Friday, March 11, 2016

Analysis of the 2016 Defence White Paper

Greetings from the Great Hall of the Australian National University in Canberra, what a panel of ANU defence experts are discussing the Australian Government's 2016 Defence Whitepaper. The first speaker suggested that the white-paper had a "status quo" approach showing three concentric circles of influence.  The first of the three zones is strategic denial in the South Pacific. Second is a zone of stability in South East Asia (where Australia's "edge" is rapidly eroding). The third zone is that of "rules", based on overwhelming US power, which the speaker suggests has been upset by a sea denial fulled arms race.

The second speaker suggested distinguishing between what the paper says it is doing and actually does.They agreed with the first speaker that the white-paper assumes only incremental changes are needed to Australian defence policy. The white-paper assumes that the USA will remain the primary power in Asia and uphold Australia's security, despite indications from US Presidential candidates to the contrary.

The third speaker was in support of the white-paper, describing it as comprehensive and its proposals credible, provided they are funded.The white-paper was developed by competent defence professionals (unlike the former Minister for Defence). The speaker suggested that money and geography were important, but a public white-paper cannot be blunt about other nations. China will have internal problems with old, Russian derived military equipment. The speaker suggested "It will soon be time to teach China a lesson". They then listed US military equipment Australia will "soon" have, including the EA-18G Growler, electronic warfare aircraft. It was surprising to hear this blunt warning in a public forum by a person close to parts of the Australian Government. However, it the speaker also cautioned Australia has limited defence capacity and promises of increased defence spending have not been honored in the past. Some of the speaker's position seemed to be lacking in logic. They argued that Australia should be prepared to take military action to defend trade routes in the South China Sea against China, but that does not make a lot of sense if the trade is with China.

The fourth speaker pointed out that a white-paper is not the end of the defence policy process. They also pointed out, as the previous speaker, previous plans have been undermined by budget cuts. The budget does not allow for turning the Australian Army into a marine force for deployment from new Landing Helicopter Dock ships, or for converting them into F-35b aircraft carriers.In contrast 12 submarines and an increased number of maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft. the speaker suggests the key aim in the white-paper is to defend Australia.This is very different to the previous speaker's emphasis on confronting China.

ps: See also "Cyberwar: Hypothetical for Teaching ICT Ethics".

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