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Providing the golden thread: Strategic deterrence as the new strategic concept

27 November 2015
Providing the golden thread: Strategic deterrence as the new strategic concept

With the release of Archipelagic Manoeuvre, Army set out its big idea for land power's future employment. It is the operational "way" that strategic ends can be achieved. However, what is the concept that links this idea to the wider employment of military power, or the other levers of national power? How does this relate to Australia's strategic culture? Finally, what is the strategic purpose of this manoeuvre? Although Archipelagic Manoeuvre is the foundation of a future operational concept, it can not answer these questions alone. For this, another idea is required – a strategic concept that links our political objectives with the operational method. This idea is strategic deterrence.

Australia is a status quo power, with a strategic culture that focuses on achieving national influence within the strategic environment (PDF). Australia has predominately used influence to address its enduring strategic challenges (PDF) - shaping perceptions and reinforcing stability, thereby enabling the other elements of national power to advance the national interest. However, to better understand this, we must acknowledge the changing paradigms of "influence" and "coercion" within strategic and grand strategic thinking.

Our conceptual understanding of strategy, deterrence, influence and the military as a part of national power has, and continues to, evolve. Arguably, strategy has morphed from the 'sequencing of tactical battles' into the integration of military power within national power. In effect, the strategic thinkers of the past now provide more relevance to understanding the ‘ways’ of applying military power – or the operational level of conflict – rather than the contemporary meaning of strategy.

Such evolution is not unique to strategy. The term 'deterrence' has also changed and matured. No longer is it purely concerning nuclear deterrence or the threat of coercion (PDF). The overall effect comes '…from one's capabilities and reputation which helps shape the international security environment.' This means deterrence is no long just a passive activity, but also requires military power to achieve an active element that shapes state and non-state perceptions. To understand this, we must go beyond the traditional view of military power as a purely coercive force. Only by understanding influence as an active activity – one that we plan and actively pursue – can we understand the concept of Strategic Deterrence.

To sustain and reinforce state and non-state actor’s perceptions, and contribute to deterrence, military influence (PDF) must be applied. Engagement, combined exercises, education, exchanges, and cooperation programs are all parts of "military diplomacy", reinforcing the existing perceptions of foreign actors. This demonstrates the positive causal loop that influence generates; sustaining and reinforcing diplomatic perspectives. Influence forms the active element of strategic deterrence, and sustains the critical perspectives of reputation, diplomatic weight, and alliance networks through practical and quantifiable actions. Yet influence is not purely benign. It can be a 'positive effect': where the specific audience's intentions are shaped towards the nation-state's views. Coercion is as a form of influence – one that uses physical force to achieve that 'positive effect'. However, as Michael Evans outlines, within the Australian context(PDF), using coercion actively is foreign to our strategic culture. Instead, the threat, or use, of military force remains a passive element within Australia's strategic psyche.

This passive element could perhaps be best described as Operational Deterrence and is the physical manifestation of our operational concept. This can only be achieved by credible military force that demonstrates – through capacity, exercises and readiness – the ability to deter by defence or by punishment. Many nations in the region, and the world, remain predominately land powers. Their perception of Australia's land power shapes their intentions, actions and political outlook (PDF) towards Australia and her interests. Therefore, credible land power – founded on a deployable and capable Army able to execute Archipelagic Manoeuvre – reinforces military shaping through a credible joint military power that is able to project onto, control, and influence the land domain and its population in a contested tactical environment. Only credible forces provide the capacity to enact strategic deterrence through posture (strategic weight), engagement (exercises and visits), and response (defeat threat).

Strategic Deterrence provides the "golden thread of logic" for Archipelagic Manoeuvre. It articulates how our military power supports our strategic policy and enhances the levers of national power. Such a concept supports a regional stabilising effect and forms a security foundation for the other national power levers – economics, diplomacy and information – to advance our national interest. It also provides traceability from our enduring strategic challenges, to our political and strategic objectives, through the military strategy, and finally to an operational idea – Archipelagic Manoeuvre – and its two "grand tactical" concepts.

It is rare to see our tactical, operational, strategic and policy ideas align. However, the future ideas of Archipelagic Manoeuvre and Strategic Deterrence provide a chance to seriously understand Australia's military power within the context of our national power, and the importance of capable forces that provide relevant and credible strategic response options that are scalable and persistent are across the physical domains.

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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