Reader response: more force structure options – take two
15 Feb 2013|

Marcus Fielding’s response to my force structure post raises several interesting points, in particular, that ‘…it’s entirely appropriate for Australia to restructure to be able to lead and provide force-level support to regional coalitions.’

In terms of force structure I think that option is an integral part of the joint force alternative. If we can field an independent joint force with its own command and control structure, others can join in later if operational circumstances require. Conversely, if we develop a force that’s optimised as part of someone else’s joint force, then our ability to form the core of some regional coalition becomes more problematic.

Marcus also makes an interesting point on the Timor-Leste deployment in saying, ‘many of the force-level capabilities, including a Deployable Joint Task Force Headquarters, have [since] withered away…’. This reflects the shift that my post discussed of more emphasis being placed on the ADF being able to form a part of a larger American combined force. Accordingly, the need for a DJTFHQ declined. Some in Army considered the Defence of Australia (DOA) construct unhelpful to their service in favouring air and naval forces, and thought this focus responsible for land forces being ill-prepared for East Timor. Marcus’s observation would suggest that this interpretation needs re-thinking as the DJTFHQ provided the land force element in with the capability to command a multi-national force. As noted in an earlier post, Timor-Leste did find the force structure lacking in sustainability, but perhaps the DOA construct was more land force friendly than critics allow.

I concur the US is now more interested in regional coalitions taking the lead in solving difficult problems, thereby allowing American support to be limited. The foreign interventions in Libya and now Mali seem to validate this. I would caution though that this burden shifting is probably only for those international crises in which US interests are not deeply engaged. Timor-Leste in the late 1990s also fits this model.

Moreover, burden shifting carries the danger for the US that the allies to whom it transfers such responsibilities might undertake actions that conflict with US policies or which might unhelpfully embroil America in difficult situations. Burden shifting inherently means the US having less control and influence over international affairs. In matters in our region, China looms large in American thinking and so the US might be more reticent than in other parts of the world to take a back seat.

So should we, as Marcus suggests, structure our force to be able to lead regionally-based coalitions? The concept has considerable merit as part of a grand strategy that aims to build some types of institutional order amongst the nations in our region—and maybe that’s what our new National Security Strategy is hinting at doing, or at least thinking about.

Peter Layton is undertaking a research PhD in grand strategy at UNSW.