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An SH-60B helicopter lifts off from the Military Sealift Commandfleet replenishment oiler USNSLeroy Grumman. (US. Navyphoto)

Journal of the Australian Naval Institute

Issue 153


gave rise to irrigated agriculture. • The Commonwealth of Australia was formed in 1901 by federation of the six states and other territories. The Constitution is largely unchanged from that date and assigns many national powers and responsibilities to a national government centred in a dedicated Australian Capital Territory [ACT] and the city of Canberra

Australia's strategic self-reliance

It was apparent from the start that due to the delays in transport and even the time zone differences Australia needed to provide for the protection of its own national interests and could not rely on any other country to take that responsibility. Nevertheless there was a lingering reliance on Britain and then USA for dealing with the larger geostrategic challenges

In return Australia has always given its tangible support for the policies and campaigns of its larger partner in all major conflicts and many lesser conflicts when they were located in the area of Australia's geopolitical interests. The exceptions to the latter can be illustrated by Australia being absent from the UK war in the Falklands or the US engagement in Bosnia.

The most alarming direct threat to Australian self-interests was undoubtedly the Japanese aggressive expansion in World War II that spread on the ground to Papua-New Guinea, in the air to the bombing of Darwin and other northern towns, and at sea to the sinking of coastal shipping and the shelling of Sydney by Japanese submarines and the sinking of a ship within Sydney Harbour by torpedo.

As a result of the extraordinary US leadership and resources devoted to defeat of Japan, Australia (and New Zealand) entered enthusiastically into the ANZUS treaty with USA and this

continues to provide the bedrock of Australian strategic policy, such as it is.

In more recent times the closer relationship of Australia with Japan has become more significant and has been encouraged by the USA and the current Japanese leadership without much opposition within Australian strategic thinkers.

Another influence has been the greater awareness of Indian Ocean issues due to the instability within the Middle East, the continuing reliance of many countries on oil from that area (especially China and Japan, but conversely not USA which is becoming steadily more self-reliant in petroleum supplies) .This has coincided with the rise of India's international profile and greater contributions through such fora as the G20 and the BRIICS1 agreements.

Finally Australia has in its Exclusive Economic Zone [EEZ] on continental shelf areas large reserves of resources especially gas and oil and these are located in some areas well outside the traditional twelve nautical mile coastal zones.

Australia's long term geostrategic interests

Australia then is inherently secure from localized threats for most of its territory, notwithstanding the recent upsurge in attention to illegal entry by boats from Indonesia. The latter are the subject of much public comment and attention but do not represent major geostrategic issues as such. What does matter is that the surveillance and patrolling capability needed for this illegal boat activity is also capable of dealing with more sinister threats if and when they arise.

Another topical threat area is so-called cyber-crime and even cyber-war based on the use of the internet and other online capacity to threaten national interests. This is a real threat

but is no more significant for Australia than for any other country. Fortunately Australia is afforded preferential treatment in such areas of intelligence by its membership of the five-nation sharing agreement among USA, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

Thirdly the offshore island territories could be invaded or blockaded leaving Australia a real challenge to mount an opposing force. The range and endurance of Australian Defence Force [ADF] capabilities is important for this reason, and also for its reach to secure supply lines and trade routes (sea lines of communication [SLOC]).

Future possible changes to Australia's geostrategic situation

There are a number of foreseeable trends and even disruptive changes that are conceivable and therefore should be considered in developing a grand-strategic framework for Australia.

First and foremost the rise of China as a major international power is accepted universally and has become the focus of most projections for the 21st Century. This of itself is both an opportunity and a challenge for Australia, which is starting to consider a middle path between its traditional alliance with USA and closer ties with Japan and other countries on the one hand, and its close trade and other ties with China on the other hand.

The influence of energy demands and self-sufficiency for all states and organizations will become more

A RAN flotilla at sunset-howdo naval forces fit Into a grand strategic framework?

Journal of the Australian Naval Institute


A Grand Strategic Framework for Australia - a Maritime Nation

significant as the years pass and the current trends reflect self-sufficiency by USA and increasing supplier status by Russia; the latter affecting both western Europe and China.

The offsetting trends will be increased cost-effectiveness of renewable energy sources and as a fall­back option, the greater use of nuclear energy. Australia has a major stake in both these fields. The wide availability of internet-based telecommunications will give rise to greater expectations and dissatisfaction among those communities lacking in the most basic human needs including water, food shelter and freedom of action. Major issues will increasingly become international and even global issues. This in turn will give rise to greater collaboration by states and international groups. Australia provides a stable, well-resourced base for this to occur in the Indo-Pacific region.

Globalisation of trade and commerce and hence financial arrangements will increase with the predictable result of greater flexibility but also greater vulnerability of the international connected arrangements. Supply chains are increasing in scope and complexity as commerce is decentralized and distributed more widely.

Oppression and lack of freedom and opportunity will continue to produce major migratory movements of people and the accommodation of these movements will become increasingly challenging for developed countries such as Australia.

Climate change is definitely occurring even if the precise causes and forecasting of the effects are the subject of some debate. Australia will be affected by world-wide-effects more than domestically and this will require explicit attention in framing Australia's grand strategic framework. In general we should expect disruptive changes

to be precipitated by reactions to the extreme effects of climate change on weather and flooding of low-lying areas and islands, especially the many such areas in the Indo-Pacific region.

What should form Australia's grand strategic framework?

The conventional wisdom for the basis of strategy emphasises the linkage of political and military activity to achieve national goals. Unfortunately the current Australian objectives are mostly about maintaining the status quo when it is readily apparent that the current situation will change due to climate changes, greater internet communications and awareness, and increasing world population.

Therefore a more realistic stance for Australia would be to define her core national interests and then to articulate a grand strategic framework to provide a basis to protect and sustain those interests. This is the primary thesis of this essay that follows from the matters discussed thus far.

A primary basis of the grand strategic framework must be self-reliance to the greatest extent affordable and justifiable in terms of the constraints and opportunity costs incurred in so doing. This aligns with the direction stated by the USA in announcing in 2011 its rebalancing to the Indo-Pacific area and the need for greater self-reliance by other nations. In any event Australia's geostrategic situation dictates that we exercise this approach due to the different relative priorities that we place on the effects of policies in our own region and our own relationships with third-party countries.

A second basis for Australia's grand strategic framework is the development of capabilities relevant to the overall region in which we exert and experience influences. This means

a capable and extensive diplomatic and intelligence network and assets with the range, endurance and inherent technological capabilities to undertake intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance [ISR] throughout our region of interest. This includes cyber, space and undersea capabilities in addition to the traditional land, sea and air capabilities.

A third basis for Australia's grand strategic framework is the deep understanding through scientific and human intercourse of the highly varied physical and demographic constituents of the region. The greater intercourse of people, trade, language and cultural awareness, aid and assistance, economic cooperation and co-development will all help to reinforce the achievement of the grand strategic framework advocated here.

A fourth basis is the possession of potent capabilities to deter and if necessary defeat armed or violent disruption to regional stability or rules-based trade and intercourse. This requirement has been recognised by Australian governments for some time; increasingly the development of paramilitary and defence forces reflects a realistic investment in such capabilities for Australia. What has not always occurred is the concurrent articulation of grand strategy to provide the basis for the employment of these forces within a coherent national framework. Hence the importance of this complementary need for a grand strategic framework.

Finally there is an essential basis for the grand strategic framework to possess resilience - the ability to persist and prevail in spite of unexpected and substantial changes in the make-up or underlying bases for the framework.

It has never been possible to predict the effects of unexpected events or changes in circumstances, so if the framework lacks resilience it will

Journal of the Australian Naval Institute

Issue 153


suffer and even fail to provide the essential basis for Australia's security of its national and shared interests in the future. We therefore need to undertake some contingency analysis of the framework to hypothesise how we might respond to conceivable major disruptions.

Disruptive influences on Australia's grand strategic framework

We can hypothesise a number of possible disruptive influences upon the bases of the grand strategic framework, for example;

  • A maj or financial crisis brought on by accidental or deliberate interference in the global financial system

  • A maj or failure in information and communications networks precipitated by cyber-action, deliberate or accidental

  • A maj or nuclear incident caused by deliberate or accidental exposure of radio-active materials to regional populations

  • The deliberate interference in the availability of hydrocarbon energy supplies - oil and gas - and the resulting pressure for military action to restore the access

  • A fundamental change in political control in an area of the world where the influence of religious or autocratic rule has been imposed

  • The catastrophic change in geographic viability for populations due to severe climatic changes in regional areas and to traditional agricultural and fishing resources.

  • Internal divisions within the Australian Commonwealth or its close alliances and trade groupings that disrupt the effective collaboration that has been customary in the past

These possible disruptive influences

are not predicted as such but are considered representative of the events for which the Grand Strategic Framework should possess the resilience to persist.

Capabilities needed for Australia's Grand Strategic Framework

We should now conduct a critical review of the capabilities needed to provide best security of Australia's national interests and greatest resilience for the grand strategic framework.

  • First and foremost we should expect the unexpected. Hence the capabilities must possess inherently general application and be readily adapted for new roles and threats.

  • Secondly the capabilities must be sustainable from a national resources perspective and with the underlying support from the Australian community. For example it is no good relying on nuclear power for the grand strategic framework if there is an underlying antipathy for such power within the Australian community.

  • Thirdly the capabilities must be achievable and maintainable within realistic time frames and limitations of affordable infrastructure

  • Fourthly the capabilities must be interoperable or capable of constructive coordination with all possible collaborators in the future.

  • Finally the capabilities must be readily operable and controllable by Australia alone without recourse to others. This means for example that leasing a capability from another country that retains some form of veto over its use is not an acceptable basis for our grand strategic framework. Similarly unfettered access to the intellectual property rights relating to Defence capability materiel must be assured.

Australia needs a grand strategic framework on which to base its development of capabilities for the security of national interests and its contribution to regional and alliance efforts.

This article has dealt primarily with the security of national interests and has assumed that once this has been satisfactorily provided then there will be inherent capability to contribute to regional and alliance efforts, but these are not the primary determinants of the capabilities per se.

Fundamentally Australia needs to articulate a grand strategic framework of its own that enjoys the support of the Australian community and demonstrates to allies and trade and other international entities that we have a sound basis for what we are doing and a basis that does not rely on any specific scenario coming to pass. Rather it is a framework that exhibits resilience to world and local eventualities and the possible consequences thereof.

In conclusion the creation and explanation of a grand strategic framework for Australia is desirable and feasible and should be undertaken forthwith. A number of relevant principles for the grand strategic framework have been proposed in this essay. iW

Captain Christopher Skinner RAN (Rtd.) retired from the Royal Australian Navy after 30 years service as a weapons and electrical engineering officer. He served at sea in six RAN ships including full postings to all three RAN ships of the USS Charles F Adams (DDG-2) class. Other postings included Test and EvaluationManagerfoitheUSSOliverHazardPerry(FFG-7) inNAVSEAandthefirstprojectdirectorfortheANZACFrigate class often ships built in Australia.


1 Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China, South Africa

Journal of the Australian Naval Institute

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