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What’s Strategy?

Old globe, courtesy of Petar Milošević/wikimedia commons

This article was originally published on ASPI‘s blog ‘The Strategist’ on 12 May 2014.

The debate between Peter Jennings and Robert Ayson over whether DFAT does ‘strategy’ has opened up a rich vein of thinking. In essence, the debate has been less about what DFAT does or doesn’t do, and more about ‘what’s strategy?’ Peter believes strategy is a long-term enterprise, typically codified by some sort of formal document that attempts to define a grand objective for policy and identifies a means for getting there. Rob says that strategy is sequentialism—it’s the art of the next step, there are no final objectives, and who cares if it’s written down? Strategy, he says, is a state of mind, an intellectual climate.

The problem, of course, is that the word ‘strategy’ has many meanings. I don’t want to become trapped in an arid debate about whether one definition is more correct than another. For about the last decade I’ve found the best definition of grand strategy to be Walter Russell Mead’s. Mead described US grand strategy as ‘the US project for the world’, which strikes me as a nice way of freeing the concept of strategy from both its military strait-jacket and its usual academic prison. Mead accepts the ‘project’ isn’t written down. And I’m similarly unaware of anyone writing down the Australian project for the world. No-one writes it down for the simple reason that it isn’t the property of one person. Nor, I suppose, is it ever fulfilled, so there’s no sense of the objective’s being reached. » More

Australia Startled by Chinese Naval Excursion

HMAS Success

Photo: U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons.

The Australian public is being reminded of Indonesia’s importance to the country’s foreign and defence policy—pastpresent and future.

Last Thursday, many Australian viewers switched their televisions over to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in an attempt to escape from the media frenzy surrounding the release of Australian citizenSchapelle Corby from prison in Indonesia. They found the national broadcaster’s Lateline program reporting on another, far more significant story emanating from their near north.

On February 1, the Chinese navy (PLAN) sent a taskforce of three warships from Hainan in southern China through the Sunda Strait in Indonesia, along the south coast of Java and past Christmas Island into the Indian Ocean. Two Chinese destroyers accompanied an advanced 20,000-ton amphibious ship, capable of carrying hundreds of marines, and conducted a series of combat simulations before heading north through the Lombok and Makassar Straits and into the Pacific. » More

Indonesia and the Next Defence White Paper

Australian national flag

Australian national flag during sunset close to Halmahera Island, Indonesia. Photo: Australian Department of Defence/flickr.

The Abbott government has promised to write a new Defence White Paper within 18 months, and one of the key challenges it will face is considering the place of Indonesia in Australian defence thinking. As the fear of a direct Indonesian threat retreats into the past, it is being replaced by a view of Indonesia as a potential ‘buffer’ separating Australia from the vagaries of the East Asian system. But when the new government considers Australia’s defence options in the next century, it’d do well to remember that Indonesia gets a vote in the role it plays in defending Australia.

Historically, Indonesia has comprised an important, though unclear, element in Australia’s strategic environment. When Australia looks at its neighbourhood in isolation, Indonesia’s proximity and strategic potential makes it appear as a liability. But if the lens is widened to encompass the entire Asia-Pacific strategic system, a strong Indonesia looks more like an asset. During the Cold War Australia’s security concerns about Indonesia revolved around threats associated with Konfrontasi, communism and state collapse, with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Sukarno regime menacing briefly in 1965. But as early as the 1970s, Defence was also conducting studies of possible regional contingencies which involved Indonesia as an ally in achieving regional security. So recognition of our mutual strategic interests coexisted with security concerns about Indonesia. » More

Comparative Connections September 2013

East Asia

East Asia. Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/flickr.

Editor’s note: Our partners at the Pacific Forum have just released the latest edition of Comparative Connections. This triannual publication provides expert commentary on the current status of a selection of bilateral relationships across the Asia-Pacific region. Alongside a chronology of key events, a regional overview places recent developments into a broader and multilateral context. We publish a summary of the September 2013 issue below. The full issue is available for download here

Regional Overview: Rebalance Continues Despite Distractions by Ralph A. Cossa and Brad Glosserman

It was a rough four months for the US as Washington struggled to convince Asian audiences that the “rebalance” is sustainable given renewed attention to the Middle East, even before the Syrian crises. US engagement in Asia was multidimensional with participation at several ministerial-level meetings, a visit by Vice President Biden, continued pursuit of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and a show of military capability in Korea. But, it isn’t clear North Korea got the message. Kim Jong Un seems to have adopted his father’s play book: first create a crisis, make lots of threats, and follow up with a “smile diplomacy” campaign. So far, Washington has stuck to its game plan, insisting on a sign of genuine sincerity before opening a dialogue with Pyongyang. Finally, the US image in the region was damaged by revelations about classified NSA intelligence collection efforts. » More

Why Australia Wants the UK to Stay in the EU

Parliament House Canberra

Parliament House in Canberra, Australia. Photo: JJ Harrison/Wikimedia Commons.

When the United Kingdom (UK) sought to join the European Economic Community (EEC) in the early 1970s, it stirred a backlash in Australia.  Because its prime exporters enjoyed easy access to the large British market, many feared a possible collapse would occur in bilateral trade.  Today, the debate over whether the UK should remain in the EU attracts few headlines in Australia. It is not a replay of the previous EEC debate. Nevertheless, a British “no” vote in the 2017 referendum could yet again have negative consequences for the economic relationship between the two countries.  This time, however, Australia wants the UK to stay in the grand ‘European Project’ rather than to stay out.

Much has clearly changed since the 1970s. Back then, Western Europe’s Common Customs Tariff and Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) represented substantial trade barriers for Australia’s major exporters. When the UK finally did join the EEC, Canberra not only lost its preferential access to an alternative export market, it also deepened its rift with Brussels. In the years that followed, Australia-EU relations therefore continued to suffer from ongoing trade disputes, several of which ended in international legal proceedings. » More

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