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2017 Foreign Policy White Paper: What’s for Army?

2017 Foreign Policy White Paper: What’s for Army?

The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper (FPWP) presents a strategic assessment of the international environment in which Australia will seek to protect and promotes its national interest. The Paper expects a whole-of-government synchronisation of policies and programs to deliver the best outcome for Australia. FPWP has implications for Defence which is a critical and integral component of foreign policy. The FPWP has implications for Army as an integral part of Australian Defence Force (ADF).

An appreciation of the relevance of FPWP for Defence should not only focus on those parts which make direct reference to Defence but also take into account the underlying themes that comprise the policy paradigms for Australia’s international engagement. It is worth noting here that a white paper is not the relevant platform for detailed consideration of security and defence matters; its role is to guide the thinking of senior leadership in Defence for future force structure and preparedness.

FPWP lists a number of expectations that the Government has of Defence which, when met, can enable Australia to pursue and promote its national interests at a time of increasing volatility, complexity, and uncertainty in the international system. In order to ascertain Army’s future capability needs, it is, therefore, pertinent to take stock of what FPWP offers.

A scan through FPWP reveals at least nine key “expectations” of Defence. They apply to Defence as a whole and can be interpreted by each of the three Services to gauge its implications.

The first and primary area of focus is developing high-end military capability for deterrence in order to ensure national security. This requires investment in modernisation to build capability along the lines of Plan Beersheba. In the light of rapid technological changes that have implications for Army as land power, the direction of efforts in this space will do well to move beyond meeting business-as-usual needs and acquire cutting edge enabling ability to fight and win wars.

In addition to applying deterrence resulting from building high-end capability, Army is expected to contribute to regional security and border protection — a role which requires amphibious and riverine capability to navigate the littoral areas surrounding Australia. To improve situational awareness at a time of significant geo-strategic changes in the international environment, the role of ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) is critical. ISR is a major enabler for appropriate force posturing and can facilitate Army’s agility.

Next, the need for close partnership with Allies remains a key Strategic Defence Objective reinforces the case for interoperability. Regular joint military exercises with allies and key security partners can pave the way for greater interoperability and strengthen international ties. Through force capability and interoperability, Army can make a significant contribution to global security. Such synergy can be further reinforced through defence cooperation — a key area of emphasis in FPWP through which Australia can build, expand, and sustain strategic influence especially in the Indo-Pacific region. International engagement is a key enabler of defence cooperation where Army needs significant investment and direction.

An important feature of FPWP that has significant implication for Army stresses the strategic need to look beyond the traditional role of Army as protector of the nation through mastery and command of land power to develop capability in the area of, for example, pre-emptive conflict management. Pre-emptive conflict management through military cooperation and engagement complemented by a humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) role can be a powerful tool to gain strategic influence in a geo-political area of Australia’s national interests.

In addition to these “expectations”, the FPWP also provides some guidance to shape strategic thinking of the policy community involved with defining Australia’s national interests in the neighbourhood and beyond. The essence of this guidance can be interpreted as contributing to the next emerging paradigms of foreign and defence policy and decision-making. For Army, these foundational themes can be used to inform and guide future force structure and posture respectively. The core attributes of the emerging strategic environment are: uncertainty, risk, and competition. These characteristics are neither new nor unexpected but continuing features of the international system. However, what is different is the pace of their change and degree of interaction with State and non-State actors. For the foreign and defence policy community, the challenge is to identify opportunities in an environment that is unpredictable (hence risky) yet competitive. The goal is to seek security through sustainment and enhancement of strength: a mission which can enable a player to manage risk better through preparedness.

The key take home message for Army from the FPWP is preparedness with complementary focus on identifying and investing in areas that can facilitate the process.  A time of heightened uncertainty is not the best time to question Army’s role and use but design avenues along which Army can develop and channel its hard power to support Australia’s strategic weight internationally with a particular focus on the Indo-Pacific. This line of argument is supported by the fact that future battlespaces are more likely to see joint force in action instead of one service leading, dominating, and delivering victory. For example, John Mearsheimer has pointed to the “limits of independent airpower and independent sea power for winning wars” in his book, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.

There are several few paths that can lead to better preparedness. The essence of these paths can be captured by fulfilling the following requirements: modernisation, adaptation, and integration. By fulfilling these requirements Army can develop a force structure that is “balanced” while avoiding negative extremes such as “hollowness” and “stagnation” (From Phantom to Force: Towards a More Efficient and Effective Army, Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Parliament of Australia, 2001). If implemented in a timely and balanced manner, they can be great tools for risk management and can also support and justify the continued role and relevance of Army.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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