Japan’s new security laws, which were passed on 19 September and allow for limited forms of collective self-defence, have been described as a ‘move away from pacifism’, the opening of a ‘Pandora’s box’ and the ‘unsheathing of a new Japanese sword’. But considering the bill’s extreme limitations and significant domestic constraints — including a greying and shrinking population, mounting domestic debt and deeply embedded pacifist norms — one wonders how and why this narrative has taken root so deeply.
For two decades a wide variety of plans, guidelines and roadmaps have been published and issued on European defense matters. The adoption of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), the creation of the European Union Military Committee and European Union Military Staff, the development of the European Defence Agency, the inception of the European Union Battlegroups, and the implementation of several military crisis management operations from Kosovo to Somalia and Iraq to Guinea-Bissau, are all examples of the process by which European states are trying to facilitate the creation of a new post-Cold War era military dimension to European politics. In other words, these above-mentioned projects have been attempts to form a European-wide approach to security and defense policy.
Earlier this year, Dilma Rousseff replaced the chiefs of the armed forces for the first time as President of Brazil. The most anticipated was her pick for the influential position of Army Commandant. Rousseff’s choice raised a few eyebrows because she broke with the established practice of appointing the most senior officer for the job. It unexpectedly fell to candidate General Eduardo Dias da Costa Villas Bôas, just third in terms of seniority, to lead a fighting force of nearly 190,000 active personnel. With eight years ahead as the most senior commander of Brazil’s military, Villas Bôas will have to address several challenges if he expects to cement Brazil’s status as a major world power.
The European Space Agency’s recent bull’s eye shot at a comet shows Europe can be at the cutting edge of innovation when it pools its national efforts. If Europe were to do this for defence, it could regain the global power status it enjoyed before World War I.
Today the EU28 spend only half as much as the United States on defence, even though their combined population is larger. Several factors account for this. First, even if the larger European states were to significantly increase their defence spending, they lack the economies of scale to project power meaningfully. The same would be the case if the United States were divided into many entities with their own separate defence establishments. The smaller European states have even less incentive to increase defence spending since they believe that this would have little impact.
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.