Many books on Australian defence simply repeat old beliefs. This valuable new work does not, instead breaking new ground in proposing a new strategic approach, potentially revitalising Australian defence debates. Importantly, this is not just a work for Australians; it is also very useful for an international audience in suggesting a well-reasoned theoretical framework for both developing and evaluating new defence strategies – the latter a particular innovation. In matters of theory, the book is firmly set within the realist paradigm of the International Relations discipline that suggests that all states act the same whether authoritarian or democratic. As the book progresses, however, this perspective creates some practical strategic difficulties.

Australia’s Defence Strategy: Evaluating Alternatives for a Contested Asia is divided into two major parts. In the first, the book develops the theoretical framework and then uses it to critique various defence strategy proposals made by Australians who are influential locally in government and academia, including Paul Dibb, Hugh White and Ross Babbage. Using an approach developed from US business strategist Richard Rumelt’s ideas, each proposal is carefully evaluated with respect to: its political objectives; whether possible counter-strategies are considered; and whether the proposal is achievable with available resources. The author finds all three proposals wanting.

Dibb’s anti-access denial strategy requires Australia to sustain long-term regional technological superiority. However, with the economies of some major regional states likely to be larger than Australia’s in the future, such an ambition appears problematic. On the other hand, White’s area denial strategy optimistically assumes a dramatic increase in defence spending to 4 per cent of GDP, but this seems somewhat improbable. Finally, Babbage’s deterrence by punishment strategy advocates investment in high-end offensive capabilities, but such a force structure seems narrowly based and less able to manage likely low-end contingencies.

Please click here to read the full “Australia’s Defence Strategy: Evaluating Alternatives for a Contested Asia” review in The RUSI Journal by Griffith Asia Institute Visiting Fellow, Dr Peter Layton.