We are on the cusp of a new, more dangerous and unpredictable era in
global affairs that has profound implications for Australia's defence and
The tragedies of the Bali bombing and the World Trade Centre in New
York are visible manifestations of a shift in the security paradigm that
may prove, over time, as transformational as the Bolshevik revolution of
The indiscriminate brutality of contemporary terrorism is only one
aspect of a broader assault on the conventions that have governed
international society for the past 100 years. The state-on-state conflicts
of the 20th century are being replaced by hybrid wars and asymmetric
contests in which there is no clear-cut distinction between soldiers and
civilians and between organised violence, terror, crime and war.
Preventing and managing Mad Max future wars requires new
strategies and approaches. However, there is precious little evidence that
the architects of our strategic policy have grasped this point.
During the past few months, Defence Minister Robert Hill has questioned
some of the underlying assumptions of the defence orthodoxy. He is right
to do so because our strategy is firmly rooted in the past, having
remained essentially unchanged since the Dibb review almost 20 years ago.
The Dibb review's central premise, encapsulated in the Defence of
Australia doctrine, is that protecting Australia against conventional
military attack from a hostile state should determine the structure and
capability of the Australian Defence Force. Traditionalists say that
"forces structured for the defence of Australia and its approaches
can meet all the tasks asked of it by the government" despite the
unprecedented tempo and range of non-DOA activities and the repeated
overseas deployment of the ADF.
Given the dramatically different strategic circumstances we face, this
position is intellectually bankrupt, politically untenable and
operationally unsustainable. There is a serious mismatch between strategy,
force structure and the emerging threats to Australia's security.
What Australia needs is a strategy for the future, not the past, and a
transformed ADF structured to manage the very different security
challenges of the 21st century.
As a crucial first step, we must rethink a defence strategy that has
four significant failings: It is based on a misplaced geographical
determinism that ignores the diverse and globalised nature of modern
conflict. It has shaped the ADF for the wrong wars. It gives insufficient
weight to the transnational threats that confront us. And it fails to
recognise that modern defence forces must win the peace as well as the
The key lesson here is that the ADF is not optimally configured or
trained for today's threats, let alone those of tomorrow. While others
restructure for the conflicts of the future, we, for the most part, remain
wedded to strategic concepts that have long passed their use-by date. It
is axiomatic that the ADF should be able to defend Australia against
But DOA is too narrowly conceived and disconnected from the security
challenges of the contemporary world to provide the necessary strategic
guidance for an ADF in urgent need of transformation.
It would be a mistake to characterise this call for strategic renewal
as merely the latest incarnation of the longstanding debate between
proponents of forward defence and continental defence. These tired old
shibboleths reflect the linear thinking of a bygone era and shed little
light on the essential defence and security problems for Australia in the
This is an extract from a lecture co-hosted by the
Menzies Centre and Australian Defence Industries in Canberra yesterday. It
was first published in The
Australian on 14 November 2002.
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