis of the situation in East Asia, the global consequences of a war are magnified and the recklessness of contemplating participating in such a conflict becomes even clearer.

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Today’s risks and the history of war: recognising the unknowable

Is a great power war in prospect? The study of war provides insights into the preconditions for conflict and an awareness of the unpredictable nature of war. It shows that great power wars can be as unpredictable as they are transformational. The winners are hidden from sight at the inception, and the losers risk everything. If Australian leaders assume they could come out unscathed on the winning side of an East Asian war they are taking a huge gamble on behalf of Australian citizens.

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Australian strategic policy: why we need a robust public debate

Only a select group of voices is heard most often and most loudly on the subject of Australia’s strategic policy. This creates a false sense of certainty around what is a speculative and inexact policy area. The policy choices, and the connection between strategic policy and force structure, deserve to be intensively examined and validated through public debate – not least of all because the opportunity cost of defence investment is huge.

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AUSMIN 2020: confirmation of Australia’s abandonment of strategic autonomy?

Australians should not take comfort from recent government statements around the Australia-US Ministerial Consultations – claims that Australia makes its own decisions, its own judgments, in the Australian national interest, in order to uphold Australia’s security, prosperity and values. Reassuring words are the slippery province of diplomacy. Strategic policy is founded in force structure and force posture.

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The rationale for Australia’s 2020 Force Structure Plan: A 2040 war?

There is a mismatch between the urgent need to respond to the supposed recent deterioration in Australia’s strategic circumstances, and Australia’s recently-released 2020 Force Structure Plan.

It is highly improbable that many, or most, of the investments proposed in the Plan will be delivered on time and within cost. Ministers and defence planners know this. But bringing capabilities into the ADF inventory within the next 20 years doesn’t seem to be the priority for government, despite the apparent deterioration in the strategic environment.

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A replay of the 1930s: Fact or fearmongering?

Announcing the strategic shift proposed by Australia’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update, Prime Minister Morrison compares the current strategic environment to “the existential threat we faced when the global and regional order collapsed in the 1930s and 1940s”.

Arguing from historical analogy is a dubious business. But if the Prime Minister believes current global circumstances are comparable to those that preceded the Second World War, the response in the Strategic Update is inadequate. If he doesn’t, his references amount to fear-mongering.

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Australia’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update: no talk of war here

There is little to quarrel with in Hugh White’s assessment of the uncertainties in East Asia. His counsel to the government on the way forward for strategic policy, on the other hand, is less satisfactory.

To embark on a major expansion of Australia’s military forces is not the way to protect Australia. On the contrary, it is hard to see where engaging in war against China can result in anything but seriously adverse outcomes for Australia.

The way forward is harder than buying rockets. Australia will need to find a way to live peacefully in the Chinese behemoth’s backyard.

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Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne

Australia’s foreign policy: Resurgent realism or the survival of multilateralism?

Conceptual confusion in thinking about foreign policy is evident as the post World War II era’s structured international arrangements of durable institutions and agreed norms – designed to facilitate peaceful dispute resolution and cooperation on security, economic and social matters between nations – is challenged by the United States and others.

The indeterminacy over whether a gradual transition from the rules-based order to a degree of anarchy is taking place is generating a certain dissonance in the speechmaking of leading Australian political figures.

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The Australia-India Strategic Partnership: ‘Shared values’ mask the real strategic purpose

The much-used phrase ‘shared values’ is regularly used as the basis for international relationships and alliances. It can be used to selectively point to values found in political, social or economic ideologies, or in religious or ethical systems – and to divert attention away from substantive issues or conjure up imaginary communities of interest. In the context of the Australia-India Strategic Partnership, does the use of the phrase mask the real strategic purpose of the agreement?

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Eyes wide open, or a blinkered view? The Australia-China relationship in the Antarctic

The recent report ‘Eyes Wide Open: Managing the Australia-China Antarctic Relationship’ contains a lot of information about China’s activities in Antarctica and usefully sets out aspects of the Chinese-Australian relationship.
But are the report’s recommendations a disproportionate reaction to a manufactured crisis regarding China’s presence and activities in Antarctica?

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Rising powers: grand strategies, balance of power and Australia

Grand strategies are the territory of great powers, while other states see their strategic independence incorporated into another state’s grand strategy. The comfort that Australia embraced while enclosed in an American grand strategy can’t last, and hard choices lie ahead. In the shifting power balance, Australia will need to recover its autonomy.

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