Seven Defence White Papers by the numbers (2): Geographic constructs
10 Mar 2016|


It’s time to look past Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs—this is Oz and the Seven White Papers. (No word to hand on the Handsome Prince capability trial or cost blowout in the digital poisoned apple.)

The previous tale—make that column—surveyed Australia’s seven Defence White Papers to rank countries by the number of times they received a mentioned.

The number of mentions is a crude measure useful for calculation, comparison and hierarchy. The aim is find meanings and mental maps amid the numbers—to seek strategic topography from the typography.

Using the same approach, look at the geographic constructs in the Seven Defence White Papers: 1976, 1987, 1994 and 2000 in the 20th Century, and this century: 2009, 2013 and 2016.

In the first two White Papers, Defence ignored the word ‘Asia’ as a single construct, preferring Southeast Asia and North East Asia (or North Asia, as it has become of late).

In the ’87 Paper there was one reference to the Asian mainland. The Defence hardheads didn’t think there was an Asia system worth considering (a criticism today levelled at Defence’s concept du jour, the Indo–Pacific).

As the immediate neighbourhood, Southeast Asia always gets more mentions than North Asia.

The big actors in North Asia are so distinctive they often demand individual treatment.

The centripetal effects of ASEAN consolidate the idea of Southeast Asia, while North Asia tends to the centrifugal.

In 1994, Defence got a big dose of the Paul Keatings—Asia was everywhere in the document.

Defence got the Asia–Pacific memo, but never wanting to be slavish about following fashions on the other side of the lake (Burley Griffin) rendered it 27 times as ‘Asia and the Pacific’ and three times as Asia–Pacific.

By 2000, Asia Pacific didn’t even need a hyphen and it got more mentions than Southeast and North East Asia combined.

In Kevin Rudd’s White Paper, ‘Asia Pacific’ was in the document title (‘Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030’) but not in the text.

‘Asia Pacific’ was at the foot of every page in 2009 as part of the title, but the usage appeared only three times in the text (twice for Rudd’s vain bid for an Asia Pacific Community).

The 2013 paper also had three Asia Pacific mentions; by 2016 it got a donut.

In the 2013 White Paper, Defence managed to give ten mentions to Julia Gillard’s ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ White Paper; that was necessary obeisance, not obedience.

Rather than ‘Asian Century’, Defence preferred a new construct that was explicit about the continuing US presence in the system. The new star in 2013 was the Indo–Pacific.

The ‘76 White Paper used the term Indo–Pacific once, but then it fled the scene for three decades.

After zero appearances in four White Papers, the Indo–Pacific was everywhere in 2013 and has just done a repeat.

Defence embraces the Indo–Pacific as the defining geographic expression of strategy and seeks a new India dimension.

South East Asia

1976 1987 1994 2000 2009 2013 2016
11 20 25 31 29 39 53

North East Asia/North Asia

1976 1987 1994 2000 2009 2013 2016
5 0 4 6 7 6 17

Asia Pacific

1976 1987 1994 2000 2009 2013 2016
0 0 30 44 3 3 0

South China Sea

1976 1987 1994 2000 2009 2013 2016
0 3 1 1 0 6 9

South Pacific/South-West Pacific

1976 1987 1994 2000 2009 2013 2016
5 30 13 10 18 33 21


1976 1987 1994 2000 2009 2013 2016
1 0 0 0 0 58 68

The next column will explore themes and memes in the seven Defence White Papers.