Recent strategic guidance called for significant increases to Defence capabilities. The needs for these increases are in recognition of the increasingly unstable Indo-Pacific region and the competition for the United States of America’s position as the global leader.

While the Defence Strategic Review pointed to what we need, what can often be overlooked is a detailed understanding of what is needed to be done and why. What this means is a thorough understanding of strategic interests, strategy, and its implementation. This short article will attempt to point to where that understanding can be uncovered.

The Basis of a Defence Strategy

To understand a strategy, first the strategic interests must be clearly understood. Strategic interests can be described as those things that are vitally important to a nation. They are what make the country prosperous and powerful, think of it like a centre of gravity along with all the critical capabilities.

Given their nature they usually don’t change over time. However, they do need to be quite specific and clearly spelled out so that they may be understood and prioritised.

Usually, strategic interests will be tied to geography, history, and culture. As a continental island, therefore, it is easy to understand a key strategic interest is the air-sea gap. How Australia approaches this strategic interest is impactful on our domestic security, governance of the nation, and even our international reputation.

Prominent scholars like Colin S Gray have argued that it is helpful to understand how the political, social, cultural, and strategic factors interact to illuminate an understanding of warfare. This is because other actors will adjust, and we be adjusting in anticipation and response.

Australia’s strategic interests

The 1987 Defence of Australia doctrine explicitly called out the air-sea gap as a crucial strategic interest. This recognised that for an enemy to attack Australia it would come at a significant cost to project that force, that cost growing exponentially in the face of competition or if that projected force was to be sustained and persistent. Therefore, any future adversary will more than likely need a base in our immediate region to support their attacks on Australia. Hugh White noted in his analysis that history doesn’t repeat but it certainly rhymes when he said ‘Australia’s darkest hour was when Japan threatened us from bases in what are today Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. What was true for Japan in 1942 seems likely to remain true for many decades to come’.

So, what are our strategic interests? Well, we’ve already seen that defending our shores and the air-sea gap are important. So too is it important to ensure that no adversary can mount a base in our immediate region that would support such an attack. But what else is there? Again, history helpfully shows us that the geography is an enduring factor, the archipelagic region of Indonesia through to the Philippines can be both a barrier and a corridor. Australia should also be interested in the balance of power within the region lest all the resources of the Indo-Pacific be gathered under a single hegemon. Lastly, it can also be argued that Australia has an interest in supporting a global rules-based order; an example of this particular strategic interest in motion is the Australian support to Ukraine’s war effort against Russia’s invasion.

Army’s place in National Strategy – a 2 (AS) Div PME program

So, what is Army’s role in Australia’s Defence strategy? Is it just waiting for the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force to defend the air-sea gap and then mop up whatever is left over? Probably not – Army has more utility than standing on our shores and waiting. We can do more to contribute to the Whole of Australian Government team.

To understand more on how the Australian Army can meet our Nation’s strategic interests the 2nd (Australian) Division will once again host the 2 Div PME Series in 2024. The first session will be kicked off on the 27th of February by Brigadier (Ret’d), Professor Ian Langford, DSC and Bars, PhD. Professor Langford will commence his prepared remarks in-person from 16.30 (AEDT) at the Randwick Barracks Officers Mess. All military personnel and Defence civilians with access to Randwick Barracks are welcome to attend in person; for those who cannot attend in person, The Cove will livestream the session on the website and social media

So join us for the first instalment of the 2 Div PME Series, delivered in partnership with the Australian Army Research Centre, The Cove, and the Randwick Barracks Officer’s Mess.