Australia’s strategic situation is deteriorating. The 2016 Defence White Paper set out six drivers that shape our security environment. None has improved since the White Paper appeared, and most have worsened significantly.
The existing rules-based global order is under threat. China simply ignores it when it chooses, for example with its de facto annexation and subsequent militarisation of the South China Sea, and is embarking on creating a new regional order that it seeks to define alone. The current leadership of the US appears unable to decide whether it wants to support the existing order, ignore it, or tear it down. Meanwhile, the relative power gap between the two continues to decrease, as China’s economy and military grows.
The development of emergent technologies such as cyber, space-based capabilities, artificial intelligence and hypersonics continues apace. We’re also seeing clear Islamic State links into terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia, some involving returned fighters. All of these developments, taken together, suggest that the ADF will be confronted with an increasingly broad spectrum of threats. The question is whether Defence can be stretched even further to cover them all, or whether it should focus on addressing particular ones.
Unfortunately, the 2016 Defence White Paper doesn’t provide clear guidance on prioritisation. It might be time for the government to revisit some of the White Paper’s assumptions, either to confirm that it does set out the right path, or, as we believe it should, make some changes to the plan.