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

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

By Mike Scrafton | 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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Sovereignty and self-determination: The wider implications of Israel and the West Bank

By Mike Scrafton | Australia’s Prime Minister recently said that Australia always respects the sovereignty of other nations, and simply expects the same in return. But cases like Kosovo, Crimea, Jammu-Kashmir and Hong Kong illustrate the tension between sovereignty and self-determination – and the significance of precedent-setting. Recognising Israel’s sovereignty over the West Bank requires careful, nuanced consideration. What position will Australia take?

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Historical amnesia: Great power behaviour and criticism of China

By Mike Scrafton | Positioning the adversarial relationship with China as one of morally superior western democratic nations in competition with a somehow illegitimate and malevolent China is an exercise in historical amnesia. The democratic United State’s 1890 – 1920 trajectory from western hemisphere state to global power has some economic, military and foreign policy parallels with authoritarian China’s growth in the twenty-first century.

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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

By Mike Scrafton | 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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Strategic rivalry between United States and China: causes, trajectories, and implications (SWP)

A comprehensive and insightful paper that looks at the various dimensions of the rivalry between the United States and China.

Australia, already caught up in the global competition for influence, is likely to be subject to ‘increased pressure from Washington on its allies to take a clear position on the sharpening US-China conflict and clearly side with the United States’.

The paper seeks a strategy for Europe ‘to escape the bipolar logic that demands it choose between the American and Chinese economic/technological spheres’ – but the recommendations for Europe should resonate equally with Australian policy-makers and strategic thinkers.

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The dogs of war cry wolf: the post-pandemic China threat

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Peter Jennings and Michael Shoebridge have recently written of a potential military crisis in North Asia, possibly as soon as late 2020 or early 2021.

Amongst other extraordinary measures, Shoebridge calls for the ANZUS Treaty to be invoked, while Jennings calls for the Australian Defence Force to be placed on the highest levels of readiness and for Australian defence expendture to be boosted to around 3.2% of GDP.

Are their conclusions supported by the evidence they proffer?

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Geostrategic shifts in a time of contagion

The COVID-19 crisis will affect the global geostrategic situation in a number of ways: some obvious and some still obscure.

Post COVID-19 economic conditions within nation states and across the globalised world will have shifted; governments will be juggling with the options of austerity policies, tax increases and welfare demands. Liberal and democratic values are likely to have suffered, along with confidence in democratic political leadership. And internationally, competition between political and economic systems might just be heating up.

The future geostrategic situation could turn on whether China or the US bounces back best from the current predicament. The coronavirus could prove to be a test of the resilience and viability of the political and economic systems of the two key states, and reposition their strategic competition.

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Capability gaps: Mean dogs and submarines

A new Insight Economics report presents arguments for submarine capability that lean very heavily on a rather fuzzy concept; the capability gap.

Outdated terms-of-art are spread through defence policy unchallenged. They are so common, and have acquired such authority, that the need to define or explicate them is deemed unnecessary. They shut down arguments. However, terms like capability gap carry unexamined assumptions from a time when submarines, P3C-Orions, and minehunters were effective.

In relation to submarines, has the idea of a capability gap become redundant? And does it not seem odd to expect submarines to fill a capability gap in thirty plus years time?

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Strategic strike, deterrence and the ghost of the F-111

Some confusion has emerged in Australian strategic thinking over ‘strategic strike’, where a threat to an adversary’s key war-making assets produces a deterrent effect, and ‘tactical strike’, where an effect is sought on the battlefield. The provenance of the concepts in Australian strategic thinking is closely tied to the acquisition of the F-111 fighter bombers…

It was the geostrategic situation that made the F-111s seem an effective strategic deterrent. Now, without the ability to threaten, degrade or destroy China’s essential war-making ability, there’s no strategic deterrence.

Strategic deterrence is a game for the nation with the preponderance of power and broad options.

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China & Australia: when to take the military option off the table

Is the adoption of an arguably irrational strategic policy based on fighting a war with China, either in the company of the US or alone, warranted?

To contrast China’s war potential with Australia’s capacity to mount a credible defence should persuade any rational Australian government to take the military option off the table.

And yet the rhetoric and defence investment planning from Canberra indicates strongly that involvement in a military conflict with China is still on the table. Absent is any explanation of how it is envisioned such a conflict would play out, how many lives could be lost, how much damage might result, and what might be achieved.

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Clingendael: The relevance of the Maritime Silk Road for the Netherlands

Chinese investments in European seaports – part of the Maritime Silk Road (MSR) component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – have increased rapidly in recent years – triggering a debate in Europe on the significance of, and how to deal with, growing Chinese influence in European ports. This report discusses two main questions: What is the relevance of Chinese involvement in European ports for China’s political influence in the European Union? What are the long-term implications for the Netherlands of the Maritime Silk Road, in particular in regard to Chinese involvement in European ports?

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Institut Montaigne: Space – will Europe awaken?

Institut Montaigne continues its study of risks and opportunities for Europe in relation to space affairs. This February 2020 policy paper takes stock of recent trends and issues in the space sector. It analyses Europe’s current position in New Space, highlighting the potential and limits of the space policy pursued by the European Union in recent years and makes five public policy proposals aimed at making Europe a real space power.

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