TonBerlin Wall Australia was still standing when it last had a tough, independent look at its defense posture. A 1986 defense review concluded that at the time it was “one of the safest countries in the world … remote from major centers of global military confrontation”. , released in declassified form on April 24, clearly concluded that Australia’s “strategic environment is now completely different”. The risks of military escalation and major conflicts in the Indo-Pacific region are rising. Concerns about China require an overhaul of Australia’s defense strategy.
The review considered China’s military build-up “the largest and most ambitious of any country since the end of World War II.” It argued this “happened without transparency or assurance” about China’s ambitions. The budding superpower’s claims to the South China Sea threaten the rules-based order on which Australia, a nation of 26 million people heavily reliant on global trade, relies. The ability of Australia’s ally, the United States, to ensure regional security is being challenged.
Australia’s defense “is no longer fit for purpose” as its strategic outlook dims, Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said, backing the conclusions of the review, which was overseen by former defense minister Sir Angus Houston and top Australian officials in British Commissioner Stephen Smith. They feared an invasion that would do less damage than Australia would likely suffer. The advantage of remoteness has been lost. Its northern part is within range of Chinese missiles. The Indian and Pacific shipping lanes that sustain its economy are vulnerable to blockade. (Australia is well aware of coercion, having suffered a Chinese trade ban in recent years that is only now being lifted.)
Strategic planners believe that in order to defend itself and maintain peace in the Indo-Pacific region, Australia must be able to project power further from its shores. Or as one defense insider put it, “If we get to the point where we get amphibious landing groups close to Darwin, we’re already disturbed.” Bec Shrimpton of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank in Canberra, argues that long-range power projection represents the ultimate Logical form of deterrence.
Australia’s major power projection will come through Okus, The US and UK will supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines under the sensational trilateral agreement. But it must also develop long-range strike capabilities and manufacture the munitions in Australia, Mr Marrs said. That would involve upgrading its northern ports and bases, which stretch from the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean to the northeastern city of Townsville. Beyond that, the review insists that defending Australia will require a “whole-of-government” effort. This would include providing more resources to the Foreign Office. Therefore, Australia’s regional statecraft can help keep the Indo-Pacific region stable and open.
However, the country, which has pledged up to A$368 billion ($245 billion) in funding for nuclear-powered submarines over the next few decades, faces tough choices when it comes to spending. Much of the report is classified and the government has accepted it in its entirety. But $8 billion worth of projects will be canceled or delayed. Orders for infantry fighting vehicles were to be slashed, and plans for new motorized howitzer regiments were cancelled. In return, the military will gain a longer-range strike capability. The defense insider stressed Australia must prioritize projects with the greatest deterrent effect.
The government has blamed its conservative predecessor for some of the upcoming cuts. It promised substantial defense supplies but did not say how they would be paid for. But there is bipartisan support for the strategic shift. Most of its critics are outside parliament.someone said Okus The new defense posture is too provocative for China; others think they will be very expensive. Even supporters of the strategy worry about Australia’s ability to achieve its ambitions. The government has a solid procurement record. Defense agencies are understaffed and face looming skills shortages.
However, confronting these issues is part of the challenges outlined by the review. It advocates not just a whole of government, but a “whole of country” approach. Education and training would require a major reboot just to launch nuclear submarines and related programs. Politicians need to have a broad conversation about some of the other consequences of the strategic shift. Fully three-quarters of Australians believe their biggest trading partner, China, is likely or very likely to pose a military threat to them within the next 20 years, according to a poll by Sydney-based think tank the Lowy Institute. So there is a clear agreement on security risks. Australians now need to agree on how much cost and change they are willing to accept to mitigate it. ■