Australia's Security Challenge
Image Credit: Office of the Prime Minister: Australia (Flickr)

Australia's Security Challenge


A new Australian strategy document  is meant to clear the air about what security concerns preoccupy the land Down Under and what Canberra is doing about them.

But its dissonance with recent defense spending cuts is leaving observers perplexed. The Labor government of Julia Gillard has recently cut the defense budget to around 1.6 percent of gross domestic product, the lowest proportion since the 1930s. This makes the nation the odd one out in an Indo-Pacific Asia where states that matter are placing a priority on modernizing their militaries.

Australia has long been a difficult place to understand when it comes to security.

On the one hand, here is what seems an exceptionally secure continent with a natural moat, an advanced military, one of the top 15 defense budgets in the world and no credible direct strategic threat.  On the other hand, there has long been a thread of insecurity running through Australian strategic thought, which helps explain why Canberra has hewn so closely to an alliance with the United States.

Perhaps the nation’s strategic anxiety is in part a legacy of the early years of European settlement, with a tiny population and vague fears about Asia. No doubt it was intensified by a sense of abandonment by Britain after the fall of Singapore in the Second World War. In the Cold War, latent worries about larger Asian states mixed with paranoia about Communism.

A decade ago, murderous jihad in Southeast Asia and beyond led to new threat perceptions in Australia, including concern that its proud and resilient multicultural democracy might have homegrown terrorists in its midst.

Most recently, uncertainties about Chinese power, ranging from military modernization to potential diplomatic and economic coercion, have preoccupied Canberra’s security community.

This was made plain in the defense White Paper released by then prime minister Kevin Rudd in 2009, which promised a much stronger military including 12 new-generation submarines with cruise missiles. The plan was criticized for being needlessly provocative towards China and glaringly unfunded.

Since Rudd was dumped as leader by his own Labor party in 2010, the government has quietly sought to wind back his grandiose vision.

Not because the strategic environment is becoming safer.  Instead, the Gillard government is desperate to reduce its spending in any area that does not readily raise its chances of re-election in polls that have just been called for later this year.

Australia’s economy may be in much better shape than that of most developed nations, but that has not stopped Australian Ministers from pointing to America's fiscal difficulties as an excuse for their own new defense miserliness.

At the same time, Canberra has intensified its alliance with the United States and aligned with the Obama Administration's rebalancing strategy.  A cynic might suggest that one reason for this enthusiasm is that an alliance is so very much cheaper than investing in defense.

So where to now? The new Australian national security strategy has its strengths.  It highlights the growing importance of interstate tensions as the principal challenge in Asia, while acknowledging that terrorism has not gone away.

And it has a more balanced take on the future of Asia than Canberra's 2012 economic policy blueprint for the Asian Century, which accentuated the positive and downplayed risk.

But watch for the third and final text in the strategic policy canon of Gillard’s Australia — a new Defense White Paper, due this year.

Will it set out a credible plan for modernizing and funding robust maritime capabilities to match Australia's interests in a stable Indo-Pacific order? And will the conservative opposition under Tony Abbott, very possibly the next government, be willing at the very least to match it?

These will be the tests of whether Australia is serious any more about security.

Kim's Uncle
February 5, 2013 at 15:02

More race card malarkey!! Asian Australians already make up a large percentage of the country. Policy of white Australia did not until the 60s so it will take a bit of time before Australian of asin descent rise into office! That’s why in a democracy someone like Obama can rise to high office while primitive china no Tibetan or Uighur or non Han Chinese can rise to high office. China is a terrible Frankenstein’s monster!

Be Way
February 4, 2013 at 18:35

Did the Chinese rape, torture or kill any of your family like what the Japanese did, that turns you into Frankenstein’s monster for your neverending baseless  accusation against them.    If you got pyschological problem of your own, please see doctor for a cure.  

Be Way
February 4, 2013 at 13:02

Obviously you don't seem to understand how Australia operates when it comes to its foreign policy or military framework.   If Australia want to walk a middle path, it should have invite the Chinese, Indian or even the Indonesian troops to be stationed in Australia as well.   This is what we called proactive friendly engagement with all Asia countries.    Instead it chooses to allow the American troops to be stationed there only.   What do you expect from America military when all the while, they are indulging in endless blood-curdling wars everywhere beside creating other hugh repercussions such as creating enmity and conflicts thru their covert operation of espionage and sabotage.  
By any chance, I am not against Australia or Australians as a whole.   Having Asian-Australians to promote Australia cosmopolitan appearance doesn't mean they have the privilege of deciding Australia direction.  In all cases, it's still the white settlers that are making the final decision as in the case of aligning itself with U.S agenda of hegemony and aggression against Asia particularly China.

Be Way
February 4, 2013 at 12:18

Actually I am not against Australia current approach of engagement with Asia.   No doubt they have done a great job by granting many Asians the rights of abode in Australia (I repeat that whatever they did for the Chinese has nothing to do with me as I am not from China by the way).   However what I want to highlight is that Australia should work (and support) with Asia to ensure a peaceful Asia instead of following orders from the rogue U.S regime to militarize Asia into war zone.  However, it's an act of provocation against Asia when Australia basically disturbed the status quo by allowing American troops to station in its land.   Btw, all those Asians who settled down in Australia are merely just for show as the decision to ally with U.S is all decided by the white settlers themselves.   Do the Asian Australians have a say?    Finally don't call me racist when it's factually true on what and how Australia operates.

February 4, 2013 at 12:05

Australia only kow tows to the US if anybody. We have directly denied Chinese investment in quite a number of projects and we house US Military personnell on our soil and that cooperation is increasing.
China is a money train and thats it. Australia is keenly aware as to who its friend is and that is not China.
As for India thats not unsurprising although what you heard you are confusing with expansionist agenda. In Australia there was some well published bashings and racial stuff against Indian students that really got out of hand and annoyed a lot of Indians back home which is totally understandable and expected.
If anything they are angry and unhappy but Lebenstraum ideas are a bit far fetched….

Be Way
February 4, 2013 at 11:58

The Chinese are not as aggressive as you imagined.   For the last decade when the Americans are heavily engaged in Middle East Wars, Asia in general is peaceful and prosperous.   The question you should ask yourself is why America which is not even part of Asia, building up its military power in Asia especially the borders around China.   Why is Japan triggering the WW2 memory by nationalizing the Diaoyu Islands.   On South China Seas, if China doesn't have the rights to claim to South China Sea, you think Vietnam and Philippines have all the rights.    In addition, China claims to SCS is not yesterday event as the claim was proclaimed even before both Philippines and Vietnam become independent.    Why is there no such dispute against what the Chinese claimed earlier.

Be Way
February 4, 2013 at 11:49

You are just silly.   What should you relate every opinion of mine to everything Chinese.  If you got even an iota of little brain, there is no reason to accuse me of being Chinese when I am not even from China.       

February 3, 2013 at 02:23

The most surprising thing I've heard about Australia is the Indian street view about it. There seems to be an under current that Australia is India's Lebensraum. I don't know when this view emerged in India and how much backing it has. One thing is certain, with such sentiment it will lower India's arrangements with Australia. Australia already kow tows to China and America, India has no hope.

February 2, 2013 at 10:56

Don't forget the heat and lack of infrastructure on about 95% of the continent ;-)

February 2, 2013 at 10:55

I'm so surprised I haven't read ignorant posts about how Australia needs to get in line or big bad China is going to invade us.
Anybody who genuinely believes that to be possible has zero appreciation for Australia's geography, distance and logistical issues that frankly make such a proposition laughable.
It also conveniently assumes America has turned a blind eye on one of its most loyal partners which America has never done in its entire history because thats tantamount to diplomatic suicide.
Also when I go to work every day I pass many Asian-Australians all of whom were born here and remain here. So any weirdo comments about white settlers are blatantly idiotic.

Kim's Uncle
February 2, 2013 at 08:49

Frankenstein’s monster regime of china likes to play the race card when arguing but anyone of intelligence can smell the odor divide and conquer mentality! Fact is most Asian countries don’t trust the Frankenstein’s monster hence the alliance with the greatest democracy the USA while china has zero allies and has to fund a budget for internal security because they fear the masses more than any foreign power!

Lady Sang-Hwa
February 2, 2013 at 01:55

Wash your fithy mouth, Chinese No way! I see you comment racist to the core. Do you speak for all asians, boy? Australia is no doubt an asian country. You mean Asia for asians (chinese in other name) only? China scares her neighbors to death, that is why they ask americans and australians for help. The bully china is a threat to a peaceful asia.

February 2, 2013 at 00:44

You are obviously Chinese, because the rest of Asia welcomes anyone who can balance the more and more agressive CCP China.

CCP's Mistresses
February 1, 2013 at 22:10

Austraia had openned their arms and hearts to allow 20,000 Chinese students then now residents due to the Students protests at Tiananmen Square 1989 were put down by the brutal force by the Chinese Govt.
Thousands of their kids are now enjoying a democracy, freedom and have a safe and stable life.

Ser Gregor Clegane
February 1, 2013 at 21:43

Lol, come and try. Too bad Asian countries won’t become just tributary states of China like you hope.

Be Way
February 1, 2013 at 14:09

If the white Australian settlers want to behave belligerent towards Asia by colluding and acting as deputy sheriff to America Imperialist, any war happening in Asia is also the opportunity to send these white settlers out to where the forefathers came from.

February 1, 2013 at 07:02

Security Australian style, when invaded from the north,
if the box jelly fish, sharks or croc's dont stop you the Mossie's and mangroves will…    

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