AuthorBelgrave, David


Editor: Hugh White

Published by: La Trobe University Press, Melbourne, 2019, 336pp, $34.99.

Hugh White's new book How to Defend Australia takes on the assumptions of Australian grand strategy and explores what Canberra needs in order to defend itself adequately. White has a long history of challenging Australian defence orthodoxy. He sounded caution on the effects of China's rise years before others had appreciated its consequences for Australian security. Now the professor at Australian National University is warning that Australia's current force structure may not be fit for purpose in the years to come. White looks at Australia's shifting geo-strategic position in Asia and sets out what would be the most efficient use of taxpayers' money on defence. White clearly and logically lays out the argument that Australia will have to do and spend much more with a significantly different force structure if it is to defend the continent effectively in coming decades.

The need for a significant change in strategy is built on the assumption that Australia's relative economic strength over its Asian neighbours is disappearing. The same economic forces that are chipping away at Canberra's relative wealth are also slowly pushing the United States from the Western Pacific and undermining the ANZUS treaty that Australians still hold dear. Should America's ability to dominate the Asia-Pacific region continue to erode, then Canberra's confidence in Washington will also dwindle. Australia is likely to find itself with a much smaller economy than many of its Asian neighbours and without a reliable ally to protect it. China is the obvious contender to threaten Australia in the future, but White suggests that Indonesia and India could also eventually become strategic challengers.

Given that American predominance is fading, it is likely that much of Australia's expeditionary-focused defence force would be of little use. Australia's military is built on the assumption that any significant conflict will be fought as part of a larger coalition, probably led by the United States. The Royal Australian Navy's large Canberra-class landing helicopter docks and air warfare destroyers start to look like poor investments if they have to defend Australia without the assistance of the United States. These types of ships are best used for maritime control, which is extremely difficult to enforce. Defenders have the upper hand with current technology...

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