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A National Security Strategy for Australia: Part 2 — ‘The whole is more than the sum of its parts’

16 November 2018
A National Security Strategy for Australia: Part 2 — ‘The whole is more than the sum of its parts’

A nation is secure to the extent to which it is not in danger of having to sacrifice core values, if it wishes to avoid war, and is able, if challenged, to maintain them by victory in such a war.

Walter Lippmann

We are living in a world where international relations display increasing complexity, interactivity, and unpredictability. There is wide acceptance of the view that security is fundamentally about protecting our way of life; yet, in practice, national security in the context of Australia addresses some and not all aspects. The 2013 Australia’s National Security Strategy expressed an aspiration for a ‘unified national security system’. But, in terms of details, its eight pillars of national security lean heavily towards some and not all aspects of national security. More recently, the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper (chapter on Keeping Australians safe, secure, and free) discusses top-level issues and challenges related to national security. The call for a more comprehensive approach in this area officially articulated in a strategy is not new. For example, in 2000, in a report tabled by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade of the Australian Parliament argued for Australia’s national security objectives that encompassed business, leisure, diplomatic, economic, social, and environment. The report noted:

What is needed, in addition to the NSCC (National Security Committee of Cabinet) and SCNS (Secretaries’ Committee on National Security), is a clearly articulated policy which sets out Australia’s interests and challenges as we enter the 21st century and the government institutions that we can bring to bear in promoting our interests.

Professor Barry Buzan et al. from the Copenhagen School of security studies have argued in favour of a ‘diversified agenda’ to approach security that complements the political/military focus of security during the Cold War period. As international relations become more complex and the pursuit of interests by states and by non-state actors assume myriad forms, the actors are more and more exposed to the dynamics of a variety of forces and the linkages between them. This has necessitated the expansion of the traditional security agenda to non-military sectors: economic, environmental, and societal. Besides, incidents of covert and overt meddling by hostile external parties in the domestic political processes of a state have expanded the scope of the meaning of political security on the national security agenda. The passing of the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Act 2018 by Australia’s Parliament is a good example.

The line of thinking underlying the need for a diverse yet integrated approach to national security has influenced the security thinking of some of Australia’s key allies in the Indo-Pacific Region, for example, New Zealand: the 2018 Strategic Defence Policy Statement has identified seven overarching national security objectives that range from ensuring public safety to protecting the natural environment. The US approach (see National Security Strategy of the United States of America, December 2017), however, differs from the multi-sector model as it seeks to pursue different goals domestically and globally.

Australia has opted for a different style of policy-thinking as shown by the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, which acknowledges the challenges of pursuing national interest in a highly changing and contested world. Chapter Two of the White Paper presents an analysis of Australia’s strategic environment but it does not provide a strategy for response. While white papers are neither the platform nor the vehicle for launching security policy initiatives, we are still faced with a gap in Australia’s policy with regard to national security. The need for such a strategy based on a balanced focus on risk assessment is overdue.

A national security strategy can provide a frame of reference to assess current progress and plan future actions. Its absence has implications for resource allocation, through investment decisions to design and capability acquisitions to meet future challenges. As Eisenhower reminds us – and as I have noted in part one to this article –  investing in defence beyond the level of adequacy weakens other areas of national life and is counterproductive to national security. But how does one determine adequacy when there is no national strategy that is the product of a whole-of-government initiative and which can be implemented in a coordinated manner? The absence of a strategy also has implications for strategic policy decision-making and challenges arising from deficiencies inefficient, timely, and effective command, control, and communication systems and processes.

A comprehensive national security strategy that moves beyond tactical and operational issues, and takes a holistic and whole-of-government view, is necessary now more than ever. For Defence, the adoption of such a strategy can provide more clarity with its capability planning and investment and improve its understanding and appreciation of what it is that it is meant to protect and defend. A critical and candid assessment of the elements that contribute to Australia’s national power is an important preliminary step towards defining a national strategy to safeguard security. The elements that constitute national power need protection as they provide a nation with the capability to engage with the forces that shape international relations and also protect against hostile motives and harmful activities of state and non-state actors. This line of thinking can better guide the Australian Defence Force with its force generation, structuring and posturing and help to create an integrated whole-of-government apparatus to respond to emerging and future security challenges that will likely lean more towards grey than black or white. In planning future security strategy, one may be forgiven for not being able to predict a Black Swan but to miss a Pink Flamingo can be politically damaging.

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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