Graeme Dobell produced two nice pieces on naval navel gazing, but perhaps lacks the courage of his earlier convictions! In his latest post he posits that: ‘The central strategic tension in Oz naval navel gazing is between the demands of the alliance and the needs of the continent’. He sees Australian strategic thinking swinging between the two poles of self-defence and alliance contribution.
But Graeme observes in his earlier post on the US alliance that the current era is a:
major new moment in the alliance. It’s not just about training in Australia’s backyard; it’s about the US basing and working from Australia. The alliance has gone from distant operations to playing on home ground. … The ultimate purpose of the alliance for Australia has always been about defending the home; now the alliance is coming to work from home.
Graeme’s two viewpoints are at odds. Which is right? I’ve advocated views similar to Graeme’s recent thoughts on the alliance earlier on these pages. With this in mind, the old debate about continental versus US alliance (aka forward defence, aka expeditionary operations) seems so last century. Times have moved on. This dichotomy is no longer a useful way to think about Australian defence choices or strategies.
It is hard though to let go of old paradigms. Sir Basil Liddell-Hart once remarked that: ‘The only thing harder than getting a new idea into the military mind is to get an old one out’. It’ll be interesting to see how the new Defence White Paper addresses the new alliance framework; a full Marine Air Ground Task Force in Darwin, USAF bombers in Tindal and talk of much more. These are fundamental changes that will over time deeply impact our traditional way of talking about our defence options and aspirations. It’s time for a major rethink.
Peter Layton is undertaking a research PhD in grand strategy at UNSW, and has been an associate professor of national security strategy at the US National Defense University.