Recently much of our consideration has been focusing on deterrence and how Australia should posture to avoid a conflict. This was a hallmark of the Defence Strategic Update of 2020. Essentially, it spoke to strategic objectives to shape Australia’s Strategic Environment, deter actions against Australia’s interests and respond with credible military force, when required. The more recent 2023 National Defence Strategic Review does contain a National Defence Statement that alludes to the importance of protecting the Australian people, interests and livelihoods. It even goes further to define Australia’s strategic posture. However, some might observe that such strategic objectives leave a significant, although perhaps not obvious gap. These objectives omit any definition of victory and probably more importantly, they don’t describe the conditions or circumstances within which Australia would find survival and victory acceptable beyond bland statements such as “contribute with our partners to the maintenance of the global rules-based order”. In comparison, such thinking is far clearer in the Ukraine, they have a clear understanding for their definition of victory and it is communicated clearly and often from their strategic leadership globally, but they possess a different challenge.

However, without such clear circumstances as in Ukraine, victory can be extraordinarily challenging to define. Cian O’Driscoll points out in Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Just War that it is difficult to define exactly what victory means in practical terms. Whilst it may be possible to describe prevailing over a military adversary, is it still victory if those forces dissolve into a decades long insurgency, or deploy strategic patience as seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps the West ‘won’ in these theatres, but victory may still be debatable. Perhaps, it may be useful to wheel out our old Prussian friend to help us navigate this problem. Clausewitz noted that “in war many roads lead to success… they do not all involve to opponent’s outright defeat”. Therefore, he describes that winning militarily may not be the only element required to achieve a victory.

Cian has written extensively on the ethical dilemmas of ending wars. Scholars such as Cian often focus on Just War tradition, but he points out that scholars are often reticent to engage the topic of winning or victory in a Just War. Engaging in this topic would grant scholars, policy makers and practitioners a more direct view of Just War theory and its limitations as well as the rights and wrongs of using force. Perhaps, in developing such understanding of holistic 'victory' within a Just War, we can improve our understanding for how the Australian Army can contribute to Defence Strategy in writing that victory rather than just containing our understanding and consideration to posturing pre-conflict to deter a potential future adversaries and malign actors, whomever they may be.

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Cian O’Driscoll joined the ANU in 2020. Prior to this, he completed his PhD at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and worked at the University of Glasgow.

His principal area of research is the intersection between normative international relations theory and the history of political thought, with a particular focus on the ethics of war. His published work examines the development of the just war tradition over time and the role it plays in circumscribing contemporary debates about the rights and wrongs of warfare. These themes are reflected in his two monographs: Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Just War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019) and The Renegotiation of the Just War Tradition (New York: Palgrave, 2008).

Cian O'Driscoll

Cian has also co-edited three volumes and his work has been published in leading journals in the field, including International Studies Quarterly, the European Journal of International Relations, the Journal of Strategic Studies, the Journal of Global Security Studies, Review of International Studies, Ethics & International Affairs, and Millennium. He was the PI on an ESRC project entitled Moral Victories and was a 2019 ISRF fellow. Cian is currently the Chair of the International Ethics section of the International Studies Association.

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