Reader response: NSS, escalation and clarification

Having led the development of the National Security Strategy, we are pleased to see the lively commentary and debate which has followed its release including on The Strategist.

While it would not be appropriate for us to become active participants in that debate, we want to ensure any factual inaccuracies are corrected. Mr Jennings states that ‘the word ‘escalation’ doesn’t appear anywhere in the strategy’. It does, on page 27, as follows: ‘But miscalculation or escalation is possible in contested areas, such as in the South and East China Seas, and by countries of strategic concern, such as North Korea.’

More broadly, in relation to Mr Jennings’ statement that ‘there is no bigger judgement than that Australia has a ‘positive’ and ‘benign’ security outlook’, we believe it is important to draw readers’ attention to the important qualifiers used in relation to these words. The Prime Minister’s Foreword states that ‘our strategic outlook is largely positive’ [our emphasis]. And on page 11, the Strategy states that ‘ [strategic and economic competition] brings a degree of uncertainty and complexity to the relatively benign strategic landscape’ [again, our emphasis]. Mr Jennings implicitly acknowledges these caveats by reproducing the same extracts elsewhere in his post. He is of course entitled to his opinion that the Strategy ‘underplays the strategic risks emerging in our wider region’. We simply note that in laying out the risks and challenges Australia might face in the future, the Strategy recognises there are already clear elements of strategic competition at play in the region and that miscalculation and escalation are possible, with the potential for dangerous outcomes.

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet


Peter Jennings responds:

I should have spotted the Strategy’s use of the term ‘escalation’; that was sloppy on my part. As PM&C notes, I quoted instances where the Statement qualified the use of terms such as ‘positive’ and ‘benign’, but I stand by my overall judgement that the statement underplays the impact of strategic risks emerging in the region.