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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Primer on Hypersonic Weapons in the Indo-Pacific Region (Atlantic Council)

With Russia, China and the United States leading the development of operational hypersonic weapons, other Indo-Pacific states, including Australia, have indicated that they intend to do so in the intermediate future. This comprehensive Atlantic Council primer seeks to marry technological characteristics, geostrategic and military imperatives, and regional dynamics in order to provide a basis for further analysis about hypersonic development and application trajectories in the Indo-Pacific.

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Why is the South China Sea such a hotly contested region? (Greg Austin)

Australia’s statement on the South China Sea in July 2020 was its strongest rejection yet of China’s claims to the waters. It did not represent a new position on the legal issues, but marked a fresh determination to confront China over the maritime disputes. The United States is also pressuring Australia to join its freedom of navigation exercises in the sea — a move likely to further anger China. As tensions in the South China Sea mount, it’s important to understand how this dispute began and what international law says about freedom of navigation and competing maritime claims in the waters.

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The global order after COVID-19 (Stephen Walt)

The COVID-19 crisis will not produce a dramatic and enduring increase in global governance or significantly higher levels of international cooperation. Instead it is likely to reinforce divisive trends; to accelerate a retreat from globalization, raise new barriers to international trade, investment, and travel, and give both democratic and non-democratic governments greater power over their citizens’ lives. The post-COVID-19 world will be less open, less free, less prosperous, and more competitive than the world many people expected to emerge only a few years ago.

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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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China’s newfound intimacy with Russia is a strategic blind spot for Australia (Alexey D Muraviev)

We have become very China-centric in our strategic thinking in Australia — and this could be to our detriment. Beijing’s deepening defence ties with Russia remain a blind spot in our public debate. China and Russia have grown much closer in recent years, especially when it comes to security and defence. Instead of taking a serious look at the ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’ between Russia and China, we largely play down what unites these two major nuclear powers and the world’s most potent militaries outside the United States.

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Defence spending and plans: will the pandemic take its toll? (IISS)

That the Covid-19 pandemic will have an impact on defence ministries is beyond doubt, but can governments and defence ministries find a way to deal with the possible effects on military spending and resource allocations? One way or another, national governments and defence ministries will have to grapple with the immediate and extended effects of the pandemic on their countries’ military spending and resource allocation.

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Strategic suspicion and coronavirus consequences: the cost of Australia’s defence (Marcus Hellyer)

Marcus Hellyer provides a measured and considered analysis of the spending and force structure proposals associated with Australia’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update and 2020 Force Structure Plan. The article considers the proposed funding model, tests the connections between the strategic drivers identified and the capabilities proposed for acquisition, and identifies some of the risks that could affect the successful delivery of the proposed capabilities.

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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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Morrison aligns defence policy with new reality (Michelle Grattan)

The 2020 Defence Strategic Update has given us the ‘defence pivot … designed to increase the military costs for an enemy thinking of attacking Australia, and to boost the ability to strike back at a distance if such an attack occurred’. But does the price tag amount to significant increase in Defence spending? Michelle Grattan observes that ‘the $270 billion ‘spend’ on hardware over a decade doesn’t actually represent a big increase from the 2016 figure of $195 billion’.

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Labor misses opportunity to offer new perspectives on Australia’s defence policy (Katherine Mansted)

Katherine Mansted calls for a more open and robust democratic dialogue about Australia’s strategic circumstances and policy options: one that can ‘bring Australians along as we make choices which will have generational significance and — importantly — help ensure we get these tough decisions right.’

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Is Australia’s security policy an expensive failure? (Mark Beeson)

With the rise of “nontraditional threats”, people are actually feeling increasingly insecure. But “to keep our nation safe and protect our way of life for future generations” the Australian government is promising to spend $270 billion on defence. Even if we weren’t facing the prospect of plunging into the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, this sort of spending and the thinking that underpins it looks highly questionable and unlikely to achieve its central goals.

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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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Australia-China July monthly wrap up | On being ‘very different countries’ – AUSMIN and China’s rise (Australia-China Relations Institute)

ACRI’s Elena Collinson and James Laurenceson present a useful summary and analysis of major developments in July 2020. The authors’ observations about Australia-China and Australia-US trade issues are a welcome contribution to an area often long on rhetoric and short on analysis. Professor James Curran sees reason for optimism in an assessment of the state of the Australia-China relationship in light of the comments of Australian ministers Payne and Reynolds at the AUSMIN 2020 talks in Washington. But has Australia done enough to distance itself from the US’s confrontational stance with China? Or will Australia-China high-level channels of communication “continue to stagnate”?

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No longer a middle power: Australia’s strategy in the 21st century (Andrew Carr)

Published in September 2019 by the French Institute of International Relations, this article by the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre’s Andrew Carr has increased relevance given Australia’s recent 2020 Defence Strategic Update and the ramping up of its critical comments on China. Andrew Carr punctures the pretensions that infuse Australia’s formal strategic and defence policy documents and found in a lot of political statements. He paints a realistic and sobering picture of the relative decline in military and economic influence facing Australia.

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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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How COVID-19 will reshape Indo-Pacific security (The Diplomat)

This article is one of a number of pieces circulating that usefully starts to ponder the effect COVID-19 will have on strategic relations in the Indo-Pacific. It presents one of the more comprehensive lists of possible effects. The narrow focus of the article, however, means two major results of the pandemic, a change in the relativities in economic power and a possible change in the US Administration, are not clearly factored into the analysis. With regard to the question of impact of Covid-19 on military readiness, there may be room for greater caution; it is yet to be seen if the worst predictions about a shift in the military balance because of readiness issues will eventuate.

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Defence Strategic Update 2020: A first assessment (James Goldrick)

A candid assessment of Australia’s challenges, but will the planned measures be enough? (James Goldrick) Author: James Goldrick | The Interpreter (Lowy Institute) | Published 2 July 2020 The update is as ambitious in its strategic scope as in its capability plans. “The Defence Strategic Update 2020 launched yesterday in Canberra is a notably candid assessment of the strategic challenges Australia faces and the measures with which the government plans to meet them. It explicitly

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It’s one thing to build war fighting capability, it’s another to build industrial capability (The Conversation)

Analysis suggests that the proportion of contracts awarded to firms that are both Australian operated and owned is low, and that work done by Australian-controlled companies has been increasingly subcontracted to foreign-owned prime contractors. The Australian part of Australia’s defence industry is small, and getting smaller. This subordinate role has important implications for the health of Australia’s industry and national resilience.

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Australia’s 2020 Defense Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan: A Paradigm Shift (Ankit Panda)

Ankit Panda reflects on the new context of Australia’s 2020 Strategic Update compared to its predecessor, the 2016 Defence White Paper, and the “bold prescriptions” that flow from Australia’s reassessment of the strategic environment – in particular, the notion of investing more in conventional stand-off weaponry – long-range missiles. This development will be a welcome one for many in the US strategic community, he notes, where calls for American allies to acquire such capabilities have long persisted.

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